7 Leaders We're Celebrating During Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is about the gratitude we have for nuestra cultura, and it is a time to intentionally acknowledge the many positive contributions that Hispanics have made to our nation. Such contributions are reflected in the many special places and lands that we want to protect for future generations, and they to include activities rooted in a knowledge of nature and are passed down through the generations by tradition. These contributions simply wouldn’t be possible without the individuals, la gente, behind the movement to preserve these traditions. There are so many people doing incredible work, and so many people to highlight, but you can read on to learn about a handful of them.

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Christiana Figueres 

As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Conventional on Climate Change from 2010-2016, Christiana Figueres was instrumental to the rebuilding and approval of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark accord uniting 195 countries to alleviate climate change. She has dedicated her career to mitigating the climate crisis, land use, sustainable development, energy, and more.  Born in Costa Rica, and the daughter of former Costa Rican President, Jose Figueres Ferrer, Figueres leads a life dedicated to improving the world we live in. Though no longer in her role at the U.N., Figueres remains steadfast on eliminating the climate crisis. Today, she is working towards convening Mission 2020, “a global initiative that seeks to ensure the world bends the curve on greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 in order to protect the most vulnerable from the worst impacts of climate change and usher in an era of stability and prosperity.” 

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Miguel Ordeñana 

An environmental educator as well as wildlife biologist, Miguel Ordeñana is a manager of community science at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County and a member of the board of the National Wildlife Federation. Ordeñana also researches wildlife, focusing on carnivore and bat research, as well as jaguars in Nicaragua -- while also partnering with the National Wildlife Federation’s urban wildlife conservation efforts. Ordeñana joined project #SaveLACougars after spotting P-22, Los Angeles’ famed mountain lion near the Ford Amphitheatre and 101 Freeway. At the time, Ordeñana was studying the connectivity of the park, researching the manner in which the park is connected to the rest of the city. Spotting the mountain lion meant that it had likely traversed through residential areas, going as far as crossing freeways. Ordeñana says, “It’s gratifying when I can introduce young kids or adults to the scientific process, learning about the wildlife in their backyard. That leads to more support for science, and for communities to become better stewards of their local environment, which will ultimately help all of the animals that we care about.” 

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Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca 

Vice President of the Organization of the Huaorani Nation of Ecuador, Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca stood up to protect her lands, waters, and culture. What was Cahuiya Iteca’s home, living near Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, has now become a space in the middle of developed oil fields. The drive for oil production is also leading officials to expand oil production into the heart of Yasuni. Cahuiya Iteca has been on the frontlines, fighting to protect Waorani lands, participating in a coalition of Amazonian women marching to the Ecuadorian capitol, calling on the government to spare their ancestral lands from oil and mining development. Cahuiya Iteca says, “Before, I was part of ONHAE (Organization of the Huaorani Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon). But there, only men decide and women are silenced. Seeing that no one was doing anything, I created a women’s organization so that we can decide. Because us women, we can do this. After all, we are the ones who cultivate the land, that share with the plants, that share the ancestral medicine. It hurts us to see our land like this, opened up. It’s a great disaster for us. So we told ourselves, if we don’t do anything, this will continue. Then we started to organize empowerment and consciousness-raising workshops for women everywhere across the two provinces of this territory: Pastaza and Orellana." Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca reminds us that our indigenous ancestors have been protectors of lands, with many indigenous groups still fighting for recognition and for rights to sacred territories. When we consider leaders in the preservation and conservation movement, we must start with the very first protectors these lands had, indigenous communities.

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Ken Salazar  

Former Secretary of the Interior serving the Obama Administration, and former Colorado senator (the first Hispanic American from Colorado to serve in the U.S. Senate), Ken Salazar is a dedicated public servant and a fifth-generation Coloradan. As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar managed the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Geological Survey, and more. During his tenure, Salazar worked to recognize America’s tribal and minority communities, supported the creation of new monuments to recognize leaders and movements such as the Buffalo Soldiers, Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, and the Underground Railroad. Salazar also renewed partnerships between the Department of the Interior and representatives to revitalize urban parks in high traffic cities. In 2012, Salazar was instrumental on a 20-year moratorium banning uranium mining that would affect over 1 million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park. The moratorium helped in the effort to continue to ensure the protection of the national park, as well as protecting watersheds from uranium flow down river. Salazar deeply believes in the importance of stewardship for the lands by preservation, and has said: “My family has spent 400 years farming on the banks of the Rio Grande. We know the value of hard work, love of the community, and love for the water and land.”

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Nature Chola 

Founder of Nonprofit Get Out, Stay Out, an organization that encourages kids to discover themselves in an outdoor environment while diversifying the outdoor industry, Karen Ramos is Nature Chola. What was supposed to be a small social media community boomed into a 19k+ following on Instagram where followers learn about social and environmental justice issues, spanning accessibility, diving into the realities of being a person of color in the outdoor industry. As Ramos’ website puts it, “NatureChola stands for the paradox that has been her own experience in the outdoors, being both a badass and a woman of color. Supported and encouraged to speak her truth through personal storytelling, the platform NatureChola was born.” Ramos breaks down pre conceived notions of what the outdoor industry looks like, and invites the community to see the possibilities and importance of being in spaces where we can grow and develop ourselves.  

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Raul Grijalva 

Current U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 3rd congressional district, Raul Grijalva is an Arizonan with the ability to undo controversial legislation that has or will have detrimental effects to the environment. Girijalva is the son of a migrant worker who was a member of the Braceros program and is now the House Natural Resources Chairman. Today, Grijalva has taken the initiative on several environmental issues facing the community, such as the protection of the Grand Canyon from the threat of expanded uranium mining, codifying the National Landscape Conservation System as a permanent feature of our public lands, protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and more. He was also instrumental behind the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The importance of the environment, and protection of public lands are evident in the legislation that Grijalva votes to support. 

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#ChildrenVsClimateCrisis 

We cannot conclude this blog without mentioning the youth climate activism movement, as witnessed in a national strike in the United States observed on Friday, September 20, 2019. Children across the globe are taking measures to ensure their respective countries take the necessary steps to recognize the harm being done to the environment, and improve. News outlets report that Friday’s strike saw an estimated 4 million young adults marching around the world to demand action on climate change. The children are leading the charge, currently filing a suit, “contending that world governments are violating children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Drafted in 1989, the treaty defines the inalienable rights of children, such as the right to life, health, and peace. The children argue that climate change is a root cause of the illnesses that are killing them, directly contradicting what is outlined in the convention. While climate change affects everybody, it is clear that there are disproportionate effects of climate change on communities of color. Contributor Chela Garcia for The Hill states “Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution, and 51 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone. 80 percent of farmworkers in the U.S. are Latino, 16.8 percent of all Latinos are natural resource laborers. Higher temperatures, heat waves, drought and wildfires are leading to a disproportionate impact on Latino laborers, and Latino families.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the opening of Friday’s Climate Action Summit, “Young people above all—young people are providing solutions, insisting on accountability, and demanding urgent action. They are right.”

We are grateful for the leadership and legacy of Hispanic and Latinx contributors that work hard to protect our public lands, diversify the outdoor industry, are outspoken in their beliefs, and take action on the climate crises. While there are so many people doing incredible work, these are only a handful of them. We encourage you to get involved in your state by finding a representative or joining HECHO’s online ambassador program to continue to do the work of elevating the voices of community members who may not have a seat at the table. Join us!