Our national parks are often referred to as America’s Best Idea and they have been set aside for the enjoyment of everyone. People of all ages and backgrounds, from all over the United States and across the world, visit our national parks. However, according to a recent article from National Geographic, roughly 78 percent of visitors to these parks are white. Minorities across the board are underrepresented as both visitors and staff in our national parks.
The Latino population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. They are also among the most underrepresented groups in conservation, outdoor recreation, and environmental education. The good news is that there are organizations trying to remedy this situation. Groups such as the Latino-led, Latino Outdoors, are working to create a national community of leaders in conservation and outdoor education. As part of this work, they intend to encourage the growth of the Latino experience in the great outdoors. National parks are a space where the Latino Community can share their voices and showcase how conservation roots have been ingrained in Latino culture for generations.
The NPS has also recognized the need to increase diversity in national parks. In 2013, they created the Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion to address the lack of people of color in national parks. “For me, it’s more about the culture of the NPS,” says Sangita Chari, the head of the office. “We haven’t become relevant to them in their life.” And, while NPS employees are still about 83 percent white, the NPS says diversity is on the rise thanks in part to youth programs, like “¡Vamos Verde!,” an initiative aimed at Latino high school students.
And that brings us to where we are now, celebrating Hispanic Heritage month. From September 15 – October 15, the NPS celebrates America’s rich Hispanic history and culture. And there are parks all over the United States that explore the profound impact Latino peoples have had on American history. The American Latino Heritage Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary features a list of sites and recommended locations to visit. Coronado National Memorial in Arizona, for example, honors the Spanish expedition and the influence Coronado and his men had on the development of the distinctive Hispanic and American Indian culture still present today. The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico preserves the history and heritage of the Pueblo societies and Spanish missions of Abó, Gran Quivira, and Quarai, which continue to stand as reminders of a time when the cultures of the American Indians and the Spanish converged.
In addition to visiting specific locations, there are stories of individuals who have greatly impacted our shared history. Learn about leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, activists who dedicated their lives to improving the treatment, pay, and working conditions of farm workers. Study up on Doctora Concha Meléndez Ramírez, a literary critic and prolific writer who is considered the mother of Puerto Rican literature. There are toolkits and Teaching with Historic Places education plans to help teachers and parents bring these stories to life at home and in the classroom.
The National Park Service has a long way to go to increase diversity in our national parks. But setting aside a time to encourage Americans to celebrate Hispanic history and culture is a step forward. There are resources available at:
And for more information about Latino Outdoors, visit https://latinooutdoors.org/
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we encourage you to visit a new park, learn a new story, and celebrate the incredibly diverse nature of our country.