By Adriana Garcia Maximiliano
Connecting with the natural world is very important to me. I truly believe in our public lands and keeping them public because I go hiking a lot and I come from an indigenous background from Mexico. Because of my upbringing and indigenous and Catholic roots I see creation in nature. As a Latina it matters to me to be able to stay connected with that part of who I am. Connecting with the outdoors is very spiritual to me and it’s my self-care.
It's important to me that others have positive, personal experiences in nature in order to want to protect it. I feel strongly that national parks should be more accessible to Latinos in ways that will inspire them to go camping, hiking, fishing and otherwise enjoy these natural wonders.
For example, signs throughout national parks as well as other public information should be in Spanish, as well as in English. Additionally, park fees are too high for some families, and the lack of public transportation to the parks can be an obstacle. In some cases, there is also confusion about what public lands are, and that they actually belong to all of us. Especially when you live in urban centers where everything is privatized, it’s hard to understand that there are miles and miles of land out there for all of us to enjoy.
As a 26 year-old living in Phoenix, I hear all the time from the Latino community that camping and hiking is not part of our culture. That’s not true. This is part of who we are. It is part of our identity to enjoy the earth and what it provides for us, and also to have our role in protecting it. People are disengaged from their history and their roots.
But if you can’t directly experience public lands, it’s harder to advocate on their behalf, or speak to elected officials about why they should care. That is why one of my favorite things to do is take friends to the Grand Canyon to see for themselves how beautiful it is. Then they feel an attachment. I also try to tell them that there is more than one way to enjoy our public lands, whether it’s biking or sight-seeing. I know not everybody is a hiker.
This summer I took a road trip through four national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming, Great Basin in Nevada, and my first-ever, backpacking trip in Montana’s Glacier National Park. A friend and I were able to take advantage of a camping pass that we received through a lottery, and I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams: seeing a grizzly bear in the wild. We were in the shuttle going through the park and we saw the bear with her cubs just walking around, and I cried. It was an incredible experience. Then we saw another grizzly bear while we were backpacking, as well as a moose. I was also grateful to experience the glaciers, which are predicted to disappear in only two years due to climate change. In all, we walked 36 miles in four days.
It was the experience of a lifetime. The glacier lakes were so pristine and beautiful. You definitely get the sense that the national parks do their jobs in keeping the areas clean and well protected. Going to the national parks always gives me this clear sense that we are part of this earth and we are connected to the trees and to the animals. It reminds me that we don’t just get to come and enjoy, but we have to protect all of this as well.
My favorite national park is Zion, and I’m extremely concerned about the threats to dramatically reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, also in Utah. I’m very much opposed to the privatization of public lands. This doesn’t make sense to me.
In addition to enjoying the natural world, I’m very involved in local politics and grassroots organizing. I started with the immigrant rights movement and today work to defend democracy. I help hold elected officials accountable to protect our land and the environment. I’m currently the Manager of Alumni Programs at New American Leaders, preparing first and second generation Americans to use their power and potential in elected office. I help recruit people to run for office and lead campaigns, putting the environment at the center.
I am especially concerned about the health impacts of environmental issues, and the disparities that exist in Latino communities with regard to these impacts. People living in the South Phoenix zip code, for example, have a shorter life expectancy than the rest of the city because of pollution and lack of access to healthy food. There are toxic air plumes and limited public transportation, which all together negatively impacts the community. To me it’s about providing information to help people connect the dots. How do we make sure that people understand how the environment ultimately affects them and their health?
My work was inspired by Arizona Congressman Grijalva, whom I interned for through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in college. Being in an office where the Member was so pro-environment, pro-immigrant and pro-human rights was a perfect fit for me. I learned a lot in his office about the tribes in Arizona and the impacts of things like the border wall, water issues, endangered species and mining in the Grand Canyon.
I really want to make sure that people know there is a lot they can do to protect the environment, including voting for elected officials who make this a priority, recycling, and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. If we all pitch in a little bit we can make a big difference. To me it’s about making sure we’re being thoughtful and accountable to future generations.