As Part of our latest River Currents newsletter issue, Columbia Riverkeeper recently chatted with Carlos Marroquin, a Columbia River Gorge activist, environmentalist, volunteer, and community organizer.
Carlos is a volunteer producer of Columbia Riverkeeper’s bilingual Conoce tu Columbia//Know Your Columbia podcast and radio show and a founding member of Comunidades, a Columbia River Gorge-based group that engages Latinos in environmental and social justice issues. Carlos raised his family in the Gorge and worked as an educator at the Hood River Middle School. Currently, Carlos works for a company that produces educational audio services.
Riverkeeper: Is there a specific person that inspired your activism?
Carlos: Many people have influenced me over the years—my mother, my family, professors, Nelson Mandela—but I always credit injustice as my biggest influence. I was born and raised in El Salvador during the Civil War. I come from an activist family, advocating for many causes by organizing communities, students, and factory workers.
I didn’t choose it, but I was born into a community of economic injustice and violence, so activism chose me. In terms of social involvement, my mother had a big impact on my journey. She was the first recycler I knew—starting a recycling business that taught resourcefulness and being aware of your impact. It all started with her influence.
Riverkeeper: When did you first start volunteering with Riverkeeper?
Carlos: I moved to Hood River in 1990, where I lived for 20 years. In the Hood River Valley back in the 90s, I immediately got involved educating the migrant community through grassroots organizing and as a founding member of Radio Tierra.
I lived on Oak Street, just down the way from Riverkeeper’s office. I used to walk by it every day. At that time, I was focused on worker’s rights and grassroots advocacy, and Riverkeeper was fighting for environmental issues at the political and legal level. Issues like clean water were important to us as a Latino community and, as Riverkeeper grew, we eventually united to make the connections between clean water, agricultural chemical exposure and runoff, and community health. I began volunteering early on and have recently increased my work with Ubaldo Hernández, organizing Comunidades, focusing on environmental equity and education.
Riverkeeper: With so many great organizations to support, what drew you to Riverkeeper?
Carlos: With climate change and globalization, we are at a very important moment in time. Riverkeeper has been visionary in terms of making environmental education and preservation of natural resources topics that unite us. Even more, they are making economic investments dedicated to the Latino community by funding our work in Comunidades. I am inspired and excited to be involved with Riverkeeper and working under the umbrella because they are very respected, effective, and bring a level of organizational focus and structure not often seen in the grassroots community organizing field.
Riverkeeper: Tell us about the experience of co-hosting the Conoce tu Columbia//Know Your Columbia podcast and radio show with Riverkeeper’s Senior Community Organizer Ubaldo Hernández.
Carlos: I have a background in radio and audio engineering, so starting Conoce tu Columbia is a natural progression. I have always believed in the power of communication, and radio has been at the forefront of my political and community involvement. Our vision for Conoce tu Columbia is to organize and structure it in a way that can be a bilingual, global extension of Comunidades and Riverkeeper, educating communities on current and pressing issues.
Ubaldo and I have been super flexible in the creation of this podcast given the resources we have, and now adjusting to home recording sessions due to COVID-19. The nature of our work in fighting for environmental justice is constantly changing and we are constantly learning—and our podcast represents that.
Riverkeeper: Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you from a Conoce tu Columbia show?
Carlos: Any time I can reach a community that has not yet been informed about an issue is very meaningful. One show that stands out was about Bradford Island. We organized experts and tribal leaders from The Dalles to talk about the issues. I know people personally who fish at Bradford Island who had not been informed about its toxicity; this episode allowed us to share practical information with the fishing community to help protect their health. When tangible actions and change are activated through communications efforts, that is very memorable for me.
Riverkeeper: What do you think other people should know about Riverkeeper?
Carlos: I know that the organization is not always the first to promote its good work. I think we need to be promoting it more because Riverkeeper allows platforms like Comunidades to flourish. A lot of people don’t understand that Riverkeeper is doing work at so many levels to influence policies that affect us all.
Get inspired by the last 20 years of impactful work in solidarity with local and regional heroes of our movement.