Associate Professor of Environmental Analysis
Director, Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability
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Brinda Sarathy: What are the issues you care about?
If you care about homelessness in your community, or if you care about access to affordable housing, I see those as environmental issues.
My name is Brinda Sarathy. I’m a professor at Pitzer College in the Environmental Analysis field group. I’m also the director for The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.
I grew up abroad. I grew up in the Middle East, and I ended up going to boarding school in Kodaikanal, South India, surrounded by tropical, montane forests. We depended directly on the lake for our water supply. During instances of drought or rain shortages, we had to limit, for example, the number of showers we took. Everything was very, very intimately tied together in a highly visual and lived way, which we lose sight of in more developed countries, because you turn on the tap and the water comes out.
So, I was enmeshed in the environment without even calling it in an environmental issue. I had this keen awareness.
I was one of the few students of color in graduate school in my PhD program. I had enlisted in forestry camp for about six weeks, learning about logging, reforestation, proactive fire management. What was really striking to me was (that) we had a number of guest speakers and they all were white. They all seemed to be US citizens. So for me, I was an international student, that was the story of forestry in California.
And I came across this little publication called Voices From the Woods, and it was a collection of oral histories. It was the first time I got to read vignettes by mushroom harvesters who were Southeast Asian people who did fuels reduction on federal lands who were Latino, and these were voices completely absent.
So often when people think about Latinos in relation to natural resources, folks think about agriculture, but my work was one of the first to look at pineros—forest workers—who do a lot of fuels reduction work, a lot of tree-planting work. You know, these relations are there, it’s just they’re not necessarily known or in the mainstream, and so I feel really honored to have been able to shed some light on that. How does the labor of Latinos make healthy forests on national lands, public lands, and I argue that we need to have solid labor standards and labor conditions in order to have these healthy forests.
Environmental justice and concerns about justice really have to be at the heart of environmental issues. And one of the great things about a place like Pitzer is if you have vision if you have determination and if you can corral the resources and, I would say, sort of the gumption of other faculty, you can come together to better the social and natural environment, which is ultimately a common good.