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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Weekend Reader:The Slums Of Aspen: Immigrants vs. The Environment In America’s Eden

Weekend Reader:The Slums Of Aspen: Immigrants vs. The Environment In America’s Eden

This weekend, The Weekend Reader brings you The Slums Of Aspen: Immigrants vs. The Environment In America’s Eden by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow. When Congress reconvenes in September, immigration reform will be one of the leading issues on everyone’s agenda. The bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill has received loads of criticism and concern from Republicans leaders who can’t agree with each other or Democrats on border security, a pathway to citizenship, employment verification, and reducing the distribution of visas. Above all of the debate, indecision, and bigotry, this is an issue that affects the lives of millions of immigrants

Park and Pellow want to shed light on discrimination against immigrants and show how this issue is intertwined with the economy, civil rights, and even environmentalism. They conduct their own research and provide an impactful account of a wealthy Colorado community’s attempt to limit the number of immigrants in their neighborhoods and their reason for doing so: environmental protection. Environmental injustice is real and affects millions of immigrants and their families. Park and Pellow warn how resolutions like the one passed in Aspen, Colorado which you will read about below, can greatly impact communities… and what the rest of us can learn from this specific case study. 

You can purchase the book here

On December 13, 1999, the City Council of Aspen, Colorado—one of the country’s most exclusive recreational sites for some of the world’s wealthiest people—unanimously passed a resolution petitioning the U.S. Congress and the president to restrict the number of immigrants entering the United States. The language of the resolution suggests that this goal could be achieved by enforcing laws regulating undocumented immigration and reducing authorized immigration to 175,000 persons per year, down from the current annual level of between 700,000 and one million. One of their primary reasons for encouraging tougher immigration laws was the purported negative impact of immigrants on the nation’s ecosystems.

Concerns about immigration’s environmental impacts generally include such broad issues as urban/suburban sprawl, the loss of urban green space, and overdevelopment of wilderness and agricultural lands. In Aspen, more specific complaints include everything from car exhaust pollution associated with older model vehicles many immigrants drive (since workers drive anywhere from thirty to one hundred miles to labor in Aspen’s tourist industry), littering in mountain caves where some homeless immigrant workers sleep since affordable housing is nonexistent (the average sale price of a single family home in Aspen in 2000 was $3.8 million), to having too many babies (i.e., overpopulation), which some fear will contaminate the pristine culture that accompanies the stunning ecology of the Rocky Mountains. With an unemployment rate of 1.5 percent (in 2000), Aspen experienced severe labor shortages, and Latinos and other immigrants filled the many low-paying, seasonal jobs within the service industry. And, while there are a wide number of nationalities represented in the immigrant service economy of the Roaring Fork Valley, we focus on Latinos who comprise the majority of immigrants in the area.

The narratives that define immigration (particularly from Latin America) as a leading ecological threat also expose a profound irony: the everyday reality of this playground for the rich depends enormously upon low-wage immigrant labor. The luxury goods and services that distinguish Aspen, that make it a “world-class” resort town, are possible in large part because of the workers from all over the world who clean the goods and deliver the services and care for the people who buy them. In some respects, this is a bizarre story of a town that prides itself on being environmentally conscious, whose city council can approve the construction of yet another 10,000-square-foot vacation home with a heated outdoor driveway, and simultaneously decry as an eyesore the “ugly” trailer homes where low-income immigrants live. In other respects, this is a familiar story of America’s continuing clash between people of different races and classes, who rely on each other and yet cannot figure out how to live with each other. In still other respects, this is a story of the future, about the increasingly brutal inequality that will only become more pronounced as we negotiate the fast-paced global economy and its flows of money, ideas, and people.

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From 2000 to 2004, we traveled up and down Aspen’s social pecking order. We conducted extensive archival and interview-based research to understand how people experience these contentious social issues. Our goal was to better understand the growing economic and racial inequalities from new vantage points, specifically from the perspective of environmentalists and immigrants. Our mission is to shed new light on these controversies, and to raise what we hope will be innovative, constructive questions that point to productive solutions.

Scholars and activists have, for four decades, presented evidence that people of color, as well as poor, working class, and indigenous communities face greater threats from pollution and industrial hazards than other groups. Environmental threats include municipal and hazardous waste incinerators, garbage dumps, coal-fired power plants, polluting manufacturing facilities, toxic schools, occupationally hazardous workplaces, substandard housing, uneven impacts of climate change, and the absence of healthy food sources. Marginalized communities tend to confront a disproportionate volume of these threats, what researchers and advocates have labeled environmental injustice and environmental racism. These communities are also more likely to be impacted by extractive industrial operations  such as mining, large dams, and timber harvesting, as well as “natural” disasters like flooding, earthquakes, and hurricanes. We observe these patterns at the local, regional, national, and global scale, and the damage to public health, cultures, economies, and ecosystems from such activities is well documented. For example, immigrants and people of color in California’s Silicon Valley live in communities with disproportionately high concentrations of toxic superfund sites and water contamination, and work in jobs that expose them to disproportionately high volumes of hazardous chemicals. In Chicago, African Americans and Latinos live in neighborhoods with disproportionately high numbers of garbage dumps and other environmental hazards, and we see this pattern holding true for Asian Americans, Native Americans, and working-class whites nationally. The field of environmental justice studies has emerged as a means to consider the historical and contemporary drivers of environmental inequalities, its many manifestations, and as a vehicle to address this problem through research, action, and policy. Environmental justice studies span the fields of history, sociology, anthropology, law, communication, economics, literature, ethnic studies, public health, architecture, medicine, and many others. Activists and policymakers have also produced a great deal of research on environmental justice issues and have drawn on the work of scholars to pass laws and introduce state and corporate policies, which would confront some of the most glaring aspects of environmental injustice in the United States and globally.

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  • Dominick Vila

    Welcome to the new version of pseudo slavery. How to solve the influx of illegal immigrants into our communities and still benefit from cheap labor? You raise the price of real estate to a level no immigrant – or poor whites – can afford, you ban settling in the pristine areas we visit, and you force them to live like rabid animals, out of sight, but not too far since you need them to landscape your yard, cook your meals, clean the house, and work in fast food joints. This is what the land of the free has become, thanks to the idolatry of the Almighty dollar and unmitigated cultural hatred.

    • sigrid28

      On the lake in Wisconsin, where my grandfather’s family had a summer cottage along with other families from St. Charles, Illinois–this was the St. Charles camp–you can see the effects of similar gentrification. We would be part of the poor white summer population. Each summer, my parents welcomed the families of their siblings (eight families altogether) to vacation for a week or two apiece for free in my dad’s little two bedroom, out-door plumbing, pump your own water, Franklin-stove heated retreat on a pristine lake with a 26-mile shoreline. Instead of rent, the relatives and my folks improved the property a little each year, until there was indoor plumbing, a kitchen with running water, three bedrooms, a deck overlooking the lake, and lots of shared boats, skiing equipment, and fishing tackle–even a telephone. Only very late in the game did they add a television and snow mobiles, and a chair lift for the elderly. My parents retired there for many years before selling it for a little over $100,000–so little, I thought. We felt like millionaires! The property has now been refurbished and is on the market for $1.75 million. People of our means will probably never own property on that lake again. I feel sure the same is happening in Michigan. Wisconsin and Michigan are both states of uncomparable beauty where–like Colorado–the rich play while the poor are disenfranchised and retained only in enough numbers to provide the human services required to keep the wealthy in the style to which they have become accustomed. It’s distressing to note how much like gated communities these states are becoming under Republican “leadership.”

      • blyvl

        Same things are happening here in Maine, along the coast and on the lakes.

        • sigrid28

          I’m not just sorry to hear that. I’m heartbroken.

  • tax payer

    They do have Section-8 Housing for the poor whites, so they’ll have a place to call home, if they can’t afford to purchase one of their own. The illegals own homes right now and how they qualified is a mystery to me, but maybe ( B. O. A. ) has something to do with it.

    • Dominick Vila

      I suppose BoA means Bank of America, which is entirely possible since most Hispanics-Latinos work hard and save their money to eventually buy a house or start a small business. No mystery there, just watch them work, pay attention to their work ethics, and it will not take you long to understand why they can achieve their goals.

  • charleo1

    As I’ve pointed out the obvious before. To stop the illegal hiring of cheap no legal
    status labor, is the government coming in and regulating what is a natural thing for
    a Capitalist to do. To do so, is no different than a mandatory minimum wage, over-
    time beyond a 40 hour maximum, safe working conditions, and so on. If we in our
    zeal knock down all the hard earned benefits reaped with the sweat of our brows,
    then we lose. America loses. Freedom itself loses. And we force our children, to go back into those dark days, that if any could remember them, today. We would be united in our insistence that the immigrant’s labor be properly rewarded. But, work for the reestablishment of the recognition of the value of all labor by Americans. So
    honest work would once again be fairly compensated.

    • sigrid28

      I live in a smallish Iowa city where, if you are not related to someone or have not lived here most of your life, you are suspect. It is the perfect example of how nepotism and cronyism feed into the xenophobia of townsfolk who feel entitled. Well-educated outsiders are so unwelcome, we won’t be accepted even as unpaid volunteers! So my neighbor was complaining about blacks from Chicago, who have moved here–very wisely, in my opinion–to give their children a safer environment and better education than public schools in Chicago provide. She claims they moved here to get full benefits and live off welfare, because they do not want to work. To which I replied, if someone like myself–with a college degree and twenty years of teaching experience–cannot be accepted as a volunteer or even hired at a lowly retail job in Michael’s craft store (a retail chain), how can a person of color be expected to be hired for even the most menial job in our town?

      • charleo1

        First, you must understand, there has always been a general mistrust of, “outsiders,” in these smallish enclaves. Mostly White burgs, that still profit from a closed society mentality. When a family of Blacks moves in, for these stuck in the 50s individuals, it is for them, an Archie Bunker, there goes the neighborhood moment. My back-ground helps me to understand them very well. There is still a lot of back woods, small town quirks, and oddities left in me. So I know, you must understand them very intimately to fit in. That they both appreciate, and fear a well educated person, can be a mystery. Unless you follow the somewhat twisted logic. But it goes like this. I’m a small town person, with some fundamental misgivings about the quality of my own education. So, I’ll probably need to be on guard when you’re around. I actually believe you probably see me as a rube. And while I secretly agree, I will also remind you, this is my turf, and you’ll play by my rules until I decide different. See what just happened?
        You on the other hand need to talk to this person about how much
        you’ve come to admire the profound wisdom you’ve noticed in the
        people. How they’ve managed to keep the qualities of life in their
        towns. How nice it is to see neighbors helping neighbors. And how that’s what all those supposedly book smart city people have missed
        altogether. I’m not saying you should be dishonest. But they do
        pride themselves on their shared willingness to help their neighbors.
        They just need to realize you are one of them. Crazy? Yes. But,
        when you tell them, even with all your, “Big City, Book Learnin,'”
        there is something very wise, and decent one doesn’t find in a
        book. Trust me. They’ll warm up, and get over their inclinations
        to first fear the stranger. And see you for the good, and decent
        person I know you to be from just reading your comments.

        • sigrid28

          Charleo, you are more hopeful about acceptance among these people than I will ever be. Believe me, after working in PR for a university and in public affairs television programming in Chicago, I can be charming and disarming to the enth degree. And remember, I lived as a stranger in France, where Americans who speak broken French are truly strangers: got lots of practice there, trying to scrape the ground low enough to fit in, also to no avail. My family fits the description perfectly of these townspeople, and they have seen fit to abandon me and my son, who has a lifelong disability. His father, an academic forced into retirement and now remarried and living in France with new wife and son, also does not fulfill even his legal obligations, let alone supplying support that might be life saving, in our situation.

          Say what you like about book learnin’, when you have to live by your wits, pretty much alone, it goes a long way. We just try to avoid the most hostile of those surrounding us, expect nothing of the others (and are sometimes surprised), and make do with less. You can live on a lot less than you thought you could. Most importantly, I have been able to shield my son from feeling angry at family members who have little to offer us, because I am so grateful I still love them. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said of hating whites, it is a far too heavy a burden to hate them. Everyday I am happy to still love people who don’t like me, and try to see the best in them. If I can get along with little, it is a good formula for personal peace of mind.

          Where this falters, is when a whole population is expected to withdraw into itself without the necessary supports, which is what has happened to minority populations who have been marginalized in the U.S. Here we need people with your generosity and mine to help shape decent policies that do not harm any and help the needy. I do not recognize many townspeople here who would be particularly generous, even to their neighbors. We didn’t have a car for over a year, and only one of many neighbors offered us a ride now and then in an emergency. I have am part of a complete genealogy of individuals who would not do the same for me as I would do for them, let alone help a stranger. The future seems bleak under these circumstances.

  • blyvl

    To me, this article was fascinating for lots of reasons. First the “good folks” of Aspen wanted to “clean up” the scourge of “those people”, you know, the ones who clean up for them. Seems like a real double standard. Second, I was amazed that the authors and other scholars were seemingly amazed to learn that poorer people live in “crappier” neighborhoods and wealthy people live in nicer neighborhoods. I never had any education past high-school and I’m getting quite “long in the tooth”, but I knew that stuff all my life.

    I wonder what Aspen thinks about immigration now, since they passed the resolution in 1999? And I wonder if they called their Senators during the recent debate over – and passage of – the terrible Senate immigration bill?