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date: 16 January 2019

Latino Environmentalism

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Please check back later for the full article.

Since the 1960s, Latinos have played prominent roles in the environmental justice movement and organizations that defined their members as Latino environmentalists. Organizers created their own groups in response to their alienation from mainstream environmental movements that were predominately white and focused on wilderness preservation and government conservation policies. Latino community activists related social justice and grassroots democracy to struggles over public parks and beaches, clean air, clean water, pesticide exposure, and high environmental risks. Eventually, mainstream environmentalists and federal government agencies responded to calls for diversity with increased attention to environmental justice in the late 20th century. In recent years, the National Park Service has attempted to engage with Latinos via American Latino heritage projects. The U.S. Forest Service also started a campaign entitled “Descubre el Bosque” (Discover the Forest) in an effort to connect to a Spanish-speaking audience. It featured advertisements and a Spanish-language website encouraging people to “Reconectar tu familia con la naturaleza. ¡Descubre un bosque o parque cerca de ti!” (Reconnect your family with nature. Discover a forest or park near you!). These campaigns are a response to the predominance of white visitors to national and state parks and the increasing percentage of Latinos under the age of eighteen. Previous calls for environmental justice and this shift in demographics have made many mainstream environmental organizations aware of the need to engage with Latino communities, but there are still persistent stereotypes about Latino disinterest in access to public lands and conservation. Newer organizations such as the National Hispanic Environmental Council have worked to engage community members, young people, and departments in the federal government. Latinos have and will continue to be critical actors in conversations about local and global environmental issues.