This Saturday marked the start of Latino Conservation Week, a week dedicated to building awareness among Latino communities of the beautiful public lands and outdoor experiences available to them, and the importance of conservation. It is also about reaffirming their connection to nature and the land.
This connection runs deep for me; I was born and raised on a farm in Argentina. Taking care of the land was a way of life, as it is still for many Latinos. Much of my training and work experience now includes ethnobotany, which is the study of the relationship between culture and plants. This relationship is built on how our ancestors used the land and plants and how we use them today.
Within the Latino community there is a strong sense that the land is not just ours; it is our mothers’, our grandmothers’ and our grandmothers’ grandmothers’. It is also our children’s and grandchildren’s. Our culture and history is deeply rooted in nature, with traditions and wisdom about the natural world that goes back generations.
By looking at our past, our ancestors and our culture we can develop sensible, time-tested approaches to address modern land management challenges. To that end, the Latino community also has much to offer when it comes to traditional knowledge and uses of easily cultivated, native plants as traditional foods and medicines. In turn, cultivating native plants also serves the environment by helping natural ecosystems thrive. Several of the plants native to the California desert have close cousins throughout Latin America, all the way down to my family farm in Argentina.
That is why Latino communities are standing up for conservation and stewardship through advocacy and activities in places like Big Morongo Canyon in the new Sand to Snow National Monument and other national conservation lands, forests and parks.
The designation earlier this year of Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains national monuments has given rise for local organizations like the Mojave Desert Land Trust to partner in new ways with Latino communities in the California desert and to participate for the first time in Latino Conservation Week by celebrating our traditional connections to the outdoors.
My role with MDLT allows me to continue to nurture the connections between plants and culture that I first learned as a child by working with native Mojave Desert plants. I’m excited for the opportunity to showcase this work and engage the local community at events like MDLT’s Native Plants Workshop during Latino Conservation Week, and the upcoming fall open house, which will feature our newly established native plant nursery.
Nature unites us; it connects us historically, culturally and spiritually, integrating our minds, bodies and souls and provides wide-ranging opportunities to share common experiences that cross cultures.
The permanent protect of our public lands in the California desert has empowered communities to create and seek out more opportunities to engage with nature and each other through partnerships. For example, MDLT, the Council of Mexican Federations, Por La Creacion, Hispanic Access Foundation, the Native American Land Conservancy and many other diverse local groups are working together toward shared goals across a common, connected landscape.
Latino Conservation Week is a perfect example of this enthusiasm and collaboration. It is empowering Latino communities in the California desert by making their voices heard and honoring the importance of their culture and traditions. It gives a chance for all of us to return to the roots of culture and share old knowledge to pass down for future generations. This celebration of diversity makes our nation stronger and reminds us that these lands belong to all of us and we have a lot to learn from one another.
by Yanina Aldao, Hi-Desert Star