There is an inequitable distribution of nature and natural spaces between affluent, predominantly white communities and low-income communities of color. The 2021 Nature Gap report by Hispanic Access Foundation and Center for American Progress, states that “the inequitable distribution of nature’s benefits in the United States is not the result of a consenting choice of communities of color or low-income communities to live near less nature, to allow more nature destruction nearby, or to give up their right to clean air and clean water. Nature deprivation is, instead, a consequence of a long history of systemic racism.” With this in mind, now more than ever, while Americans are experiencing record-breaking heatwaves happening almost daily and catastrophic flooding events across the country, it is imperative that the voices of communities of color at the frontlines of climate change, including Latino communities, are elevated and emphasized in conservation efforts. It is our communities that suffer the most from the destruction of nature, and therefore need the protection of nature and climate the most.
Latinos are and always have been instrumental players in the conservation movement over the years, from fighting for the preservation of natural spaces of cultural significance to being known leaders in the fight against climate change to advocating for equitable access to public lands for recreation. Unfortunately, the predominant narrative in outdoor and conservation culture doesn’t reflect the faces and the contributions of the Latino community in these spaces. To address these disparities, Hispanic Access Foundation launched Latino Conservation Week in 2014 to support the Latino community getting into the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources. During this week, community, nonprofit and for-profit, faith-based, and government organizations and agencies hold events throughout the country. From hiking and camping to community roundtables and film screenings, these activities promote conservation efforts in the Latino community, and provide an opportunity for Latinos to show their support for permanently protecting our land, water, and air.
Beyond being a week of recreational opportunities, Latino Conservation Week has become a week of safety and cultural solidarity in the outdoors for our community. During this week, our community can recreate within our culture without fear of judgment, share our stories and our voice, and take up space outdoors. In a country where the “traditional” narrative of outdoor recreation can be white, expensive, and inaccessible, LCW has become a platform for changing the narrative of what outdoor recreation looks like and breaking down the barriers that can often keep our community from participating in outdoor recreation and conservation.
As Latino Conservation Week grows over the years, it becomes increasingly evident that one of the biggest impacts the initiative has had is that it strengthens the Latino community and reinforces solidarity among the community in the fight against climate change and in protecting natural resources. This year, for one week in the summer, Latino conservationists were in the spotlight, setting an example for what should be a constant: the voices of Latino, Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color at the forefront. More than anything Latino Conservation Week made our community feel seen. We saw our history within the land. We saw our present-day commitment to caring for our planet and resources. We saw our future as leaders in the environmental movement. And everyone else got to see us too.