Tell us a little about your journey to your current position at Tri-Valley Cares? What drove you to commit to nuclear issues?
Well, to be honest, I stumbled upon nuclear issues. I knew that I was drawn to the world of nonprofits and activism, but I hadn’t chosen a specific issue.
A family friend had been involved with Tri-Valley CAREs for a few years and knew they were looking for someone to help with outreach in the Latino community, which is very prevalent in the Central Valley. I had just graduated from college with a degree in marketing and had moved back home to Tracy. I was looking for part-time work so it turned out to be perfect timing!
I didn’t know much about nuclear issues beforehand, but once I became a part of Tri-Valley CAREs, I couldn’t believe the amount of information kept from the public eye. I had lived in Tracy for over 15 years, yet my family didn’t know that we live less than 10 miles from an explosive testing facility conducting toxic bomb blasts used to support nuclear weapon development, a.k.a. Livermore Lab’s Site 300. My community deserves to know if they are subject to toxic air at the hands of DOE-Livermore Lab. The lack of information and resources to the subjected communities is why I will always support this issue.
As a younger woman in the field of nuclear abolition, how have you seen gender impact your work? Have you had any female mentors along your professional journey thus far?
The work we do at Tri-Valley CAREs is powered by the female anti-nuclear activist badass, Marylia Kelley. She is the backbone of our organization and I have had the honor to work directly with her on a regular basis. I don’t know how she does it, but she will use every last drop of energy until the job gets done. Being able to see someone like her with so much passion for nuclear issues has definitely made me raise my standards. She has the greatest attention to detail and knack for effectiveness and clarity. I even see myself implementing lessons I learned from working with her outside of the office. I’m proud to say that I’ve had the privilege to collaborate, create and execute projects that have and will result in victories for peace and justice.
Also, I didn’t realize until just now that most of the community Ieaders in the Central Valley I have collaborated with have all been women. I guess that indicates positive leadership trends!
As the ‘bilingual outreach specialist’, can you tell us how you view your role connecting the work of Tri-Valley Cares with youth and Latinx communities? Why is this role so important?
According to 2016 census data, Tracy is 39.4% Latino/Hispanic descent, and that number is even higher in the surrounding communities. I’m sure in a couple of years it will be half of Tracy’s population. Livermore Lab does not translate a single document that is supposed to be available to the public. That is an environmental injustice. As the bilingual outreach specialist, I fill that role by translating material for the Spanish-speaking population. This eliminates the marginalization of these communities created by the Lab. These communities should not and will not be excluded.
In regard to the youth outreach, I was able to continue our annual tradition of the Youth Video Contest. This was started by Tri-Valley CAREs to engage the youth by having them learn about local and national issues with the nuclear weapons complex and allowing them to win a cash prize!
This role’s importance became very clear to me last week when 80+ community members attended a Public Hearing in Tracy for Site 300’s Bigger Bomb Blasts. As people were filing in, I noticed several familiar faces that I met at previous meetings in the community and as a guest speaker at other club meetings. Until that event, I had always thought of our Executive Director, Marylia, as the face of Tri-Valley CAREs. It wasn’t until last week that I realized in the Central Valley, I was the face of Tri-Valley CAREs and issues against Site 300. These individuals care about the environment and their communities’ health regardless, but a personal relationship is what pushes them to do more. I can’t take credit for the work our staff and volunteers do, but I now have a deeper understanding of the value of this role.
What barriers do you face in your work as you seek to engage new communities in the work of Tri-Valley Cares?
Some of the main barriers I came across involve different perspectives on nuclear weapons development and testing. The stronger opinions that were in opposition to our presence came from those who worked at or knew someone who worked at Livermore Lab. Others believed the activities conducted by the lab were justified because it was established before the immense population growth in the Central Valley. Importantly, however, I found that I could reason with some of the folks who were initially supportive of nuclear weapons development. I was able to demonstrate that we could disagree on some levels but could still agree on others. Having that dialog is the first step to overcoming differences.
How does your identity as a younger Latinx woman impact your outreach work? Do you feel this helps or adds barriers to your work?
This may sound weird, but I honestly forget that these are defining points of my identity. So I don’t always realize their impact. However, when I do reflect on it, I notice that I represent change to some communities. To the Latino community, I sense pride when they see a young woman that looks like them and can speak Spanish if needed. To the environmental community, I feel that I represent progress. I guess it just depends what group I’m talking to. Sometimes I feel that my age inhibits my credibility, but that’s when I’m able to refer to the Tri-Valley CAREs team. I can speak to the organization’s great range of experience and knowledge and that goes a long way to overcoming any possible barriers.
What professional achievement are you most proud of thus far?
I’ll refer back to a previous answer. I am most proud of the attendance and involvement from the public at the recent Public Hearing in Tracy. It was literally a reflection of all the work we’d done these past couple of months. Not only were there members of the Central Valley Community that I had recently spoken to, but I felt a personal connection to so many people. I almost couldn’t focus for a big part of the hearing because I would see someone I knew, and we’d wave or hug. It was such a great feeling!
What are the top professional goals you have for yourself within the next 3, 5, or even 10 years?
I do hope to be a part of Tri-Valley CAREs for the long-term, whether it be as a board member, volunteer or donor. This role has allowed me to learn so much, not only about environmental injustices, but also about the power of grassroots efforts.
Valeria (Val) Salamanca served as the Bilingual Outreach Specialist at Tri-Valley Cares, an organization whose mission is to promote peace, justice and a healthy environment. Originally from Tracy, CA, Val grew up in a community located less than 10 miles from Livermore Lab Site 300, a testing facility linked to nuclear weapons manufacturing. As the organization’s Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Salamanca ensured that information about Livermore and other nuclear-related developments was readily available to all residents. As a member of the Latinx community, Val offers translation and outreach to the Spanish-speaking population within Tracy (currently nearly 40% of the city’s residents). She also focuses her attention on reaching, engaging and collaborating with other young people so that future generations are aware of the nuclear threat and feel empowered to take leadership roles on this issue.