Viewpoints: An Earth Day lesson for cleaning up East L.A.

East L.A.

Photo by C.J. Salgado

By C.J. Salgado

Earth Day is said to be a global environmental event involving a billion people. Years ago I participated in this annual event while in Washington D.C. on a fellowship. I remember the National Mall being packed with visitors, booths, and numerous activities honoring Mother Earth. Amidst the crowds, I felt a strong sense of caring for my environment. How could I not?

Now, I am but one person in East L.A. But my sense of stewardship for the earth remains strong, for I see the need daily. Too often we pass up opportunities to make a difference or disavow responsibility for keeping our communities clean, perhaps relying on the government or others to pick up after us.

For example, while driving through the neighborhood recently, I saw a five-gallon, unsecured bucket of paint fall out of the back of a pick-up truck. The driver stopped momentarily, looked back, and just kept going. He never did come back. As I returned from my errand a little later, I noticed the bucket was still there, and the spilled paint had made a mess of the street. So, I called the county and a crew quickly came out to clean it up.

On yet another occasion, I noticed a local bus stop surrounded by accumulated trash. It remained so for days even though there was a trash can nearby.

Surely, as I think back on these incidents, there must have been a point when someone could have intervened to make a difference for the better. The driver of the pick-up could have secured his paint or at least stopped as soon as he noticed it fell. Anyone that contributed to the trash around the bus stop could have simply tossed it in the trash container in the first place. You see what I mean?

Yes, I know pollution is a complex problem globally. But one  simple solution is that we each can do our part locally when circumstances call for it. Being environmentally responsible is not a chance occurrence or philosophical state of being. Rather, it is an act  of will.

During my time in the military, I got to live in Japan, the other “East.” One of my first and lasting impressions of that country was that it was beautiful and clean. I thought, “Wow, no graffiti!” I remember walking through a small town one early morning when a trash truck passed me by. A bit of trash fell out of the back of it onto the middle of the cobblestone street. Within minutes, a little old Japanese lady rushed out with her hand brush and pan. She quickly scooped up the trash and took it back with her, disappearing into my memory.

And the moral of the story? Behind every trash truck in a beautiful place is a tidy person confronting waste.

East L.A.

East L.A. paint spill | C.J. Salgado

C.J. Salgado is a resident of East Los Angeles

Viewpoints is where Eastsider readers can express their opinions, start a conversation and share ideas on neighborhood  issues,  problems and potential.


  1. Never going to happen in ELA. I live in City Terrace and have asked numerous times for Gloria Molina and Kennedy Elm. to put trash cans along Hazard and other streets so kids and parents eating all that crap the vendors sell don’t leave their trash in the street. I left a trash can out one-week only to have it vandalized. The problem is more than half of the people who live in ELA don’t own their homes and are renters. So usually, the renter doesn’t care about the neighborhood and parts of ELA are county, which makes it even more difficult to get anything accomplished.

  2. “She quickly scooped up the trash and took it back with her, disappearing into my memory.”

    Beautifully put.

  3. It is the residents who are responsible of keeping their community clean. A community can be judged by the way they keep their sidewalks.

    Sidewalks in east Los Angeles says a lot about the residents.

    Thank you for your news article.

  4. Amen! We can point the finger all we want, but it takes a village to get out there and scoop up trash. Thank you for this article and for proving there ARE folks in ELA that care about their surroundings and environment. I was up in Carpinteria yesterday and saw a troop of Girl Scouts walking around with bags scooping up trash near the park and it made me so happy to know that young people are being TAUGHT to take care of this planet and DO something.

  5. low class people exhibit low class behavior.
    (no, I’m not talking about socioeconomic class)

    Whenever possible, if we catch someone in the act, we should let them know that this is not acceptable social behavior. I’ve found getting mad at them usually doesn’t work very well, because they focus on your anger and not on their anti-social behavior. I usually ask them why they think it’s ok to throw their trash on the ground? or ask if they are too lazy to find a garbage can.

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