17 Jul Latina and Green
This week we celebrate Latino Conservation Week. LCW celebrates the contributions of Latinx people to the natural environment and creates opportunities to deepen and strengthen relationships with nature. On this week, organizations and communities across the country uplift and elevate Latinx voices and create spaces that are specifically tailored and welcoming to the Latinx community. I first became familiar with the Latino conservation and environmental justice community when I attended a GreenLatinos conference in 2018. The network and community has served its exact purpose and mission in my life, to encourage and inspire my environmental work in the midst of a predominantly white field.
Not much different to Latino Conservation Week and GreenLatinos, the Latino Heritage Internship Program places Latinx-identifying undergraduate and graduate students from across the country at national parks. I was very excited to learn about this program during my second semester of my master’s program at the University of Texas at Austin. The federally funded program is managed by an external organization, Environment for the Americas, referred to as a “partner organization” within the service. Across the country, students under 35 years old are increasing representation within a federal agency of one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. The same ethnic representation is fostering and furthering the relevancy and the accessibility of national parks across the country. Author of The Adventure Gap James Edward Mills stated it well when he wrote, “Long term, therefore, the adventure gap and the problem of low minority involvement in outdoor activities could affect the preservation of the environment as a whole. The need for greater diversity in outdoor recreation is more than a matter of who’s out enjoying the wilderness. Inclusivity will be a critical factor in the continuing viability and influence of the environmental movement” (Mills, 62). If park conservation and outdoor recreation does not represent the majority of the population, not only will the majority not be physically present in these spaces, but the environment itself will suffer as well.
As an intern at a national historical park, I ask myself many questions about the relevancy of this park to the Latinx population near and far. Although my position is not focused on community outreach, engagement, or programming, I care deeply about the work that I do furthering relevancy and accessibility of the park. As I have written about in previous posts, Minute Man National Historical Park preserves the story of the first day and battle of the Revolutionary War, April 19, 1775. Having thought very little about the Revolutionary War since I was in elementary school, I had to relearn the details of the war and even more so the onsets of the war itself. Our country’s independence from an oppressive country feels distant and awfully familiar in our nation’s own complicated state of being and with our own history of unbalanced relations internationally. Learning and even celebrating its independence often feels confusing. Perhaps you have read or heard about challenges to celebrating July 4th or other patriotic practices and holidays. Moreover, the story does not feel relevant to the present moment or that it represents the people that are here now.
Despite these challenges, our park is accessible in a few ways that can be leveraged for greater inclusivity. I am proud to share with people that our trail is fairly flat and easy to enjoy and wheel, walk, or bike through. People that I have spoken with from among family and friends have been pleasantly surprised to learn that our park is free! Partnerships at the park with organizations, like Environment for the Americas, further representation of Latinos in the Department of Interior, a significant action and step toward welcoming people from minority backgrounds. Last, but not least, we have a free shuttle in town that makes stops at a couple highly visited sites of the park. Among others that exist, these aspects are significant and appealing for welcoming diverse communities. The work to become inclusive cannot stop here; the journey to see the beautiful palette that makes up this country be reflected in our staff, visitors, and programming will take many more strides and intentional actions. This week, on Latino Conservation Week, we can reflect on the ways that Latinos locally and across the country have furthered conservation and consider the ways that we can facilitate enjoyment and access for the Latinx-identifying population at the National Park Service. What a better place to embark on this journey than the birthplace of the nation.