Vanessa's formative years were shaped by visits to her great-grandmother in Mexico, where she cultivated a deep appreciation for outdoor spaces. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at Cal Poly (formerly known as Humble State University), her awareness of the intersection between community, culture, and conservation grew. This understanding was fostered by her family's encouragement to pursue higher education, instilling in her the value of community engagement in environmental stewardship.
“When I joined Hispanic Access Foundation, I fell in love with their mission of finding these different factors and problems of why Latinos don't have access to these natural spaces. I love learning more about how we can help empower these leaders in our different networks, to care for themselves, their communities, and for their lands.”
While Vanessa has had many great moments in her role as Hispanic Access Foundation’s Conservation Program Manager, one of the most recent achievements for her and the Conservation team has been their participation at the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP28. This event is a pinnacle moment for her and Hispanic Access Foundation. Although it is the second occasion the organization has been invited to the meeting, it is the first time they are actively participating and engaging through a press conference, presenting a report, and bringing valuable insights of Latinos in conservation at the forefront of such a key international event.
Alongside her colleagues and network members Shanna Edberg, Director of Conservation Programs, Natalie De la Torre Salas, Latino Climate Council Network Member and Archeologist, and faith leader Pastor Moses Borjas, they will unveil a groundbreaking report titled “Cultural Erosion: The Climate Threat to Latino Heritage.” This report sheds light on preserving Latino heritage sites in the face of climate change threats, showcasing the intersection of cultural preservation, environmental advocacy, and community resilience. The team will also lead panel discussions and press conferences, amplifying the voices of Latino leaders and advocating for action on climate change, including in grassroots and faith-based communities.
Representing and advocating for Latino communities in global conversations on climate change is one of Vanessa’s greatest passions. Aligning her passions with an organization committed to understanding and addressing the barriers preventing Latinos from accessing nature has been her motivation to push forward the initiatives through the Conservation team.
“Participating at COP28 is such a huge opportunity, and I'm very honored to be presented with the opportunity to join such a big event that not a lot of people get to attend, so I'm very excited. Hispanic Access has provided me all the tools to be successful in this event, and represent the organization with integrity, letting other members in the Latino community know that anything is possible.”
Some of the goals of the organization for this event are to garner media attention for the report, showcase Latino advocacy on climate change to the media, and highlight Latino leadership in climate action, while supporting partners with their needs by joining any working groups, supplying speakers for panels, attending events, etc.
“It's huge. Even for me, I feel like you never think that these opportunities are going to come because they're like once in a lifetime, and I never would have thought as a little girl that I'd be in Dubai, attending one of the biggest climate change conferences. It's empowering, definitely. I think that leadership and conservation are about making sure that everybody's voices are heard, and that it's for the benefit of the community as a whole and not just one individual. It is about rising to the situation and empowering others. I feel like empowerment is such a huge word, but it could be narrowed down to really listening to the community, and making sure that you're also passionate about it, and persevere.”