Soto: Equitable access to nature is a necessity for Colorado Latinos
Special to the Daily
Public lands make up 60% of Colorado, making outdoor access and recreation a huge part of our identity and economy. Yet several barriers stop Latinos from being able to access all of nature’s benefits compared to their affluent, predominantly white peers — barriers like a lack of time off work, cost of living, access to medical care and more.
While there have been efforts to increase access, we need to do more. Equitable access goes beyond adding bilingual signs to parks or having nonmilitarized outdoor agencies. Colorado decision-makers need to realize Latinos face barriers like having two to three jobs to make ends meet, a lack of affordable housing, expensive health care, and unaffordable child care. While it may seem like nature is easy to access because Coloradans tend to live relatively close to outdoor spaces, we need to look at equitable access using a social lens as well.
In the dominant culture of this country, people tend to see themselves as separate from nature, or that nature is a resource we use. But my lens — a lens rooted in Latino and indigenous culture — is that we are all a part of nature and should be connecting with nature often, because it is essential for our health and well-being. But, a recent report published by Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, “The Nature Gap: Confronting Racial and Economic Disparities in the Destruction and Protection of Nature in America”, found Latinos and other communities of color are less likely to have access to natural areas, resulting in poorer health, higher stress levels, more asthma issues, etc.
I was excited to see President Biden taking steps to combat climate change and promote environmental justice with his “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” plan. This type of legislation is needed to bridge the gap between communities that have access to nature’s benefits and those that don’t.
I hope that with this plan, policy makers will start to look at conservation through a people-focused lens, as opposed to protecting certain areas while keeping people out. Nature protection and restoration needs to be about uplifting communities whose voices are not usually heard, like Latinos, Black and Indigenous.
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Latino Conservation Week, happening this week until July 25, not only creates a platform for those voices to be heard, but it creates awareness of how public lands are used, ways to access them, and the importance of advocacy in conservation. Through this channel, Latinos have leveraged their power to create awareness of the need for equitable access to nature and the opportunity to bring this to the hands of decision-makers.
Defiende Nuestra Tierra is excited to participate in Latino Conservation Week once again and elevate its importance on the western slope of Colorado. Now more than ever we need to ensure our public lands are part of the climate solution, and Latino and all BIPOC voices must be centered in this conversation.
Time and time again, solutions have been created for us, without us at the decision-making table; as we face a warming planet, where many in our communities will be the most impacted, we cannot perpetuate the status quo. We are ready to help create solutions that will serve all people, and we know that we need a just and equitable society in order to meet our climate goals and protect our land, air and land. “Nada para nosotros, sin nosotros.”
Beatriz Soto is the director of Defiende Nuestra Tierra at Wilderness Workshop and is co-founder of Voces Unidas. She immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, and is a Basalt High School graduate. She works in the area to bring our diverse communities together and be a liaison for unity and growth.