President Obama’s designation of three new national monuments in the California desert on Friday capped a years-long effort by a wide group of conservation advocates. Among the advocates celebrating the decision is a contingent from the Latino community, which sees the designations as validation for a strong grassroots effort.
“This is a tremendous victory for all of us, and it gives us hope that we can really be a strong voice for conservation in the future,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation.
Arce said the push for increased protection of the desert regions had high participation from an engaged community and may showcase a shift in how Latinos are getting involved with conservation issues.
“Usually, diverse voices are not part of those public hearings. They usually don’t get to hear about those hearings until after they’re over with, but in this case, they were well informed and participated, were vocal and very engaged,” Arce said. “They have been part of this for several years and in many different ways.”
Several Latino coalitions participated in the effort to protect the desert areas, including the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), the Latino Conservation Alliance and the faith-based organization Por La Creación.
Arce said wide local participation was made possible by the large Latino population in the region.
“The new monuments in the California Desert, that include Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, Castle Mountains, are particularly important to us, because as you know, the Latino community consists of practically half the population in that region. This is their neighborhood. This is their backyard,” Arce said.
The environmental activism continued even in the hours after news broke of President Obama’s actions. Members of Por La Creación responded to criticisms of the decision by Republican Congressman Paul Cook, who objected to the President’s use of the Antiquities Act to designate the monuments.
“We have a moral responsibility to future generations to protect God’s creation — preserving the mountains, rivers, deserts and other breathtaking landscapes of our nation,” said Pastor Jesse Villarreal of Templo La Hermosa in Coachella and member of Por La Creación in a written statement. “Protecting the California desert is crucial not only to the majority of local economies in the area, but also to the spiritual well-being of our community.”