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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!

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