THE BLOG

New National Monument Preserves Hispanic Heritage

05/20/2014 05:55 pm 17:55:42 | Updated Jul 20, 2014

Southern New Mexico's Organ Mountains Desert Peaks region will be protected by President Obama as a national monument on Wednesday, and rightfully so.

Spanning thousands of years of human history and use, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument chronicles New Mexico's history and culture and is a place from which the stories of so many Americans originate. Now, with monument protection, these stories will be kept accessible and can be handed down for generations to come.

In addition to the leadership of New Mexico's U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, local support for the monument is remarkable, with 83 percent of Doña Ana County residents in favor of an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Importantly, the local support was comprised of a great diversity of interests including veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen and women, small business owners, faith leaders, conservationists and of course, Hispanic leaders.

For Hispanics, a passion for land and a sense of place is a given. It is part of our culture and heritage. Since parks are often the center of family life and activities, public parks and open spaces have a great deal of meaning for Hispanics. In fact, in Colorado College's 2014 poll of Western voters, a whopping 84 percent of Latino voters said that funding for national parks, forests and other public lands should not be cut.

Many Latino groups have launched recently to address the protection of America's treasured public lands. In reality, Latinos have been "conservationists" for generations since Latino culture is so connected to the land. What's different now is that oil and gas development, climate change and polluted air and water risk our communities and places we play -- prompting many Latinos to mobilize in an organized and strategic manner.

Groups like Por la Creación, a faith-based alliance of Latino religious leaders in the western states; Nuestro Rio, a network of 21,000 Latinos in the Southwest who advocate for a healthy Colorado River; HECHO, a group of Latino sportsmen and my own organization, the Hispanic Access Foundation, are committed to educating Hispanics about environmental issues and the importance of preserving parks and public lands. And we are taking action to protect the values of family and place.

Hispanic culture and presence in New Mexico is particularly close and connected to the state's rich public lands. These areas provide families and communities with recreation, hunting and a repository for long-held traditions. The timeless desert mountains and landscapes have also brought visitors, from El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro to modern-day tourism, and with them economic expansion.

As such, it is easy to see why Hispanics and all New Mexicans are thankful that the President used the Antiquities Act to protect the wealth of natural treasures and history in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

If we don't take steps now to conserve our heritage, future generations will not have access to the wonderful outdoor places and opportunities we have today. Our American national parks and monuments are the envy of the rest of the world. They are our legacy to our children and grandchildren, and together we must be vigilant to ensure that our common story is protected and kept intact.