Hispanics are passionate about their public parks and open spaces. Parks are often the center of family life and activities, used as social settings for picnics and get-togethers with family and friends. As such, their protection ranks high on Hispanics' priority list.
So, it's of little surprise to me when I see the results of polls, like the recent 2012 Colorado College Western States Survey, which shows that the protection of parks, clean air and water is a top issue for Latinos. In fact, 87 percent of Latinos surveyed believe we can protect land and water while still having a strong economy - we don't have to choose one over the other. Even further, 94 percent agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are "an essential part" of the economies of western states.
It seemed only natural for the Hispanic Access Foundation to launch an online petition where Latinos can urge President Barack Obama to create news parks and monuments, as well as to continue protections for our land, air and water. Upon signing, the petition delivers an email directly to the White House.
Hispanics need a way to inform their elected officials about their concerns for protection and funding related to the environment and our natural spaces. This petition gives them a megaphone for their voices to be heard.
And Hispanics should receive unprecedented attention.
The U.S. Latino population is now at 50.5 million - 16.3 percent of the total population - according to the 2010 Census. Not only has the population reached new heights, but Latinos are also a growing force in elections. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Latino voters grew by 28 percent, while the total number of voters increased by only four percent. 2012 should see a record number of Latinos heading to the polls.
To be clear, cultural traditions are not the sole reason these and other Latino voters consistently express strong support for clean air, water and land. The U.S. Hispanic population is disproportionately affected by environmental contamination in many parts of the country.
Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, unsafe drinking water, and lead and mercury contamination - all of which can cause serious health problems - according to the American Lung Association. Hispanics also face higher rates of asthma than whites, and because they account for nearly one-third of those not protected by health insurance, they are less likely to receive specialized care.
In the Colorado College survey, which polled 2,400 register Latino voters in six key western states, 80 percent of the respondents view air pollution as a serious problem in their state, and see the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws as important protections rather than burdensome regulations.
A 2004 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council provides some credence to that belief. Ninety one (91) percent of Hispanics in the country live in metropolitan areas where air pollution is often present. One-third of U.S. Latinos live in western states where arsenic, industrial chemicals and fertilizer residues often contaminate local drinking water supplies. Furthermore, the study found that one and half million U.S. Latinos live in colonias - unincorporated communities with substandard housing - along the U.S.-Mexico border, where a lack of potable water and sewage treatment contributes to waterborne diseases such as hepatitis and cholera.
The environmental concerns make the voices of Latino voters all the more important. And for the sake of this generation and the next, its time for policymakers to finally acknowledge and embrace the will of the nation's Hispanics.
The Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to promote responsible citizenship, educational attainment, and active engagement in the improvement of the health, environment, and financial well-being of Hispanic families throughout the United States.