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Hispanics stand up for environment

State Rep. Angelica Rubio joins with community leaders, elected officials and grassroots organizers from Doña Ana County to demonstrate their solidarity for House Memorial 37 next to the drying Rio Grande in Las Cruces at La Llorona Park. (Courtesy Photo)

For decades, environmental and conservation advocacy in New Mexico has been a space predominantly occupied by majority Anglo organizations and D.C.-funders.

They set the environmental and conservation agenda and have the financial, political and institutional backing to hire people that think like them, look like them and agree with them on policy issues.

But the tide is turning in New Mexico, thanks to visionary Hispanic leaders who are grabbing the reins and setting their own environmental and conservation agenda.

In fact, in the 2018 Legislative Session, State Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, introduced and passed a memorial affirming such.

House Memorial 37 recognizes the role that Hispanic New Mexicans have played in protecting and preserving land, water and wildlife in our state. HM 37 was unanimously approved on the House floor after the OK from the Committee on Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs.

Rubio’s memorial is a testament to the work that Hispanic communities, organizers and organizations have undertaken for decades to conserve our natural resources and preserve uniquely New Mexican traditions and outdoor values – even if these achievements haven’t been glorified or funded by big, expensive campaigns. The work of our Hispanic communities follows the footsteps of thousands of years of conservation and environmental stewardship by our state’s first people, from the Jornada Mogollon Puebloan cultures to today’s Native American communities.

So it’s critically important that Hispanic organizers and Hispanic-led organizations today continue to stand up for the environmental issues that are important to them and the majority of New Mexicans. Yes, even the issues that matter to those outdoor users who don’t camp or hike with a $400 tent or $300 backpack.

These environmental issues are not just about wilderness but water. Not just about monuments but access and transportation to them. Not just about a transition to renewable energy but a meaningful jobs plan to replace the livelihoods of the truck drivers and pipefitters who depend on oil and gas. Not just about nuclear waste storage but lead and arsenic contamination in rural water systems. Not just about the Gila River diversion but about the drying of the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. And not just about the Valle Vidal, but about the border wall. Will those issues take center stage in Santa Fe or D.C. under the current conservation and environmental leadership?

With new political leaders set to be elected who will appoint new managers of our state’s natural resources, public lands, air, water and wildlife, we also ask our elected leaders to invest in New Mexico’s youth, people and culture. In particular, we ask that Hispanic and Native American grassroots voices not only be lifted up in environmental policy and advocacy efforts, but that they be appointed and hired to positions in state government that have direct oversight on the impacts to our land, air and water. We ask that they have a seat at the decision-making table, not just a gratuitous speaking opportunity at the ribbon cutting.

If a new Outdoor Office of Recreation is indeed in New Mexico’s future, we likewise ask that the office be staffed with a representative majority of New Mexico’s population, which is 48 percent Hispanic. Within the context of marketing New Mexico’s outdoor recreation opportunities and public lands, we also ask that the histories, cultures, knowledge and people of this state are equally and accurately represented. We ask that deliberate steps be taken by this office and New Mexico’s Tourism Department to tell a more inclusive and complete story of New Mexico and increase the number of outreach programs dedicated to providing better access for diverse communities right here in New Mexico. We don’t just want buzzwords; we want funding.

And to the environmental and conservation advocacy organizations carrying on the work to protect and conserve our land and natural resources, we ask that you invest in people as much as you invest in politicians. It’s not enough to put up a sign celebrating new monuments – you must help engage our diverse communities in conservation by placing priority on a holistic approach that puts people, not politicians, first. Together, we can ensure that all people truly get to enjoy our public lands and waters and that opportunities to identify and conserve other valuable resources of historic, cultural, natural, economic and recreational importance won’t be lost for future generations.

We must all continue to build on this legacy of protecting our natural resources, ensuring that public land protection is strengthened, stewards of these lands reflect the diversity of our state, and all people feel a sense of ownership and pride in their contribution. Mestizo and Native American communities in New Mexico, who have helped build and conserve this state, are deserving of nothing less.

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