How can a single landscape, a shantytown on the US–Mexico border, symbolize environmental devastation for some and progress and ‘the good life’ for others? Our analysis of this landscape and the people who are a part of it highlights the complexities of the environmental justice movement in the current era of neo-liberal economic policies. Although the colonia that we studied, Derechos Humanos, is located on top of an abandoned landfill near an open sewage canal, living here represents a step forward for many residents. However, to many US environmentalists, this landscape represents a toxic wasteland and the people living here are simply victims of border industrialization. Contributing to critical environmental justice studies, our analysis of Derechos Humanos highlights the injustices of the global political economy, creative responses to these forces by individuals most adversely affected by them, and the potential limitations of conventional framings of environmental justice and mainstream Northern environmentalism.