My love of nature started in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. As a child, I went there to hike and enjoy trips with my father. Since then, going out into nature has become an essential part of my life. For me, it’s a spiritual experience – a chance to feel connected both to my Creator and to the creation.
And I now share that spiritual experience with my 17-year-old son. Hiking in nature is our chance to bond. There is no cell signal or WiFi. It’s a special place where my son and I can talk and connect.
Being in nature reminds us all of our connection to the land and to each other. The next generation needs to be able to see the beauty all around us in Southern California and in the state.
But many families, and Latino families in particular, don’t have access to nature close to home.
According to a recent report from Hispanic Access Foundation, Latinos and other people of color in California are two times more likely to live in nature-deprived areas than white people. When kids are deprived of nature, that means they’re missing out on safe places to play and families are missing out on opportunities to bond with each other.
That’s why Hispanic Access Foundation helps facilitate Latino Advocacy Week so that our communities can demand change. The event, which happens annually in March, helps support Latino communities, organizations, families, and individuals becoming advocates around the issues that impact their daily lives. Community groups, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, local leaders, and elected officials champion legislation and advocacy efforts that uplift and support Latino communities across the state and country, leading to a more equitable society.
The effort I’m advocating for is championed by Senator Alex Padilla, Representative Judy Chu, and a coalition of local advocates and community organizations. We are asking President Biden to use the Antiquities Act to add 109,000 acres to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to permanently protect these special lands.
Expanding the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is not an option, it is a need.
This effort would improve recreational opportunities in the San Gabriel Valley, where there is particularly limited access to nature. But access isn’t just about expanding public lands and rivers protections, it’s about ensuring visitors feel safe and welcome visiting these places. I hope that in the future, we can also help make public lands and rivers more accessible by investing in public transit, wheelchair-accessible paths, signage in multiple languages, and more.
Public lands and rivers are a key component of our identity, and they weave a narrative of the diverse and complex history of our state and nation. These places, all of which are Indigenous ancestral lands, preserve our shared cultural heritage, and significantly contribute to industries, local economies, and millions of jobs and employment opportunities.
Latinos have been an integral part of this shared history.
I am grateful to Sen. Padilla and Representative Judy Chu for their leadership on this issue and urge President Biden to take action. I want to take my future grandchildren to the San Gabriel Mountains to hike, fish, and camp. To bond with them the way I’ve bonded with my son. All Latino families need this same opportunity.