Thursday, November 5, 2015

Strengthening and Restoring Latinos’ Historic Connection to the Land

This week's post is from the USFWS.

By Dan Ashe
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The history of the United States, and the relationship of its people to the land, cannot be told without recognizing the influence and contributions of men and women of Hispanic descent. In the decades to come, the descendants of the Hispanics and Latinos who settled much of our nation will play an even greater role in shaping its future as citizens and leaders.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [was] proud to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month in October by honoring the historic contributions of Hispanics and Latinos to the United States – and by working to forge and strengthen the connection Americans of Hispanic and Latino descent have with their natural heritage.

I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on October 2 on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the League of United Latin American Citizens, (LULAC), the nation’s oldest Latino advocacy group. Together, we will work to increase participation by Latino families and kids in fishing and other outdoor recreation, and engage Latinos in monarch butterfly conservation.

This new partnership is more than just a piece of paper – it’s a shared statement of our values, and an expression of our joint determination to strengthen the relationship of the Latino community in the United States to its natural heritage. Most of all, it is a recognition of the historic role of Latinos in protecting and preserving the land, water and wildlife of our nation – and in shaping our economic and cultural identity.

And what a heritage it is! A century before the 1607 founding of the first English Colony at Jamestown in Virginia, Spanish and Portuguese adventurers began exploring North America – ranging as far as Greenland and across the American West to California. In the centuries to come, Hispanics settled much of the American West and intermarried with the Native Americans who lived there. They also settled in Florida, founding what is now the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in North America – St. Augustine.

From the Californios of Alta California, to the Hispanos of New Mexico and Tejanos of Texas, to the Borinquén of Puerto Rico, Latinos have a historic and cultural connection that in many cases predates that of the descendants of those who sailed on the Mayflower. These pioneers built acequias – communal irrigation systems – to sustain agriculture, and to maintain the delicate balance with the wildlife in their surroundings. They fished and hunted across the West, and introduced the horse to North America, forever changing the culture of Plains Indians.

Wildlife is also woven into Latino culture.  The coquí has been a cultural symbol of Puerto Rican history for centuries. Monarch butterflies, which migrate between Mexico and the U.S., have a historic connection to pre-Hispanic times. The monarch’s migration was historically connected to the harvesting of maíz and celebrations of the Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Today, organizations like HECHO - Hispanics Enjoying Camping Hunting and Outdoors  are leading efforts to increase the participation of Latinos in outdoor recreation.

In the 21st Century, increasing urbanization is making it harder and harder for Americans of all backgrounds and cultures to spend time in nature. This increasing disconnection has profound implications for the future health and well-being of millions of Americans, including members of the Latino community. And it threatens the progress we’ve made as a nation to protect and sustain our natural heritage for future generations.

Latinos represent a vibrant and growing segment of the U.S. population. In the future, they will have an enormous influence on the decisions we make as a society regarding the future allocation and management of natural resources, including wildlife. We want to make sure that we welcome Latino families and kids to the National Wildlife Refuge System, and that they can connect with nature no matter where they live. The health and well-being of these children will benefit immeasurably from the experiences they have in the natural world, away from the noise and distraction of modern life.

We also want to help Latino children explore careers in wildlife conservation – and to recruit young adults from the Latino community to join the Fish and Wildlife Service. We’re working to create a professional workforce for the future that reflects our nation’s growing diversity – one that can help Americans of all backgrounds connect with nature. As part of this partnership, the Service will participate in LULAC’s Federal Training Institute, which will help identify and connect promising young people with career development opportunities and job openings in our agency.

Together, we will strengthen the historic bond Latinos have with the land and wildlife of our nation – and in doing so, strengthen our ability to carry out our agency’s mission and sustain our shared natural heritage for all Americans.

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