Hispanic communities and environmental justice: A comparative study of mobility and exposure to air toxics in Houston

Maricarmen Hernandez, University of Texas at El Paso


Environmental justice research has focused too little attention on immigrant communities. This study extends from the premise that themes of immigration and mobility among racial/ethnic minority communities must be more carefully analyzed by environmental justice (EJ) scholars. By clarifying why Hispanic people live where they live, and what factors shape their exposures to cancer risks from hazardous air pollutants, this study aims to contribute to the existing EJ body of knowledge. The analysis employs qualitative methods, implemented as part of a larger National Science Foundation-funded study. In-depth semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with randomly selected Hispanic individuals, some of whom were immigrants and some of whom were born in the United States, who lived in areas at both high and low risk to hazardous air pollutants in Greater Houston, Texas. By comparatively examining the experiences of different Hispanic groups, this study moves beyond the monolithic treatment of the US Hispanic population. Interviewees were drawn from a sample of 633 participants in a previously completed structured survey, which is representative of the Greater Houston population. Transcribed interview data were examined to clarify and compare factors affecting Hispanic subgroups' mobility and risk exposure. Interviews focused on understanding factors that people considered to be important when choosing their current homes, if they had considered moving, and the barriers they have faced in seeking safer living spaces. The main determinants of risk for U.S.-born and foreign-born Hispanics were financial constraints and the social incentives of living near ethnic enclaves. Protective factors included having experienced upward social mobility for U.S.-born individuals and living in relative social isolation within less than ideal rental units for immigrants. The pernicious nature of environmental injustice experienced by Hispanic immigrants in Houston is encapsulated by the fact that their pursuit of affordable and comfortable residential settings leads to the reproduction of their disproportionate air toxics exposures.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Environmental Justice|Sociology, General

Recommended Citation

Hernandez, Maricarmen, "Hispanic communities and environmental justice: A comparative study of mobility and exposure to air toxics in Houston" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1557764.