by Darius Stanton
October 12, 2017
On September 13, 2017, over 120 Latino professionals, vibrant retirees and colleges students attended the inaugural Naturally Latinos Conference, designed to create a platform that connects and further empowers Latino environmental leaders of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Celebrating 120 years as the oldest independent environmental organization in the D.C. metro region, the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS), played host for the conference, which was set at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month.
The morning began with an environmental career fair of over twenty federal, state and local environmentally-related organizations, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Workgroup. The first open-panel discussion of the day consisted of Latino/Hispanic environmental leaders from the Climate Justice Alliance, George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health, Chispa Maryland and Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, who spoke to the pros and cons the Latino community currently faces in the environmental movement. Elected officials of Latino descent from around the Chesapeake Bay watershed used their panel to educate citizens on what they can do to become more involved in the decision making process of environmental and public health policy within their respective states.
The keynote address was presented by Lisa Garcia, EarthJustice’s vice president of litigation for healthy communities, who emphasized the importance of community involvement in environmental justice and organizational partnerships. A former senior advisor with the Environmental Protection Agency, Garcia gave examples of how interagency cooperation leads to strengthening environmental justice throughout programs, activities and decision-making.
During breakout sessions, leaders discussed advantages and challenges to biodiversity in the D.C. region, climate change in Latino communities and the Naturally Latinos mentoring program. The Naturally Latinos Conference also took time to recognize Latino environmental champions within the watershed such as Adam Ortiz, director of the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County; Delegate David Fraser Hidalgo from Montgomery County, Maryland; Dr. Patricia Delgado, superintendent of Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary; and Albert Arevalo, volunteer coordinator for Brookside Gardens Nature Center and D.C. coordinator for Latino Outdoors.
These environmental champions are working to increase access for the Hispanic community to public lands, encouraging their counties to be on the forefront of environmental and green infrastructure practices, helping communities to better understand the impact of climate change, passing critical environmental legislation and educating students about careers in the environmental field. As Albert Arevale states, “green tech and jobs are for everyone.”
The conference concluded with remarks from Ramon Palencia-Calvo, Latino outreach director of Chispa Maryland. Palencia-Calvo spoke to the importance of engaging, educating and also empowering Latino communities as it pertains to environmental issues.
When asked about the lasting effects the inaugural Naturally Latinos Conference will have on the Chesapeake watershed, Ruby Stemmle, the CEO of EcoLatinos and a member both the Naturally Latinos planning committee and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity workgroup responded by saying, “The Audubon Naturalist Society demonstrated its firm commitment to diversity by inviting young Hispanic leaders to join the discussion on environmental equality and justice… The Chesapeake Bay is key to our region's health and economy; the Hispanic community is a natural ally in all efforts to preserve and improve it.”
While the Hispanic Heritage month is coming to a close, there are many more events throughout the watershed that partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program are hosting to continue building bridges with Latino/Hispanic community leaders to increase environmental stewardship, equity and inclusion across the watershed. Learn more about the Naturally Latinos Conference and find other events hosted by the Audubon Naturalists Society.