• October 28th, 2021
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Are We Latinos a Disinherited Community?


 

Javier Sierra

 

In this Hispanic Heritage Month, we Latinos need to ask ourselves: Are we a disinherited community?

 

The richness of the Latino contribution to the progress of the US is immeasurable. Any American can see our profound influence in the country’s political and cultural life, and our enormous labor and economic input.

 

Yet our cultural and natural heritage is in serious peril.

 

“We are seeing a deterioration of our cultural heritage,” says Maite Arce, president of Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). “Our parks and important historical sites are being destroyed due to abusive development, local politics and the great complexity of the process to protect these sites.”

 

By featuring several examples across the country, a HAF study reveals that “sites that commemorate Latino heritage are disproportionately excluded when it comes to officially designated heritage and conservation sites.”

 

The report focuses on places that represent the profound architectural, cultural and historic roots of the Latino community “to protect, share and celebrate them as part of the American narrative.”

 

Castner Range, for instance, rises as an oasis of nature and serenity in the middle of the El Paso, TX, hustle and bustle. Not only does it serve as an essential basin to replenish the area’s aquifer, but it also is the ancestral land of Comanches and Apaches and contains a multitude of archaeological sites of these two Tribal cultures.

 

Friendship Park, in San Diego, right on the border, serves as a bridge between the American and Mexican cultures. In 1971, First Lady Patricia Nixon inaugurated the park hoping that “may there never be a fence between these two great nations so that people can extend a hand in friendship.” The park is more necessary now than ever.

 

Hazard Park is closely related to the largest high school student walkout in US history. In 1967, tens of thousands of Chicano students hit the streets protesting against the awful academic conditions of their schools. Today, the park is one of the very rare green spaces in East Los Angeles.

 

This gap in the acknowledgment of our natural heritage resembles the great deficit of access to nature we Latinos experience.

 

Other sites mentioned in the study are Chepa’s Park (California), Duranguito (Texas), Fefa’s Market (Rhode Island) and the Gila River (New México).

 

“We sought to uncover the shared history and diverse narratives through extensive research and community outreach. However, it is not enough to simply bring these stories out from the shadows. We must ensure these places are federally protected,” said Manuel Galvaiz, one of the authors of the report.

 

This gap in the acknowledgment of our natural heritage resembles the great deficit of access to nature we Latinos experience.

 

“Most children of color live in places where there exists a nature gap, without open, safe green spaces; therefore, they lack the benefit that comes with access to nature and green spaces,” says Arce. “We need to turn unused open spaces in these communities into local parks and green spaces and make them available to all of us.”

 

According to another HAF study, 70 percent of communities of color live in areas without access to nature, they are three times more likely to lack nature access than white communities, and they disproportionately suffer the consequences of nature destruction.

 

It is a proven fact that enjoying nature provides enormous benefits for children. Not only does it help reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactive disorder, obesity, myopia and lack of vitamin D, but it also reduces violence, depression and anxiety; stimulates learning, and helps improve academic performance.

 

The country gets an F in facilitating Latinos’ access to nature and protecting our cultural heritage. May this Hispanic Heritage Month serve as a motivation to turn this lamentable situation into a relic of the past.

 

 

Javier Sierra is a Columnist with Sierra Club.

 

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