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Hispanic Great Debaters Profile : Aurora Castillo

Nov 13, 2017 9:00:00 AM Erik Fogel aurora castillo

Community activist Aurora Castillo was a renowned champion for environmental justice. The feisty octogenarian believed all children deserved to breathe clean air, drink pure water, and grow up in a safe environment. Castillo founded the community organization, The Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA). The group worked to keep their neighbors safe from dangerous pollutants and environmental toxins.  

Castillo earned the name, la dona, because of her extraordinary leadership. The international community also recognized Castillo's tireless efforts to protect her Californian neighborhood. In 1995, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize. The award is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for environmental activists. The organization gives the award to ordinary individuals working to protect the environment.  

The fourth-generation Mexican American did not intend to become an environmental activist; she wanted to prevent a new prison from being placed in her area. The correctional facility was the eighth one California planned to build in East Los Angeles. Castillo feared that her neighborhood was becoming a penal colony. Castillo told her concerns to her church leader, Monsignor John Moretta. The church leader encouraged Castillo to meet with other women and find ways to stop the project. The group later became The Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA).  

Castillo and MELA organized weekly marches down the Olympic Boulevard Bridge. The protesters demanded that the California state government hear their voices. The women wore headscarves as a sign of peace and to show respect for their community.  

In 1986, Monsignor Moretta and 200 MELA members traveled to Sacramento, Calif., to meet with State Governor George Deukmejian. Their protests successfully stopped the planned prison project.  

Castillo became the Chief Financial Officer of MELA. Her group protested projects that threatened their neighbor's health, safety, and welfare. MELA and Castillo fought against the construction of the Vernon incinerator and the ChemClear plant. 

The State of California honored Castillo with the "Woman of the Year" Award in 1989. She later won the Goldman Environmental Foundation Prize. She also received a check of $75,000. Castillo died in 1998.   For more information, contact us.  


Aurora Castillo - 1995 Goldman Prize Recipient, North America

Wayback Machine: Mothers of East Los Angeles Goldman Environmental Prize Founders

The Earth Mother: Aurora Castillo has long protected her East L.A. Now the environmental efforts of la dona are being rewarded.     

Erik Fogel

Written by Erik Fogel