11 October 2023

Searching Inward: A Midwestern's Perspective on the Latino Connection to our Océano

Written by: Evelyn

Hispanic and Latino peoples around the world consider the ocean to be a core pillar in our lives, influencing our existence in immeasurable ways. Beyond being a global, life-sustaining resource, the ocean has shaped the identities and legacies of countless Hispanic and Latino communities, hosting generations on its shores and sprinkling our diaspora across continents. Along with these shared connections, as individuals, we each have our own relationship to the ocean, whether it be tangible, spiritual, or inherited from a distance.

For me, I grew up admiring the ocean from the Great Lakes region of the U.S., which is over six-hundred miles away from the Atlantic Ocean’s nearest waters. Although I didn’t step foot into the ocean until I was around twenty years old, I had learned of its beauty and mystery through books and National Geographic T.V. shows. I’ve found that living without the ocean in reach is relatable to many Hispanic and Latino people, especially for those of us living in the interior. Even for those situated in coastal cities and towns, pathways to the ocean are not so easily found. The privatization and development of coastal spaces, combined with segregation and displacement, often block our communities from enjoying the ocean and coastal environments. These barriers to access can take a toll on people, particularly those who were born in or have descended from coastal communities; however, many have continued to pass ocean-based teachings, cultures, and memories down, solidifying them within their lineages. My grandparents are from Puerto Rico and moved to Milwaukee, and I fondly remember photos they displayed in their house growing up, one with them posing on the tropical coast, turquoise scenery in the background.

The way our communities and cultures are embedded across diverse ocean geographies never ceases to amaze me. From the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, spanning South, Central, North America and the islands of the Caribbean, Hispanics and Latinos are residing as we have throughout history. In these places, seafood dominates the local cuisine, and many people take ocean-based jobs like fishing, marine transport, eco-tourism services, and environmental conservation. Free time is often enjoyed on the water, and popular music and art pull inspiration from marine and “beachy” themes.

With further reflection, I realize that being in community with and learning from other Latinos is a key part of my ocean story. My first few trips to the ocean were in Puerto Rico and coastal Panama. The local beaches in Puerto Rico, tucked away from tourists, were overflowing with families gathering for cookouts and time in the water. Bachata music filled the air until sunset, as did giant Puerto Rican flags. I appreciated these beaches for bringing families together. Several months spent in Panama, where I first learned how to swim safely among my favorite ocean creatures, led me to connect with Panameños living on an island in a national Marine Protected Area. They described the protected area as being a source of pride for their community, emphasizing that the wellness of their people is linked to the health of the ocean, and that the ocean is like a close relative to be cared for.

Beyond food, jobs, culture, and recreation, the ocean also gifts many Hispanic and Latino people with a greater life purpose. As the ocean faces mounting threats like pollution and climate change, more of us, in the U.S. and abroad, are working together to inform and push for solutions that protect our ocean and coastal ecosystems. We, too, are scientists, advocates, and changemakers. From our communities come conservation leaders driving efforts that benefit both the ocean and la gente.

Written by Olas y Acciòn member Olivia Lopez for Hispanic Access Foundation. 


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