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Latino Outdoors and Eco Festival increase Latino participation
La Voz Photo

By James Mejía

In the world of environmental activism, the call to action to save the planet is done through guilt, fact-doused rationale or videos of rapidly changing conditions. What’s more, nonprofit environmental organizations across the country list few people of color as board members and struggle to involve people of color in the environmental movement. One national organization aims to change the game.

Latino Outdoors features an organization founded by Latinos for Latinos under the slogan, “Connecting Cultura and Community with the Outdoors.” In 3rd quarter 2017, Latino Outdoors put out a Strategic Plan to, “Promote Culturally Relevant Outdoor Connections and Leadership.” By connecting Latinos to the outdoors, they look to not only increase the number of users of available recreational experiences but also provide leadership and stewardship of environmental resources. One of their four organizational goals is to, “Ensure Latinos have an active presence and strong voice in the outdoors and conservation movement.”

Their 2020 strategic plan recognizes 5,000 members and volunteers serving 50,000 Latino families in every major U.S. city including Denver. By connecting neighbors to open space and recreational experiences, Latino Outdoors wants to, “… help our constituents develop the desire to advocate and support policies that protect our shared landscapes and public lands.” The organization has awarded over $1 million in scholarships to pursue skill building and other outdoor experiences.

California-based Latino Outdoors was founded by José González, and its board of directors is chaired by Richard Rojas. González is an educator at the K-12 and university levels, focusing in environmental and outdoor education. Rojas has experience exemplary of Latinos throughout the country that have expertise in outdoor recreation and preservation, but often performed behind the scenes. Rojas served in the California State Park system starting as an entry-level Park Ranger and ending with the vast expertise of District Superintendent.

Colorado Connection

Latino Outdoors’ Advisory Board includes Midy Aponte, former founding Executive Director of the American Latino Heritage Fund, charged with increasing stewardship by Latinos of outdoor resources. The position was created by former Secretary of the Interior and Colorado native, Ken Salazar.

Latino Outdoors’ Program Coordinator for the Mountain States is Graciela Garcia Irlando. More commonly known as “Chela,” Irlando graduated from CU Boulder with both undergraduate and graduate degrees, her most recent studies in the environmental field. Irlando is currently managing the campaign of candidate for Colorado State Representative District 4, Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez.

The Latino Outdoors web site features an interview with Melissa Sotelo, a Far Northeast Denver native and current employee of ELK, Environmental Learning for Kids, the same organization she credits for bestowing her love of outdoors and inspiration for wanting to be a steward of the environment. She earned a bachelor’s degree from CSU and plans to attend grad school with a focus in environmental studies.

On April 21st, Latino Outdoors will celebrate Earth Day with a Day Hike at Chief Mountain Trail in Evergreen, Colorado. The organization will host several other events for Earth Day in Texas and California.

Americas Latino Eco Festival

The sixth edition of the Eco Fest will take place in Denver between September 26-30, 2018 during Hispanic Heritage Month. Honoring the country of Puerto Rico this year, the conference highlights “Climate Solidarity: Powering Cultural + Ecological Resistance.” On Sunday, September 30, the Eco Festival will host Dia de Familia with art, performances and educational activities related to environmental preservation. Leading up to the event, the organization will hold the, “U Can Green Ambassadors Congress,” which aims to help middle school and high school students develop skills and experience through an environmental curriculum.

Billed as, “A Three Day Arte y Cultura Celebration of Madre Tierra, its Leaders & our Familias,” the Americas Latino Eco Festival was founded and is still directed by Puerto Rico native, Irene Vilar-Grandbois. Now a Boulder resident, Vilar is a noted author and communications specialist.

Besides environmental education, this year’s event has an environmental book fair, movie series and art activities. Though events are free, registration is encouraged at The staff and volunteers organizing the event come from across the Americas and Europe. In a letter on the festival web site, Vilar notes, “The history of Americas for Conservation + the Arts [parent organization to the festival] is young, somewhat emotional, and filled with longing but its story is very old, almost ancient: the need to reconcile peoples and places for a sustainable future.”

Latinos and the Environment

Both Americas Latino Eco Fest and Latino Outdoors are tapping into growing sentiment among the Latino population that the environment is becoming a greater public policy concern. In a summary of nine different environmental surveys between 2011 and 2014, surveyors reported that, “Hispanic voters want policy makers to take clean air and natural resources preservation considerations into account when making decisions about energy policy and other developments with a direct impact on the physical environment.”

In 2015, polling firm Latino Decisions released a report showing that Latino voters prioritized environmental conservation in ballot initiatives in Florida, California, New Mexico and Colorado. The Hispanic Access Foundation funded the report and issued a statement from the organization’s CEO, Maite Arce, “The Latino population is the fastest growing segment in the country. Policy makers need to realize that their engagement in conservation could have a far-reaching impact on elections, and the protection of our clean air, water and public lands.”

The report acknowledges the role of Latino voters in passing a Florida water and wetlands conservation initiative where 75 percent of Latinos helped pass funding, a New Mexico initiative for acquiring open space and natural areas where 72 percent of Latinos voted in favor, a $7 billion water bond in California where 67 percent of Latino voters helped pass the measure and the Larimer County, Colorado sales tax for rivers and natural areas which was overwhelmingly approved.

A 2014 Latino Decisions national survey reported that 85 percent of Latinos believe air and water are serious problems. A Sierra Club survey found 70 percent of Latinos rated climate change as a very important issue.





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