“Civic engagement makes for healthy communities,” said Jose Luis Villaseñor, founder and director of Tamales y Bicicletas. This seven-year old Latino-led organization in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis advocates for healthy communities through bicycling, eating local and organic foods, cultural empowerment and environmental justice.
The group’s Urban Solution to Pollution festival began as a small class of Latino youth learning about environmental justice and bike mechanics skills through the Tamales y Bicicletas organization. On July 22, Latino youth from the Phillips neighborhood will train the public about growing their own food and present a Dream Act deferred action workshop. The festival at the East Phillips Community Center will offer free bike maintenance, music, food, public health trainings, voter registration, and a bike raffle from 1 to 4 p.m. A kick-off for a critical-mass bike ride for environmental justice will meet at the corner of 17th Avenue and 24th Street at 11:55 a.m.
“Since September ‘11 there has been a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment,” said Villaseñor. “People think we only talk about immigration but our communities are experiencing obesity, diabetes, and asthma where there was none before.”
“Housing is affordable next to busy highways or industrial parks but 71 per cent of urban Latinos are red-lined next to busy intersections or polluted industrial areas,” said Villaseñor. “People are experiencing asthma conditions because of the pollution.”
“We want people to return to their indigenous eating habits of Mexico. Eating beans, corn, chili and tortillas; not sugar, processed food with white bleached flour,” said Villaseñor. “We want to change the food systems and do urban farming.”
Tamales y Bicicletas, wants to turn inequities into assets. People are riding bikes to work. It is good for their health and the environment. If you are Latino and undocumented, it is unsafe to be pulled over while driving.
During the school year Tamales y Bicicletas has had their programs at El Colegio Charter School. “We work with 25 to 30 youth. The hardcore group is 15 to 20 young people with five of them becoming our next leaders,” said Villaseñor. “We believe that they can identity the issues in their communities and come up with solutions.”
The young people have finished a nine-month training, called Saber Comer Justicia, on food justice, localizing food systems and urban agriculture to become food justice educators. During the school year, the youth led workshops, tabled at or participated in some of the following conferences: Better Communities through Neighborhoods, Health Equity Day at the State Capital, and Biking Climate Justice and Earth Day Festival.
Besides the Urban Solution to Pollution festival this summer, there is a seven-day camping trip to the Boundary Waters to become unplugged from all technologies and experience nature directly.
“We don’t have a lot of resources or finances but we do have stakeholders and lots of volunteers that step forward,” said Villaseñor. Tamales y Bicicletas has been funded by the Department of Health. Recently they received funds for after school programs from Youthprise. The funds are for the USP festival, food mapping, train the trainer workshops and youth jobs through an ecopreneur bicycle delivery system.