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Celebrating Latino Conservation Week: Connecting Communities and Nature

Celebrating Latino Conservation Week: Connecting Communities and Nature
Walking at Catherine Creek during Gorge Latino Conservation Week. © Paloma Ayala
By Denise López
Conservation Organizer

September 26, 2023
Latino Conservation Week (LCW) is an annual initiative that shines a spotlight on the invaluable contributions of Latino communities to conservation efforts in the United States. More than just a celebration, LCW is about forging a deeper connection between these communities and the outdoors. What began with just 9 events has now flourished to over 250 events in recent years, uniting Latinos across the country through a blend of outdoor activities, community engagement, and education events held by community, non-profit, faith-based, government organizations and agencies around the country. The goals for LCW align with those of Friends, to create a sense of belonging and stewardship for natural spaces and inspire the next generation of leaders and environmental advocates. 

Denise Lopez and Ubaldo HernandezComunidades, an environmental and social justice group in Hood River that we work with closely, asked Friends to join in on the planning for the Gorge’s first Latino Conservation Week. Our vision was to bridge cultural and environmental connections by ensuring that conservation is inclusive and representative of the diversity in the Gorge through events that emphasize the importance of diverse voices and perspectives in addressing environmental challenges. Our Gorge Latino Conservation Week ran from July 20 to July 22, and included a session with a Guatemalan environmental poet, a panel of local environmental leaders discussing environmental and social justice issues, and a hike and tour of Friends’ Catherine Creek property. 

Along with members of the Forest Service and a local organization, I was a part of the panel on Friday.  We discussed careers in conservation, how we have been able to advance in our careers to get where we are, and opportunities for Latinos in the community looking for green jobs. We had a wide variety of attendees from partner organizations, including members of the community looking to uplift Latinos, local businesses, and of course Latino families and individuals. The energy at this event was fantastic, I heard so much enthusiasm and passion in all the conversations taking place. Talking to attendees and during the panel, I shared my love for the environment and the tough journey I took to where I am today. We all had experienced life’s many surprise twists and could not have predicted where we are today. It was validating to hear how everyone had strayed from the plan they set for themselves and inspirational to be able to pass on lessons I hadn’t realized I had been carrying with me. 

Feeling a mixture of exhaustion and fulfillment, I finished my preparations for the hike Friends was leading the next day and woke up bright and early for the drive to Catherine Creek. Every successful Latino event has a mixture of the following three things: tasty food, fun activities, and people that know how to have a good time. To make sure I met these expectations I enlisted the help of Friends staff Sarah Skelly, Forest Service Ranger Lily, and my family. We had an exciting day, with a full house and our first cat companion on the hike! Throughout the hike, Sarah taught the group about the climate resilience of oak woodlands, local bird populations, and the interesting plants in the area. Our walk and nature lesson was a fitting follow-up after the panel, it was special to create the opportunity to bring the community outdoors and see the smiles on their faces as they learned formal names for plants and birds that they already recognized as a part of their community. 

As a Latina, the opportunity to celebrate the joy and resilience of my community is incredibly impactful and important to me. While we face many challenges, climate change being one of the most difficult, a sense of happiness and determination is what helps keep us going. For many in my community, our culture and history have resulted in a strong relationship with the land and a deep respect for la Madre Tierra. The more we can highlight the interconnectedness between people and the natural world by sharing our traditional practices and teachings, the more people will feel energized to continue protecting and preserving. Unlike many in the Latino community, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with my family which led me to become an advocate for our natural spaces. I hope that future Latino Conservation Week events can continue to provide the same opportunities that I have experienced, so that we will all be able to find joy, curiosity, and passion for the outdoors.