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Aurora Castillo was a feisty advocate for East LA




Aurora Castillo holding her Goldman award
Aurora Castillo holding her Goldman award
Goldman Environmental Prize

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As women's history month comes to a close this week, we wanted to profile some women who have made their mark on L.A.'s history, like the late Aurora Castillo.

Castillo was the first person from L.A. to win the Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the Nobel Prize for environmental activism. Castillo was given the award for her leadership in the The Mothers of East L.A. (MELA), a community activist group.

When she received the award, Castillo spoke to the Goldman Environmental Prize about her devotion to her East L.A home.

The Mothers of East Los Angeles will fight like lionesses for the safety, security and welfare of their children. We send out a message that they cannot come into East Los Angeles and pollute our community and endanger the security, safety and health of our children.

Castillo was proof that age doesn't stop someone with a mission. She was in her seventies when MELA was formed to fight the construction of a prison in East L.A.

Frank Villalobos collaborated with MELA to stop the prison plan. He remembers the protest march where the group got its name.

Channel 9 shows up and Channel 9 was floored with that image of them [the protesters] coming with the Virgin of Guadalupe in the the front and the mariachis playing in the front. They were just blown away and said, 'Who are those women?' And so out of the clear blue sky we said, 'Well, these are the Mothers of East L.A.'

Castillo was a key leader for MELA, often speaking to press and acting as a coordinator to ensure presence at protests and events.

She [Castillo] would sit there and call, say, we have a meeting, we have a march, we have a press conference, we have whatever. She would make sure that there would be a population there. The segment she was always after was mothers, women. She didn't mind men but she wanted always the women in the front.

Villalobos said Castillo was feisty and unafraid of an argument, and she also was a devout Catholic and well-respected throughout the community. 

After stopping construction of the prison, Castillo and MELA battled against a toxic waste incinerator and a hazardous waste treatment plant being built in the area. After Castillo's death, MELA continued to fight for the East L.A. community. 

For her years of dedication to preserving the environment for her East L.A. neighbors and their children, Castillo was nominated for the Goldman Environmental Prize by Villalobos and MELA members. She won the award in 1995 and passed away three years later at age 84.