Dr. Sylvia Herrera – Chicana Leadership

March 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

 “From the Tank Farms in East Austin to Immigration Struggles in Arizona and Beyond”

Saturday March 2, 2013  –  Southwest Key’s El Centro de Familia – 6002 Jain Lane 78721

March 2, 2013 marked a moment to celebrate Dr. Sylvia Herrera, a longtime community organizer on civil, social, environmental and economic justice issues.  Dr. Herrera is a native East Austinite who earned her Ph.D  in 1998 (University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education)  and she is a founding member of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources) . Her research has examined health impacts in neighborhoods surrounding the Tank Farm (benzene) the Holly Street Power Plant (Electro Magnetic Fields-EMFs, noise) and the BFI Recycling Center (Noise, rodents).

Family, friends and supporters gathered to hear her speak about her work with PODER in East Austin and her current involvement on immigration rights issues in Phoenix, Arizona.The event was held at and sponsored by PODER and Resistencia Bookstore/Red Salmon Arts.


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Dr. Herrera – AUDIO SEGMENT 1

During the first portion of the evening, Dr. Herrera described:

  • Origins of PODER back in 1991
  • The ‘Tank Farm’ struggle – A grassroots community victory against 6 major oil companies which took place in the span of 18 months. Sylvia helped to educate various officials about significant health concerns impacting children and elderly population.
  • The creation of a health survey
  • Growing up in East Austin (Oak Springs neighborhood)
  • Relocation of the BFI Recycling plant and shutting down of the Holly Street Power Plant
  • The inter-generational approach to PODER’s organizing and youth leadership development (via the Young Scholars for Justice program)
  • Her completion of her academic studies with the support from the community.

Racial Profiling – Escalating Civil Rights Violations to Human Rights Violations

Over several years, Dr. Herrera has worked in Arizona in various communities on reforming immigration laws & addressing civil rights violations, such as racial profiling. Along with Tonatierra (Comites de Defensa del Barrio), she is seeking to raise the consideration of civil rights abuses (from individuals such as Maricopa County Sheriff  Joe Arpaio) to human rights violations on an international level. She and others have provided testimony to the US Department of Justice about these various problems.

Dr. Herrera – AUDIO SEGMENT 2

In one such case, she and the community worked with the Univision news network to look into incidents of racial profiling. Here is Univision’s report (Prueba de Impacto on ‘Primer Impacto’) produced during November 2012 by reporter Andrea Sambuccetti in Phoenix, Arizona.

[Spanish version of video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwnzGhPJWj4 ]

Lifting of Voices  Against ‘Apartheid’ System

Dr.Herrera and others involved in confronting unfair treatment of immigrants in Arizona draw a parallel between Sheriff Joe Arapaio’s tactics to  Apartheid policies in South Africa. She describes how police forces patrol schools and the fears of parents & children about being profiled and arrested. In some cases,  Dr. Herrera and other community organizers are submitting Title VI complaints based on reports about denial of access to education against people of color.  The impact for some students is that they do not want to attend school or want their parents to take them to school.

She has witnessed the violent separation of families as a result of immigration arrests at work sites referred to as ‘crime suppression sweeps’.

Dr. Herrera – AUDIO SEGMENT 3A

Sylvia has testified before Congress about the unfair treatment against people in her community related to immigration law enforcement. And she has helped young people come before lawmakers to tell their stories. Here is video showing 10 year old, Katherine Figueroa and Silvia Rodriguez testifying against Arizona SB 1070 in June 2010.

Continuing Community Organizing, Educating and Solidarity Efforts

As with the Austin ‘tank farm’ organizing, Dr. Herrera continues to work with 15 neighborhoods and teach participants about their civil & international rights in the areas of immigration, housing, access to education and employment.  She speaks about the criminalization of individuals and families which leave many in ‘legal limbo’.  And she describes the trauma on children due to law enforcement practices.

In the end, Dr. Herrera sees the importance of defending immigrant rights by educating more communities and continuing building solidarity networks.

Dr. Herrera – AUDIO SEGMENT 3B


Comites de Defensa del Barrio – TONATIERRA


TONATIERRA – YouTube Channel


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