Viewpoints: An Earth Day lesson for cleaning up 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. paint spill | C.J. Salgado

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

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