Parques Para Todos: Pa’Delante In 2017

By José G. González

This article was originally published in Huffington Post 

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, California. A new monument in Northern California which Latino Outdoors supported,

It’s clear that 2016 was the year of the park. The nation’s treasured spaces celebrated their centennial, raising awareness about the need to preserve our public spaces and expand opportunities to access for all Americans. In California, cities across the state voted to invest in expanding the amount of green space in their communities. We hope that the momentum continues in 2017 and that parks and public lands continue to have the support of the future President.

The Obama administration was an example of the importance of having park champions at the highest levels of government. President Obama protected more land and water than any other president. His Every Kid in a Park initiative gave every fourth grader, and their families, free access to national parks and all public lands, which preserve America’s most beautiful and historic places. Obama expanded monuments that celebrate the country’s historical diversity, such as Harriet Tubman National Monument, César E. Chavez National Monument, and Stonewall National Monument, to harness the power that parks and preservation have in making history come alive.

Kids receiving their Junior Ranger Badge at Muir Woods National Monument as part of a joint program with CA State Parks Summer in Learning Program with leadership from Latino Outdoors Regional Coordinator Alicia Cruz.

Kids receiving their Junior Ranger Badge at Muir Woods National Monument as part of a joint program with CA State Parks Summer in Learning Program with leadership from Latino Outdoors Regional Coordinator Alicia Cruz.

California has led the charge, too, to protect our public lands and treasured green spaces. State parks are often a model for the rest of the country, and California is stepping up to the challenge of meeting the needs of an increasingly urban, diverse population. A two-year transformation process is wrapping up, paving the way for reforms that will provide programming and diverse staffing to ensure that state park visitors reflect the Golden state’s demographics by 2025.

North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve, Butte County. Outing led by Latino Outdoors Outings Leader Eduardo Gonzalez.

Californians also showed a willingness to support funding for parks in places like Los Angeles and Berkeley. In the case of Los Angeles County, an assessment of park needs commits the region to investing in reducing historical park disparities that have resulted in low-income communities receiving less than their share of green space. Given the importance that parks play in the health and wellbeing of our communities, I helped to launch Parks Now, a coalition of diverse park champions have come together to ensure that park reforms don’t get lost among other issues. We are pushing for equity in access, guided by the work I do through my own organization, Latino Outdoors, where we lead efforts to reconnect people of all backgrounds to our open spaces and to prove that we all have a place in the outdoors.

Malibu Creek State Park, Calabasas, California. Latino Outdoors 2016 Leadership Campout.

But there is still a lot of work to be done, and parks will always need a champion in Washington D.C.

We urge the president-elect and his administration to continue the work accomplished so far and to aim even higher in honor of our future generations and their right to public lands. Federal lands make up roughly 27 percent of the land area of the U.S., and they belong to each and every one of us. Public lands protect wild landscapes and natural and cultural resources, and invigorate us with their beauty, crisp air, and majestic views. Parks are a birthright of all Americans, which means we all deserve access to green space and we all have the responsibility to be stewards of our public lands.

Cosumnes River Preserve, Sacramento, California. Latino Outdoors outing by Regional Coordinators, Ambassadors, and Outings Leaders Raquel Rangel, Jacky Elizarraraz, Natividad Chavez, and Eduardo Gonzalez.

We hope that the incoming administration embraces everyone’s right to green space and upholds the principle that public lands belong to everyone. We expect the Trump administration to:

  • Be a vocal supporter of parks. Make sure that we continue to preserve our public lands for future generations.
  • Continue to encourage greater access to our outdoors. Support initiatives like Every Kid in a Park and policies to expand access to parks for park-poor communities.
  • Advocate for diverse parks leaders. Park staff should reflect our population in order to cater to the needs to our entire communities. Everyone deserves to feel welcome when they visit a park and to be able to take ownership of our breathtaking landscapes.

Improving our parks will benefit all our generations to come. Now is the time to be a champion for parks and keep the flame alive. Now is the time to protect the future of our public lands, more than ever.

Little Basin State Park, Boulder Creek, CA. Sacred Heart Nativity School, San Jose, CA Outdoor Education program facilitated by Latino Outdoors

¡Estamos Aquí! Opening America’s Public Lands and Green Spaces

By José G. González

This article was originally published in Huffington Post

In their heart of hearts, Latinos are conservationists and environmentalists. Polls show that environmental issues are near the top of Latinos’ greatest concerns, and they strongly favor protecting the nation’s public lands. Yet, numbers show only about 1 in 10 national park visitors are Hispanic.

As we near the end of the year and closed a month of Hispanic Heritage celebrations, Latino environmentalists are pushing to include a recognition of the significant ties that our community has to nature and the outdoors. This is important not just to help our parks reflect and welcome the whole diversity of the American identity – but also because as we head to the polls in November, we want to highlight the ways that conservation and access to nature will be at the top of the Latino agenda.

Fortunately, there is growing acknowledgment that the future of our public lands depends on their ability to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse nation. Recently, the White House highlighted efforts Latinos are undertaking to connect our communities with public lands by hosting the premier screening of Estamos Aquí: A Celebration of Nature y Cultura, a film created by Latino Outdoors and The Nature Kids Institute.

Public lands belong to everyone—as President Obama has stated, it is a birthright of all Americans. All communities deserve access to our natural resources and the subsequent health and economic benefits. Yet, Latinos continue to face barriers in accessing parks and engaging in the outdoor experience, including a lack of knowledge about national parks and an inability to access these parks from their homes. Despite widespread interest in visiting parks, some park-poor communities simply don’t have the needed access to green spaces.

Take Los Angeles as an example, one of the most diverse cities in one of the most diverse states: neighborhoods that are predominantly white have 32 park acres, while Latino areas have 0.6 park acres. When Latinos do visit our parks, they are faced with a cultural divide – park staff who do not look like them and outdoor spaces that do not nurture large families and social gatherings. In a country that prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, we still need to undertake more work in our public lands so they reflect and respect the perspective of more communities.

The conversation about Latinos and the environment must start at the local level by ensuring that everyone has access to quality, local parks. In our home state of California, Latino Outdoors has created pathways for families and youth to connect with nature. Our leaders have developed culturally relevant programming and events to empower the Latino community to explore and share their personal experiences. For many, opportunities such as bilingual hikes serve as their first introduction to our parks system. We’re also part of a California coalition that is working to ensure that equity is a driving principle in park policy.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is leading the charge on the national level. We are pleased that the White House has pushed initiatives that fuel interest in our public spaces among youth and communities of color, adding a narrative of inclusion to America’s green spaces and the Great Outdoors. President Obama has protected more public lands and water than any other president, designated national monuments that honor the distinct heritage and history of our country, and launched an initiative to allow every fourth grade student and their family to experience the grandiose beauty of our public lands. With other partners we are also pushing for this work at the national level with the Next 100 Coalition and the Latino Conservation Alliance.

The White House’s premier screening of Estamos Aquí: A Celebration of Nature y Cultura brought to light the personal stories of Latinos who are leading local efforts to engage with the outdoors. Together we must take the steps to further showcase and grow this as a national movement.

José G. González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors, a volunteer-run organization focused on celebrating Latino culture in nature and connecting families with the outdoors. Connect with José “Green Chicano” and Latino Outdoors on Twitter @JoseBilingue and @LatinoOutdoors.

Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all


This article was  originally published in The Hill

Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all

Throughout history, our public lands — including national parks, forests, monuments and other areas – have played an important role as part of America’s identity. The word public is meant to stress the idea of accessibility and connection to all the people of this country.

Unfortunately, these lands have not always been reflective of our country’s demographic and ethnic diversity and there are many communities in the U.S. for whom the term public does not resonate in the same vein.

This disconnect is becoming more apparent as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace and its consequences more urgent because the future of our public lands will depend upon public support from ever more diverse communities.

If we are to hold true to the idea that public lands are truly for all Americans, then we must expand what that idea means for the many different cultures and communities that make up America today. We need to explore what the ideas of wilderness, protected spaces, national parks and open spaces mean to diverse communities?

What do they mean to young people living in Compton who face the daily reality of growing up in an economically disadvantaged community? What do they mean to the Mixtec migrant family working the fields of the California Central Valley, or to the Islamic community in Dearborn, Michigan? What do they mean to the Gwich’in people of Alaska and the Lakota of the Dakotas who have ancestral ties to the land? The Gullah Gullah people of the Carolinas? What about the communities of Japanese ancestry in the Northwest and the Tijuana colonias along the US-Mexico border?

There are those that say our public lands are there for anyone that wants to access them. That misses the point. This is not a simple matter of equality of access — it is a challenge with equity of access.

Our public lands are meant both to provide a diversity of open spaces for recreational activities and to preserve and share the cultural heritage and story of this nation. As such, our public lands need to be a tapestry woven of the many strands that represent the diversity of this country. In them we should not only see natural and historical monuments, the grandeur of the outdoors and the history of our nation — we should also clearly see ourselves.

We must expand the diversity of the people who visit and work in America’s national parks, monuments and other public lands to reflect the faces of our nation. We must continue to increase the diversity of the sites protected and stories told to enable the public to connect to their public lands – be it for health, spiritual, economic or cultural benefits.

This is the task before us. We have had Manzanar National Historic Site, Timuacan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Bandelier National Monument, and other such sites. To that we have added places like Cesar Chavez National Monument, Stonewall National Monument and many more.

The opportunity is to expand beyond these, so that no matter if it is in the open spaces of Wyoming or the urban environment of Chicago, communities of all backgrounds see themselves as belonging there and see how the system of public lands is connected to tell the stories of all Americans.

These values of inclusion are shared across party lines and President-elect Donald Trump has expressed his commitment to keeping public lands in public hands and to serving as great stewards of this land. If President-elect Trump and the new members of Congress continue the work of making all people feel welcome in our public lands, the goal of united Americans will be furthered. Together we can make sure that our public lands in the next 100 years enjoy care, protection, and support by an American public that sees itself respected, reflected, and included in them.

Michael J. Bean is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. He is the author of The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, generally considered to be the definitive text on the subject of wildlife conservation law in the United States. José González is the Founder/Director of Latino Outdoors, a Latino-led network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors, and connecting families and youth with nature.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.