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Starting the Conversation

2014 July 23
by Karen Purcell

Niños plantando girasoles en macetas para llevar a sus hogares en Syracuse, NY

Children planting sunflowers in pots to bring home and share with their families in Syracuse , New York.

Did you know that the U.S. census predicts that by 2050 one in four U.S citizens will be Hispanic/Latino?

Our demographics are changing! As a leading conservation organization we have to wonder if we are doing enough to genuinely involve Latino communities in every aspect of conservation: science, education, stewardship, politics, and leadership. Is the Latino community equally present at the head of the table when we examine issues in environmental conservation? Are all neighborhoods equally represented? Are the pressing issues in low-income Latino neighborhoods a priority when we think of the environment or are they pushed to the back burner? Is there equal representation in science and conservation so that issues of importance to Latino communities can be prioritized?

Jóvenes y guías a prendiendo y disfrutando de la flora y fauna local en Laurence Massachusetts. Photo©Groundwork Lawrence

Youth and mentors learning about and enjoying the local plants and animals in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Photo by Groundwork Lawrence

Unfortunately the “traditional” environmental movement (including many mainstream organizations focused on the environment) struggle or fail to engage Latino communities altogether. Common frustrations are that it is “too difficult” to engage Latino communities in environmental education activities, or that there is “no interest” on the part of the community. On the other hand, Latino communities (including organizations advocating for Latino communities) struggle to connect with environmental organizations that may provide exciting opportunities, resources, or funding. Latino organizations may not trust mainstream environmental organizations if they feel that they will be used simply to “get” a grant and there is no sincere desire to collaborate equitably; if they feel that their community is being ‘studied’ or ‘used’; or if they feel that there is a great disparity in power.

Educators teaching about local birds at a residential complex in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Kids at Home in the Wild

Educators teaching about local birds at a residential complex in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Kits at Home in the Wild.

Let’s talk specifically about low-income Latino neighborhoods. There is so much to think about when examining issues of equity and inclusion. Low-income Latino communities may not have safe spaces to enjoy the outdoors and work demands for many Latinos may limit leisure time outdoors (and elsewhere). In addition there are many issues that mainstream communities may not ever need to think about in terms of connecting with the environment. For instance, if a community creates safe green spaces, will the value of properties in that neighborhood increase — making it unaffordable to live there? If parents grew up working in low-paying manual labor jobs will they want to encourage their children to spend time outdoors or will they encourage indoor activities that may lead to more options?

Familia plantando en jardín comuniario de su vecindario en Dorchester, Massachusetts. Foto por Holly Rosa.

Family planting at a community garden in a neighborhood at Dorchester, Massachusetts. Photo por Holly Rosa.

So how can families connect with the environment? How can they better their quality of life by spending more time in green spaces? How can they learn about and teach their children about the natural world that surrounds them? And if families are not connecting with the environment how can we hope to better it and conserve it? But perhaps more important, we need to ask, how more Latinos can take on leadership roles in conservation and the sciences?

So how do we get the conversation going? What can be done to improve equity,
diversity, and inclusion in Environmental Conservation activities? How can we address environmental injustices in low-income Latino neighborhoods? How can we get everyone at the table?

Joven compartiendo con su comunidad lo aprendido acerca de la flora y fauna de Cantera, en San Juan Puerto Rico. Foto de Leaders for the World.

Youth sharing her knowledge about local birds and plants of Cantera with her community in San Juan Puerto Rico. Photo by Leaders for the World.

Creating the time and space to foster friendships, conversations, and listening may be the key to inclusion and equity. When we take the time to talk with each other, the time to really listen, and when we pause and try to understand other perspectives we can begin to make progress. When we begin to understand our own barriers we can begin to change.

Sometimes unseen barriers between the environmental conservation movement and Latino communities go beyond language and cultural differences; sometimes what is really needed is time and space to understand; sometimes simply by promoting friendships and deep conversation, those unseen barriers can soften and disappear.

Celebrate Urban Birds, in collaboration with EECapacity, has created a Bilingual Professional Learning Community (PLC) to promote listening, talking, and the space to understand each other.

This Professional Learning Community is for Latino community leaders, Latino environmental educators, and environmental educators who want to work with Latino communities. It is an opportunity to meet (online), exchange ideas, experiences, share successes, failures, laughs, and simply get to know each other. The goal is to create an online publication (eBook) to inspire and help educators to collaborate effectively with Latino communities and to help Latino communities find quality environmental education resources of use and create equitable partnerships with leading environmental organizations. EECapacity logo

We began the PLC less than a month ago and nearly 50 participants are actively, enthusiastically, honestly talking with and learning from each other to achieve a common goal. This week we are exploring experiences and resources useful to community organizations, non-profits, art-based organizations, churches, zoos, parks, educators, and community leaders in Latino communities. Our discussions and meetings are both in English and Spanish. It takes a little longer to do it in both languages — but it is absolutely key to creating a space that encourages genuine conversation, listening, and understanding!

We will complete our co-created online publication by December 2014. It will be free and available to everyone. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Let’s get the conversation going!

As Birds Start Nesting, Things Start Getting Funky

2014 May 2
by Seth Inman

Maybe it’s already happened to you in years past: you walk into your garage, ready to take your first bike ride of the year now that it’s finally warm enough, but you lift your old helmet only to find that it is full of moss, leaves, and twigs. What?! You may think it’s a late April Fool’s joke, but actually it is the product of a lot of hard work by a small cavity-nesting bird that has found a safe place to put their home. Depending on where you live, it could be any number of species, but the most common by far are the Carolina Wren and House Wren.

Clockwise from top left, submissions are by Joe Hoelscher, David Hutchinson, Mike Smith, and Sophie Lyon.

Clockwise from top left, submissions are by Joe Hoelscher, David Hutchinson, Mike Smith, and Sophie Lyon.

Dozens of previous entrants to our yearly Funky Nests in Funky Places Challenge have sent us photos of situations like the one above, as well as countless other odd nesting locations, from car tire-wells to the shoulders of statues in the park! In a few days, we’ll be starting up this year’s Challenge, and we look forward to seeing your photos, reading your poems and stories, checking out your artwork, and watching your videos that document, describe, or celebrate funky nests in funky places.

So keep your eyes peeled, and remember to expect the unexpected when it comes to birds nesting in man-made environments — every structure is an opportunity for a home!

Science Day in Ithaca

2014 March 6
by Seth Inman and Marta del Campo

DSC01705 copy 2It’s so great when different organizations with missions to support their community work with each other to create a collaborative event of activities for everyone! This weekend was especially wonderful because not only did the sun come out and raise temperatures enough to melt much of the Ithaca snow away, but also on Saturday (Feb. 22) an entertaining and informative event took place at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) downtown.

Organized by the Cornell Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the exposition was geared especially toward the local Latino community but open to all. They invited Celebrate Urban Birds to set up a space to promote citizen science and birds among all the young students and engineers from various programs at Cornell University. DSC01705 copyTogether, all the different projects—from DNA analysis to bridge-building to astrophysics—showed local visitors the wonders of science and, for the younger members of the audience, the fantastic possibilities for future avenues of study and careers.

The student organizers of the event were full of positive energy and willingness to share their vision of the accessibility of science. Their small demonstrations, often hands-on for participants, helped make the complex theory behind certain engineering principles easier for everyone to understand and experience for themselves. For our own part, we tried to give people an idea of the birds that live around us in urban areas and how we can appreciate and help them!

DSC01710We were able to open a window into the often unseen lives of birds in the spring by bringing actual bird nests to GIAC, along with photos of the species that made them. The goal was to get people excited about heading out into the fresh air and looking for these crafted signs of spring in the upcoming months, even in urban Ithaca, NY. Kids and adults alike were awed by the extraordinary construction skills displayed by birds, asking questions like, “What materials do they use?” “How can the Baltimore Oriole weave without hands?” “Where do American Robins nest?” and “Do Blue Jays mix up all the different types of nesting material together on purpose?”

These types of questions showed us how fascinating people found the feats of engineering embodied in the careful and dedicated work of bird nests. It’s not every day that you get to see the majestically woven basket nest of a Baltimore Oriole—much less gently touch it! By seeing these wonders up close, we hope both the adults and kids who visited our station will be keeping an eye out for the nests that are invariably built around them in a green city like Ithaca: nature is just around the corner!

DSC01701With support from the Museum of Vertebrates at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we were also able to take a small sample of the hundreds of specimens of birds in the collection to show visitors, and it was a great success. People who stopped by our table were stunned by the elegant beauty of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the lustrous black feathers of the American Crow, as well as the other half-dozen species we brought out. In addition to these real-life bird examples, we brought our CUBs materials on bird-friendly gardening and focal species posters, including Lemon Queen Sunflower seeds for people to take home and plant on their balconies or in their backyard. Hopefully they’ll grow into urban beautifiers that will also help local bird life!

DSC01708 copy 2It was really wonderful to see how interested and curious the families who visited each table at the Science Day exposition were, as well as how engaging the student volunteers from Cornell could be on an early Saturday morning. Most of the stations had interactive presentations to reach people of all ages and regardless of scientific background knowledge. For example, the textile research group had some microscopes hooked up to a digital screen so that people could look at the minuscule details of fibers and fabrics, as well as other interesting things like grasshoppers, twigs, and of course the Baltimore Oriole nest we brought! DSC01707The astronomers had a table dedicated to wonders of the universe such as supernovas, suns, and planets, making the day a series of marvels from the microscopic to the macrocosmic, all brought within reach of everyone visiting GIAC.

Thanks to the Cornell Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, students were able to share nature’s fascinating forms, and the ways in which we study them, with local Ithaca residents who otherwise might not always be able to learn about Cornell’s research programs. Hopefully this will become a yearly event to stimulate curiosity, generate interest in technological innovation and scientific research, and celebrate community. Thank you to all the volunteers who invited us to participate and made this day of science-sharing happen!