Maite Arce, President and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation, released the following statement after joining U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in the town hall discussion commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service at César E. Chávez National Monument:
"The National Park Service over the last 100 years has taken the lead in preserving many of America’s natural treasures and landscapes. By protecting these public lands as national parks, national monuments, lakeshores and recreation areas, we’re making sure that these treasured sites are here for future generations to enjoy.
“While the choice of Chávez as the location for such a momentous occasion may seem peculiar to some, it demonstrates the Secretary’s recognition of the important role of the Park Service in also preserving our shared historic and cultural heritage. We need to tell inclusive stories that recognize the diverse makeup of America and honor the contributions and leadership of people of color.
“As honored as I am to have served as a speaker at this event, it reminds me that we still have much to do in making sure we have a system of public lands that truly reflects the diversity of our nation – whether that’s for Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans or African Americans.
“By 2020, half of youth in America will be of color. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color. These shifting demographics emphasize the importance of making sure the next 100 years of conservation is reflective of ALL Americans.
“Without the engagement and support of all Americans, we are at risk of losing the historic, cultural, natural, spiritual, economic and recreational resources that our public lands currently provide our families and communities. Climate change, development threats, and political pressures in the U.S. Congress and statehouses across the West to seize and sell off public lands require many more of us to stand up for our collective heritage. If we don’t, we stand to lose valuable natural and cultural resources for our children and grandchildren.
“While our national public lands don’t currently fully reflect our country’s demographic and ethnic diversity, especially as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace, it can. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen the President establish national monuments, like Chávez in 2012, that conserve Native American, Latino, African American, Asian American and women’s history. By building on this legacy, we can ensure our cultural heritage is intact for our children and generations to come.”
Since its founding in 2010, HAF has made building environmental awareness among Latinos, going outdoors and empowering advocates a top priority, including the groundbreaking formation of Por La Creación Faith-Based Alliance and the launch of Latino Conservation Week. Earlier this year, the Hispanic Access Foundation joined a first-of-its-kind coalition of diverse leaders from civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations. The Next 100 Coalition is calling on President Obama to issue a Presidential Memorandum that emphasizes this need to establish an inclusive system of national parks and other public lands that reflects, honors and engages all Americans. Sign our petition at change.org.