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A New Shade of Green: Arte and Community-Building for Conservation

This week will be the second Americas Latino Eco Festival.  In case you missed it, an all-star lineup of artists, film makers, writers, performers, advocates, and community leaders from across the spectrum will be gathering in Boulder, Colorado, to be presente as a New Shade of Green—what Latinos have brought, are bringing, and will continue to bring to the environmental and conservation movement.

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The driving force behind this convening, Founder Irene Vilar, summed it best when she shared, “I want to create a home—so we can gather and show what many fantastic individuals and organizations are doing. ” With countless volunteer hours and numerous supporters, this gathering will be a showcase of how Latinos in the US—and across the Hemisphere—have been, are, and will continue to be an influence in the environmental movement.

The identities of environmentalist and conservationist are not exclusive of Latino, Hispano, and Chicano identities by definition. Some history, perceptions, and attitudes have made it seem so—through biased perceptions and exclusive actions—but our culture and history is a timeline showing that to be an “Eco-Latino” is not a radical new identity. In many ways it is just another example of the mestizaje and ambicultural identities so many of us carry.

In the end it is about how we all share a concern for the well-being of our Madre Tierra, along with our communities. We have a conservation cultura that is evident in our history and traditions, enriching our present, with movement-changing potential for the future.  The environment and conservation is in the work we do, the lives we lead, and the issues we have taken up—even if sometimes they are not seen as so.

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In the United States, Cesar Chavez’s work during the 1960’s and 1970’s was an environmental issue as much as it was part of the labor and civil rights movement. At the same time,in 1969 Ralph Santiago Abascal of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) filed suit on behalf of six migrant farm workers that ultimately resulted in the ban of the pesticide DDT. That is part of the narrative along with Silent Spring. Chicanos in the Southwest have been involved in water and land struggles since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In the 1970’s local residents in Questa, New Mexico, were exemplary of a low-income Hispano community lacking the money, technical, and legal resources to take on a multibillion-dollar corporation contaminating groundwater—but fighting it anyways. That is part of the narrative of the Water Wars of the West.

Add in the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Mothers of East LA (MELA), Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LEJO) and countless more, and the timeline and narrative expands*. There are also the stories and work across the hemisphere.

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When those who have had the privilege and power to frame the mainstream narrative of the conservation and environmental movement support and open up to the countless  stories and storytellers of our gente, it becomes clearer how “green” is a much more diverse spectrum—and the need and struggles to demonstrate that.

Recently, more and more news, articles, and reports continue to highlight and stress how the environmental movement is not diverse enough.  We have also seen a host of reports and polls showing how Latinos care about the environment and are willing to take action on issues from fracking to climate change.

But again, the story here is to stress not how this is a new awareness or connection to the environment. Rather, it serves to point out how we have been left out of so many conversations, spaces, and stories. The Americas Latino Eco Festival will be a strong reminder that we are here, we are an influence, and more and more we will continue to be presente and heard. The question is, how do you want to join us? How can we work together? How will you share your resources with us? This is not a zero-sum game unless you see it that way. There is the opportunity for everyone across the environmental spectrum to work on this,–to include all shades of green. To no longer have a reason to not hear or include our stories.  

This week in Colorado, and for years to come across the hemisphere, we will be showing how have been defining verde, and how we will continue to broaden its definition.

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*For anyone who has not done so, I encourage you read these books as well:

  • Chicano Culture, Ecology, Politics: Subversive Kin. Edited by Devon Gerardo Peña.
  • Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra Y Vida. By Devon Gerardo Peña
  • Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest. By Laura Pulido.
  • Latino environmental struggles in the Southwest. By Laura Pulido.
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