By Shevawn Von Tobel
This week is Latino Conservation Week, which highlights the Latino community’s passion for protecting and enjoying public lands and waters. The week aims to help break down barriers for Latino communities to access these places, encourage new opportunities for and outreach to these communities, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. We’re proud to join organizations from across the country in celebrating this special week and working to break down barriers to the outdoors.
“..conservation ethics was an indelible part of our upbringing, and intricately woven into family tradition and values.”
Unfortunately, there is a misperception that the Latinx community doesn’t care about conservation issues or like the outdoors. But for those of us who identify as Latinx (or in my case, Latinx-mixed), conservation ethics was an indelible part of our upbringing, and intricately woven into family tradition and values. As a mixed-Latinx woman, I grew up with outdoor ethics from both sides of my family, but my love of the land and a strong sense of conservation – from saving water to recycling – came from my mother’s side of the family and my grandparents.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, my late grandfather, Victor Gonzalez, came to the United States at the age of 18. He worked up and down the agricultural fields in California with my grandmother working as camp cook. My grandpa worked his entire life to support the ones he loved. He taught me the value of hard work, self-determination, and the joy of working with your own two hands.
Ever since I can remember, visiting my grandparents’ house was like visiting another world. Tucked away in a bustling metropolitan neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley in southern California, their backyard was a stark contrast to the surrounding streets of Los Angeles. My grandfather loved growing plants – everything from tropical flowers, towering fruit and nut trees, and colorful vegetables. My cousins, siblings, and I grew up in this backyard – running around amidst the trees, picking fresh tomatoes off the vine, enjoying my grandmother’s freshly squeezed orange juice with my grandpa’s AM Spanish radio as the never-ending background music to accompany our day.
Many of us in the family joked that he recycled before “it was even a thing,” converting what most would think of as trash – used yogurt containers, detergent cups, old buckets – into new vessels to house burgeoning plant life. The backyard was dotted with huge water catchment containers so he could funnel the rain back into his garden during dry weather and times of drought. He also diligently made his own compost, chiding us if we threw out vegetables in the trash. Of course, my grandmother used these freshly-grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs every day in her cooking – the delectable scent permeating ever corner of their house. Salsa, albondigas soup, fresh avocado in fried tacos…the list goes on.
As my own personal interest into growing food increased over the years, I loved visiting my grandparents, in hopes my grandpa would give me some new plants to take care of – a wish he always loved to oblige. I’ll always remember walking with him in his garden as he pointed out some new vegetable or flower, and then grabbing some plant out of the ground, sticking it in an old container, and wrapping it in some burlap for me to take home.
Latino Conservation Week is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate where we came from – and reaffirm the strong conservation values we were instilled with from day one.
The Latinx community has always played a strong role in conservation, standing and speaking up throughout time to protect our communities, air, and water. When I first started at Conservation Voters for Idaho, I immediately became more and more impressed by the amount of work they conduct in Latinx communities – empowering voters, building leaders, and protecting agricultural workers like my departed grandfather. Latino Conservation Week is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate where we came from – and reaffirm the strong conservation values we were instilled with from day one.