Following the excitement and success of this year’s Latino Conservation Week, two Latina conservation leaders and our amazing staff members, Maricela Rosales (California Program Associate Director) and Bertha Gutierrez (Associate Program Director), reflect on conservation culture in their families growing up and the conservation wisdom they’ve learned from their communities.
Maricela: Hi Bertha! Latino Conservation Week this year was so special to be a part of. What stood out about it for you?
Bertha: I’m so glad we’re talking about this, Maricela! A memory that stands out for me was from the first day of Latino Conservation Week when I went on a hike to the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area near Las Vegas. To my delight, there was a large group of mostly Latinx folks on the trail I was hiking. They made it to the small waterfall at the top of the trail and were coming down the trail as I was going up. Switchback after switchback it felt so good to hear conversation snippets in Spanish and Spanglish as I was struggling to get up the trail.
In the virtual world, it was also really nice to see Latinx community members being celebrated and lifted up in the outdoor community. Representation matters, and this is one of the times in the year where it’s easier to see more of it.
Maricela: That sounds like an amazing hike. I completely agree - representation matters so much. I also loved that the events this year provided the community with opportunities to connect their cultural and historical identities to nature. These connections are the pieces that impact communities and foster a passion for conservation. Engagement in conservation efforts can start at home, in neighborhoods, and within the community. Latino Conservation Week is also a way of acknowledging the Latino/a/x contributions to the conservation movement. Because we’ve always been here!
Let’s talk about one of the themes from Latino Conservation Week - #ConservationCultura. How is conservation woven into your family and/or community culture? What stories or lessons about conservation have you learned from your elders?
Bertha: You know, I didn’t grow up talking about conservation with my family. At least not in those terms. But I grew up playing all kinds of games at the park in front of my apartment building, walking to other parks around my neighborhood in San Salvador, finding the biggest tree at the botanical gardens with my siblings and surrounding it in an embrace, and going to the beach when we visited my grandparents and learning from my dad about the healing power of the ocean waters. I grew up finding frozen beans in random containers in the freezer (others may know that as “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but I knew it as “I was hoping this was ice cream.”) My abuelita (grandma), my mom, and all my tias (aunts) all have passed down their knowledge of what plants are good medicine and which plants would give me a rash or a stomach ache. I grew up learning that everything around us was alive and gave me life: the air, the plants and trees, the birds, even the cicadas I was so afraid of. I also grew up seeing things I knew were failures we needed to correct, like the very big and very polluted river that ran next to my high school.
Maricela: Wow, your neighborhood sounds like a beautiful place to grow up. For me, as a little kid, conservation started in my backyard. Many of the trees planted in my backyard were a source of food. It is where I first learned about ecosystems, and got my hands dirty pulling weeds and planting seeds. It was a space of peace and pride. It helped me develop an understanding of nature and, over time, this evolved into understanding how nature takes care of people and sustains our communities. This seeded my passion for being part of the conservation movement.
What I’ve learned from my community is that for many, being “green” comes naturally and in different ways. Every day we are conservationists, whether we know it or not. Latino/a/x care about the environment; we have the expertise within our communities to speak out for the issues we care about.
And yet there is still a need for more people in our communities to become informed, engaged, and activated in conservation efforts. That’s why it’s important for organizations and individuals to come together and participate in Latino Conservation Week. Because at the end of the day, our public lands play a vital role in protecting ecosystems and sustaining and supporting healthier communities - particularly in the face of climate change.
My late dad used to tell me “wherever you go, take people with you.” My work to protect and advocate for public lands is rooted in my latinidad.* I help ensure that diverse communities have a voice in important decision-making processes so that their experiences enhance and broaden the conservation movement - for the greater good for nuestra comunidad (our community) y tierra (and the earth).
Bertha: That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It’s such an honor and a joy to work alongside you!
*Latinidad is a Spanish term that refers to the various attributes shared by Latin American people and their descendants without reducing those similarities to any single essential trait.
Maricela and her pup, Dalí, exploring the Whitewater Preserve in California’s Sand to Snow National Monument.
Bertha (back, middle) with her mom, sister, and niblings (a gender neutral term for the children of a sibling) enjoying Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.
Bertha’s nibling, Raquel, at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.