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Political climate, housing costs outpace environmental concerns among Hispanics, study says

Man and two women looking at surveys
The survey and focus group results include data from 1,025 surveys and six virtual focus groups involving 45 people.

Hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires are some of the environmental problems that many Hispanics have had to face in their lives not only in Florida , but also their native countries. However, according to Chispa Florida, a community organizing program that fights for a better environment and empowerment of Latino communities, many are unaware of its causes or how it affects their communities directly.

The results from a community study revealed Wednesday showed the priorities and issues that concern Hispanics in Florida. Although 93% of the participants said they are aware of the environment, the polarized political climate and economic threats including jobs, wages and housing costs were identified as pressing issues over and above the environmental ones.

They also highlighted that health, social justice and race inequality were among the topics of greatest interest. When it comes to the environment, though, air quality, pollution, access to nature, loss of vegetation, recycling challenges, storms, floods and extreme heat were among the topics of interest.

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The research conducted in late 2021 sought to better understand how Hispanics in Florida perceive environmental problems and how they affect their communities. The survey and focus group questions include data from 1,025 surveys and six virtual focus groups involving 45 people.

Chart shows issues of importance to Hispanics/Latinos in Florida
The top issues of importance for Hispanic and Latinos in Florida are: economy, health, environment, social justice and race inequities, pollution and air quality, access to nature or loss of vegetation, challenges to recycle, storms and flooding and extreme heat.

They discussed support for possible environmental legislation and how concerned they were about the environment compared to other issues affecting Latino communities, explained Maria Revelles, state director of Chispa Florida.

Krizia López Arce, communications manager at Chispa Florida, highlighted the importance of guiding communities and providing information in their languages so that they can understand not only what damage to the environment means, but how they also affect their daily lives, including finances.

López Arce stressed that the organization is on a mission to provide information in Spanish and have conversations in Spanish and other languages such as Creole and Portuguese to reach the multicultural community in this area directly and “speak to them in their language.”

Although the sample is not fully representative of Hispanics in Florida, Chispa Florida highlighted that during the sampling they conversed and engaged in dialogues with Hispanics to find out their perception and understanding of the impacts caused by climate change, access to clean air, drinking water, economic inequality and environmental injustice. They also said that “the study participants were diverse in age, gender, income and political orientation, but the vast majority identified as someone who cares about the environment. Therefore, the findings should be interpreted as representative of environmentally conscious Hispanics and not the entire Hispanic population of Florida.”

Oswaldo Fonseca and José Javier Pérez, community organizers from Chispa Florida, explained the different methods they used to approach the participants, which included text messages as well as community activities.

“It was interesting to know what the community needs. Bringing out and being the voice of the community in the face of so much difficulty or situations that happen to them,“ Fonseca said during the announcement that they carried out virtually because of the pandemic.

 Chispa Florida Study shows how Latinos perceive climate issues and the topics that concern their daily lives.
Chispa Florida Study shows how Latinos perceive climate issues and the topics that concern their daily lives.

In the research, which they describe as mixed methods of Latin American / Hispanic Florida residents, participants also expressed concern about all the potential impacts of climate change, disease and epidemics.

As part of Chispa Florida’s mission, they seek to develop the power of Latino communities, as well as protect their rights to clean air and water, healthy neighborhoods and a safe climate for generations to come.

“In the process of setting strategic priorities, our program understood the need for a research effort to gather the information needed to make decisions on critical issues and a constituency understanding of climate change issues,” Revelles said.

While there is a latent importance on the climatic effects that affect the planet, Revelles highlights the importance of understanding these issues and how people perceive the issue of climate change, access to clean water, environmental justice and how it is vital that they understand these issues and empower them to fight for them.

At the conference, Fernando Rivera, professor of sociology and director of the Puerto Rico Research Hub at the University of Central Florida, highlighted the value provided by this study.

“We know that this information is very important that the climate change we see is related to the circumstances we have right now and we see that these issues affect us all, not just the Latino community in Florida, the United States and the world,“ he said.

 Chispa Florida Study also showed that the majority of the people surveyed preferred the term Hispanic and Latino over Latinx.
Chispa Florida Study also showed that the majority of the people surveyed preferred the term Hispanic and Latino over Latinx.

Regarding how they access information that is of interest to them, 61% of those surveyed said they found their information through social networks, while 58.6% said they do so through internet searches, 49% find it on television, 25.1% on radio and 23% in print media such as newspapers and magazines.

In addition, an interesting piece of data in the survey was that, when asked about the term they preferred to identify as an ethnic group, the majority preferred: Hispanic, Latina or Latino, followed by “no preference,” Latinx and “other.”

María Elena Villar, a professor at Florida International University’s school of communications and codirector at its Steven Cruz Institute for Media, Science & Technology was at the study presentation. She highlighted that in the focus groups there were different interests, thoughts and levels of knowledge of the topics.

She noted that particularly among the participants who identified as Puerto Rican there was a lot of discussion on the issue of drinking water, storms and floods, especially since it is a present issue for those who lived through Hurricane Maria and now live in Florida. Extreme heat also turned out to be an issue that many find important.

“It is essential that we take this as a good start,” said López Arce. The study, they said, seeks to be a good start to learn more about how Latino communities think about environmental issues, to know where the most pressing concerns lie, and to be able to find ways to continue empowering the most disadvantaged communities “which are the most affected by climate problems“ and in turn work to ”provide a better environment and a better quality of life.“

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative formed to cover the impacts of climate change in the state.