Latinx communities and the Hispanic Access Foundation celebrate Latinx Conservation Week in July. Latinx Conservation Week: Disfrutando y Conservando Nuestra Tierra is an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). Latinx Conservation Week was created to support our Latinx community in getting to experience the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources. In the past years, we have seen representation in Congress of Latinx leaders who fight to break down barriers to the outdoors alongside our communities and are responsive to our calls for support. For decades low-income and communities of color face overwhelming inequities, including their proximity to air pollution, affecting our health and economic status.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the EPA-funded Center for Air, Climate, and Energy Solutions, people of color in the US breathe more particulate air pollution on average, a finding that holds true across income levels and geographical regions of the country.
This year, as comunidades in this country honor and visit the more than 400 national park sites and public areas from July 16 to 24, we must continue to grow our parks system to ensure that we are safeguarding the diverse cultures and history of our country, preserving more public lands and waters, and expanding equitable access to them. We also need to make sure that our comunidades are receiving the access we deserve and need to connect with Madre Tierra. It is essential to protect our parks and land, but we also need to ensure that the air quality our familias breathe is protected across all spaces.
Our Latinx communities have historically protected Madre Tierra and always valued the importance of national parks and other public lands and waters. Open spaces, water, and the land have always been sacred in our culture and a way to bring communities together to enjoy and honor Madre Tierra’s gifts.
The Latinx population in the United States has increased to more than 62.1 million people, accounting for more than 18% of the total population, and is expected to reach almost one-third by 2050. However, according to a 2020 Outdoor Industry Association survey, only 11.6% of Latinx participated in outdoor recreational activities. Simply said, the future of our diverse young and Latinx populations depends on involving and welcoming them in care for public lands and waters. But interaction with nature is just the beginning. Although advocacy has always been a feature of LCW, its significance this year has increased due to the second annual Latino Advocacy Week. National decision-makers need to hear from the groups (Latinx, Black, and Indigenous people) that are most affected by climate change. Latinx Conservation Week’s platform elevates and emphasizes the Latinx community’s voice in decision-making.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus comprises many Latinx climate and conservation champions who, every day, work to represent and respond to our needs. Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), among others, reintroduced the Outdoors for All Act. This bipartisan bill would create a dedicated source of funding for projects that expand outdoor recreational opportunities in urban and low-income communities across the nation. It is essential to have champions in Congress to continue to fight and build an inclusive and resilient conservation legacy by championing locally-led initiatives to protect places with cultural, historical, and ecological resources before it is too late.
As we approach the end of Latinx Conservation week, where we enjoy the outdoors and every breath we take, there is an opportunity for community members to speak up and call for the EPA to do what is right. August 2nd is the deadline for community members to submit their comments urging the EPA to approve California’s waiver so low-income communities of color within the Golden State and across the country can breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives.
Many states have followed California’s lead in adopting more stringent standards. Denying California’s waiver would have disastrous consequences across the country and considerably set back federal and state pollution reduction goals.
We know a legacy of systemic oppression and white supremacy has tried to sever the connection between people of color and the land. As historical stewards of our ancestors’ lands, we have never been more intentionally excluded from the outdoors, and people of color continue to be excluded from the U.S. conservation movement. We thank Congresswoman Barragán for her leadership in proposing a resolution to designate the third week of July as Latino Conservation Week, and we call on Members of Congress to support this legislation.
Chispa lideres across the country celebrate Latinx Conservation Week. We will also echo the calls from communities of color, Indigenous leaders, conservation groups, local elected officials and other advocates working to protect more of our public lands and ensure equitable access to Black, Indigenous, and communities of color. It is time to address environmental racism and ensure access to open spaces where we all can breathe healthy air. In open spaces, we can continuously practice our cultura, connect with the Earth and one another.