As Puerto Rico faces hurricane-induced devastation, the “Just Environments” series publishes an essay by Alexa Dietrich, Adriana María Garriga-López, and Claudia Sofía Garriga-López situating the current catastrophe within a broader historical context. Viewing it as an unnatural disaster, the authors point to a confluence of postcolonial industrialization, lax environmental regulation, and the privatization of utilities, which have all contributed to the island’s deteriorating infrastructure. Moving forward, they advocate for sustainable economic development and reliable public services as means of strengthening already-existing resilient and adaptive capacities.
Alexa S. Dietrich
Alexa S. Dietrich is program director for the Council’s Scholarly Borderlands initiative and associate professor of anthropology at Wagner College. She is trained in medical anthropology and epidemiology, earning both a PhD and MPH from Emory University, with research funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Her interests lie at the intersections of culture and health, technology, and the natural environment, and the application of qualitative and quantitative research methods. She conducted community action research for seven years in the northern pharmaceutical corridor of Puerto Rico, published in the monograph The Drug Company Next Door: Pollution, Jobs, and Community Health in Puerto Rico (NYU Press, 2013), winner of the Julian Steward Award for the best book in environmental anthropology in 2015. Her current research focuses on comparative environmental health vulnerabilities, disaster preparedness, and resilience, and she is a founding member of the Culture and Disaster Action Network. She sits on the Board of Directors for La Colmena, Staten Island’s community/jobs resource center, where she also reports meeting minutes in both English and Spanish.
Alexa Dietrich co-launches the “Just Environments” series by reflecting on the environmental challenges faced by transnational communities—in this case, families that live on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, whose lives are separated by stringent immigration policies. In highlighting the connections between immigration and the environment, Dietrich argues that a more humane approach to legal residency is critical to bolstering local resilience to climate change on both sides of the border.