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Photo: National Park Foundation

Photo: National Park Foundation

 

The National Parks: Our Heritage, Our Responsibility

National Park Week is coming up, aligned with celebrations on Earth Day. During this time, the public can attend National Parks for free. Do you have plans to attend your closest National Park?

The question is posed because it provides an opportunity to go past how public land managers and organizations are working to reach out to diverse communities, and point out the opportunities for Latino communities to not only visit National Parks, but develop deeper understandings, connections, and responsibilities for our National Parks.

As Latinos will attain greater sociopolitical power, a guiding question is, how do we handle the responsibility of being stewards to our heritage in the National Parks?

There are certainly many areas where the National Park System has struggled to be more relevant to changing demographics and reaching out to diverse communities. But at the same time, there are various success stories and there are National Park units that are deliberately working to “bring the park to the people.”

Nonetheless, though there may be park units that have a clear need for more Latino engagement, it should also be clear that there is a rich Latino history and heritage in many park units.

This is highlighted by the recent NPS theme study detailing Latino heritage in US history. That is a study worth reading, especially to put into context how Latino history has been an interwoven thread in the American historical tapestry since the very beginning. This is alongside the establishment of the American Latino Heritage Fund in 2011, which has been working “to ensure that our national parks and historic sites preserve, reflect and engage the diverse stories and communities of American Latinos throughout American History and for future generations.”

We certainly need that work and it is important to expect our stories and engagement to be reflected across the National Park System. At the same time it is important to embrace not just the opportunity but the responsibility. That means demanding accessibility to this public heritage and making it culturally relevant, but also working to ensure its sustainability.

That could mean being involved in the policy work of having a healthy park system. It can mean being advocates for the park system across different platforms. It t could mean deepening our understanding of what the National Parks are and how they work—and how they are different from other public lands. It could mean simply attending your closest National Park, if you have not, to discover the heritage that belongs to all of us. Regardless, it involves taking some form of action.

Part of this work will not only involve highlighting the park units that most clearly tell the Latino heritage, but also seeing how we can broaden our experience into other park units. We can clearly identify with the new Cesar Chavez National Monument, but how do we create a Latino story for Glacier National Park? How is our story evolving with Kings Canyon National Park or with Grant Tetons National Park?

So we do need to keep in mind the following:

  • There is a need for more Latino community engagement in our National Parks.
  • There is a need more Latino representation in the National Park units.

But at the same time, as we own our power, demographically and politically, we can ask ourselves not only how do the National Parks represent us, but how we represent our responsibility for our National Parks. We need to increase our stories in, about, and for the National Parks. How will you engage with your parks this upcoming National Park Week?

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