On March 11, 2014 President Obama President Obama established the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of California Coastal National Monument. This post reflects some thoughts on that designation in relation to how Latino communities’ connections to public lands. Upon hearing the news, Richard A. Rojas Sr., retired CA State Parks Superintendent, also had some thoughts to share, which he kindly offered as part of this post and future writings.
By José González, Founder-Director of Latino Outdoors, with Marce Gutiérrez , Founder-Director of Azul.
The designation of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument was a significant announcement in the conservation field—President Obama has been under pressure to put more public lands under more permanent protection. He has been criticized as favoring more energy development over protection, and having less permanent protection than his recent predecessors.
But apart from this story being strictly a “conservation win”, there are other stories and thoughts that come to mind, especially in the broader context as the demographics of the U.S continue to change, and as conservation agencies and organizations face the task of being more representative, responsive, and inclusive of those demographics shifts.
Richard Rojas Sr. shared:
“Reading the announcement that President Obama would be designating 1,665 acres of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands area to National Monument status brought a huge smile to my face. It brought back fond memories of my uncle Al taking my brother David, my cousin Patsy, and me on daytrips to explore and learn about the rugged Mendocino Coastline. It also reminded me that my work as a park advocate and champion for change for youth inclusiveness in our national and state parks is far from over.”
One interesting point is that the Point Arena-Stornetta designation was as part of the California Coastal Monument—thus adding a land component to an ocean monument. This instantly brought the idea of the connective work between land and ocean conservation, of places where boundaries meet and overlap, the ecological shore that exists between mar y tierra, but also the social shores that exists between and among different communities.
Thinking about the relevance of Latino communities to this work and conservation organizations—and vice versa—it is worthy to look at some of the ways this plays out for the different audiences.
One starting point is what are connections here for Latino communities?
As with other related issues, it has to be a two-way conversation, with opportunities to learn from each other: How Latino communities may and see the value of public lands and permanent protection, and how conservation agencies and organizations continue to provide these opportunities that connect with Latino communities.
What can Latino communities learn from and about a designation like Point Arena-Stornetta and why does it matter? How can conservation organizations highlight Latino community connections with public lands such as Point Arena?
As Richard Rojas Sr. notes:
“Setting aside special places like the home of César E. Chávez, United Farm Workers’ Union leader in California’s Central Valley and the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands along California’s North Coast as new National Monuments demonstrates that despite the challenges facing Washington D.C. today, President Obama is committed to protecting and preserving special places with historic and natural significance in our lifetimes. His actions will ensure that these National Monuments will remain protected and unspoiled for future generations of Americans to visit and enjoy. In an ideal world, how perfect would it be for Latino families from San Jose (172 miles away), Sacramento (176 miles away), Fresno (306 miles away) or Los Angeles (502 miles away) to explore and experience the wild and rugged Northern California coastline while on spring break or summer vacation? I imagine that more than a few families will be able to make that journey in their lifetime, but most will not. With the price of gas nearing $4.00 a gallon by this summer, the cost to fill the family car, pay for a hotel room or a campsite, meals and related supplies is just too expensive for many families. They are more likely to spend their vacation visiting family, recreating at a nearby park or going to Sea World or Disneyland.”
That is a fair point to make and one that brings to discussion the overall challenge of connecting a variety of communities to public lands that may not as easily accessible to them. Point Arena-Stornetta is a small town in the California Mendocino coast. At first, the designation looks like a “standard” conservation win in the portfolio: a beautiful coast line far away from the urban Latino communities of Los Angeles or the rural Latino communities of the Central Valley—another “far away” protected land. You can contrast it with the designation of the Cesar Chavez National Monument—which has a clearer connection and relevance to Latino communities, especially in the Central Valley which is dotted with the predominantly Latino communities fueling the demographic shift in California. It is story for another post, but that designation was a “win” for Latinos looking to make the National Park Service more reflective of Latino history—especially beyond Spanish colonial park units. It is also an opportunity to highlight the work of supporting organizations like the American Latino Heritage Fund.
But looking back at the example of Point Arena-Stornetta, some points and questions to consider can highlight how current and future National Monument designations and public land protection in general can and do matter for Latino communities, including units like Cesar Chavez, but beyond as well.
First, gente, what is there to pay attention here? In what ways should a place like Point Arena-Stornetta matter to Latinos? Beyond simply the fact that we are part of the American fabric, it is an opportunity to educate and step into that responsibility—to be informed and act accordingly.
As mentioned prior, the Point Arena-Stornetta designation highlights a connection to the ocean. Sometimes we may think of protected public lands as remote places, chunks of some National Forest , BLM land, or other public land agency—and many a time they are. In this case however, Point Arena- Stornetta has been designated as part of the California National Coast Monument. That means it is part of an ocean protected space. So just like you see Yosemite as a land-based protected National Park, we have these protected spaces in the water, and both at the state and federal level (did you know in CA we have a series of these “underwater parks”? They are our marine protected areas). In fact, the largest U.S protected space is in the water, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument designated by President Bush in 2006. We need to pay attention to these spaces because they may not be as easy to access or visit like a day trip to Yosemite, but they nonetheless require our engagement and support—a responsibility worthy of our growing demographic shift. This is where it is important to note and support the work Latino leadership like Azul, working to empower Latino leadership for marine conservation.
As we work to ensure that new protected units are reflective of our stories, history, and experience, we can also know that these are all of our public space—and we can create current and future stories in them. We can increase how representative public land designations are, while being more representative in them. We need designations like Cesar Chavez, while representing and supporting more public land and ocean protection.
Richard Rojas Sr. notes:
“My wish is that Latinos learn about all the National, State, regional and local parks and trails near where they live, work and play. There is no better way to learn about a park than by becoming a park docent of volunteer. Too often, traditional park users view Latinos as being uncaring, uninterested, or abusive to public lands and park facilities. The best way to change these assumptions is to break down the barriers of ignorance with education. What better way to educate than to become involved?
If Latino parents don’t have the time or interest to become a park volunteer, then at a minimum they should support and encourage their children to get involved. Today, many High Schools in the U.S. require students to volunteer in their community to earn civics credit for graduation. Volunteering at a local park or national monument is a great way for a student to learn more about her/his local park and also provide her/him with new possibilities for pursuing a career in public service.”
For conservation organizations, it is a similar message—there is opportunity not just in supporting more representative public land protection, but also in that any public land protection can be representative, because Latinos are everywhere in the US. The community may look different in different sections of the country, but from Alaska to Alabama to North Carolina to Michigan, there are Latino communities. While there are clear public land protection opportunities in the Southwest with historical and traditional Hispano communities, new and different Latino communities can add to the support and stories in any public land. Even in a place like the Mendocino coast, which some may not clearly see as having prominent Latino communities, the representative voices are there: Though it is a small population of 449, according to the 2010 U.S Census, Point Arena is 33% Latino of Mexican descent. North of Point Arena, Radio Bilingüe, the National Latino Public Network, broadcasts bilingual and indigenous programming, serving the communities of Fort Bragg, Laytonville, Willits, Garberville and other parts of the Mendocino coast. So if a question is asked “how was the Latino community engaged in this effort, and does it matter?”—what would be the answer, or the lack of having one? What does this designation look like to them? What does it mean? How is it understood?
Richard Rojas Sr. notes:
“At the risk of exposing the obvious, many conservation organizations have not exactly hung out the ‘Mí casa, es su casa’ welcome sign for Latinos. Rather than play political roulette with our future, I challenge organizations like the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, the National Park Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation to invite prominent professional Latino leaders in the parks, open-space protection, outdoor education and related fields to serve on their organization’s board of directors. Only then, will our voices, our concerns, our values and our dreams for an inclusive future be heard.”
However, it is important to stress how this is a shared responsibility—and the opportunities to keep working on past the often-stated barriers and challenges. There a many successes, and though each is often achieved through the overcoming of a challenge, it also serves as a perfect opportunity to see how to further the work of making the conservation movement more representative, responsive, and inclusive.
So yes, Monuments Matter, as do protected public lands overall, just like the communities that support them, nearby and far away—with opportunities to engage them all.
Thank you to Richard A. Rojas Sr. for his thoughts and contributions to this post.
- Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Santa Barbara County
- City of Goleta Parks and Recreation Commissioner
- Anza Trail Foundation, Chairman
- Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Board of Directors – Secretary
- CA State Parks District Superintendent – Channel Coast District (Retired)
His complete contribution to this post and related thoughts will be offered in full in a future post.
“Monuments Matter” is Twitter hashtag. You can follow the conversation and add your voice with #monumentsmatter.