The importance of Latinx representation and inclusion

Over the weekend I had a unique and rewarding experience that also helped put some things in perspective. American author and journalist Hampton Sides came to speak at an event at Pecos National Historical Park (PNHP) that celebrated both the National Park Service (NPS) centennial as well as the 10th anniversary of his book ‘Blood and Thunder’. His book is centered on the history of the American West during the 1800s and focuses primarily on  American frontiersman Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson, who is also considered a controversial figure by some.

Author Hampton Sides gives a talk for PNHP visitors.

Author Hampton Sides gives a talk for PNHP visitors.

The event was a huge success for the park and it was an honor to host an author who has not only penned several award-winning books but has written for such publications as National Geographic and The Washington Post. Roughly 200 people attended the event, where Sides graciously answered visitor questions, posed for photos, and signed guests’ copies of ‘Blood and Thunder’. I attended the event as the unofficial photographer and something became evident to me as I began to snap pictures. I noticed what appeared to be a lack of minorities who showed up to the event. While the exact cause of a lack of minority visitors at this event cannot be determined, I recalled a 2013 article by The New York Times that discussed the National Park Service’s struggle to appeal to minorities. The article states that many Americans who grew up going to parks, had examples of outdoor history who “tended to be white”. I find it easy to jump to the conclusion that many potential visitors tend to overlook parks because of this reason. I’ve been told during my time here at PNHP that the annual Feast Day event that occurs every August tends to have a great turnout. According to the official PNHP Facebook page, the event begins with “a procession of the painting of Our Lady of the Angels that hangs in St. Anthony’s Church to the church at Pecos Pueblo” and ends with “people from Jemez Pueblo, the village of Pecos, local communities, and visitors from distant places” gathering inside the ruins of the historic church to participate in a mass. I checked NPS statistics and recent years reflect that August tends to have some of the highest visitor turnouts of each year at PNHP.

The mission ruins where PNHP’s annual Feast Day takes place.

The Hispanic and Latinx segment of Pecos, N.M., makes up 80.08% of it’s population, according to the 2000 Census. Now, it might be speculation on my part, but it seems to me that the key to getting Latinx communities involved in parks is trying to create more events and highlight parts of history with their culture and identity in mind. I think the key to getting any minority group to attend parks is to try to create more events and highlight parts of history that with each race or ethnic group’s culture or identity in mind. This sentiment seems to be echoed by NPS spokesperson Kathy Kupper in a 2016 Mashable article. “The park service wants to be the complete storyteller of our country and it’s our mission now to bring attention to certain stories that are under-represented. We’re trying to tell all these stories and we’re trying to hear about the role that African Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, all these groups played in the history of America.” My experience so far with NPS has been an eye-opening one. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that the Hispanic Access Foundation’s initiative “Latino Conservation Week”, and the work that each individual LHIP intern puts forth towards it, could prove to be instrumental in getting more Latinx communities involved and interested in national parks.

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