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Latinas for Change: Writer Irene Vilar is working to fix Colorado’s water problem

Irene Vilar (Photo: Gary Isaacs)

Irene Vilar (Photo: Gary Isaacs)

Lots of climate change action has been happening in Colorado the past few weeks, and once again, Irene Vilar is at its helm.

The Puerto Rican native is an award-winning author of books about trauma and women’s reproductive rights. She is also founder of the non-profit, Americas for Conservation + the Arts, the organization that hands out the Americas Latino Book Awards.

Vilar moved to Boulder in 2003 after getting married to a Coloradoan and ever since has made it her mission to fight for the environment. Last year, she started the Americas Latino Eco-Festival, and the 2014 edition took place in September.

The five-day event of workshops and panels brought thousands to Boulder to discuss the roles Latinos are playing in preserving the environment. Topics discussed included “Why Are Latinos Way Ahead of the Climate Change Curve?” and “Our Air, Our Health, Our Land, Our Responsibility.”

This past weekend, Vilar joined forces with Climate Colorado which launched its first two-day Colorado Climate Summit at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The goal is to have the approximately 400 citizens, professors, students and activists attending come up with a plan to switch from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy by 2020 and reduce the water footprint by 50 percent by 2025.

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“I will be talking about how to engage the millennial leaders of color in the climate fight,” said Vilar, who is a mother of two young girls.

She said Robert Castellino, the founder of Climate Colorado, approached her to collaborate.

“He was very impressed with the Eco-Festival, and he told me that he was trying to work for a long time on solving climate problems across the state,” Vilar told Fox News Latino.

“For me this was great, because my intention for the Eco-Festival was to show how Latinos are really ahead of the curve when it has to do with environmental and climate change.”

According to a 2014 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, nine in 10 U.S. Latinos support government intervention to fight global warming and climate change, and eight in 10 Latinos want President Obama to curb carbon pollution.

This high percentage of Hispanics caring about the environment are what originally prompted Vilar to ask why?

“We have an ecological legacy as Latinos, because we have our Pachamama or ‘Mother Earth,’” Vilar said. “The most urgent thing is saving the planet right now ... Ninety-eight percent of Latinos say that we have to take care of God’s creation. That’s good news for the environmental movement.”

After identifying Latino environmental leaders such as Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, best-selling author of “Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them,” and Mario Molina, a director at the Climate Reality Project, Vilar decided it was important to create a home they needed to start a conversation and create solutions.

“The climate change statistics created a shift in me to make a festival to raise awareness in white communities about Latino communities,” says Vilar.

That’s how the idea for the annual Americas Latino Eco-Festival came about.

“We got to start a conversation that had not happened,” Vilar says now about her first Festival, two years ago. “We concluded that every year we should get these people together - making alliances and getting the voice out there. Empowering millennials to see that they are not the problem but the solution. We have been conditioned to see that we are the problem.”

She is currently working on the third Eco-Festival, scheduled for October 2015, by putting together proposals to work with schools K-12. The theme will be “Water and Hope.”

“Water is the big one,” Vilar said. “The Colorado River has had an unprecedented loss of water. The water is drying up, fires are on the rise... It is a kind of scary moment.”

The author and activist says although she’s begun to feel that her home is now in Colorado, she still hasn’t forgotten about her ethnic identity as a Puerto Rican and Latina.

“I’ve just started to develop my environmental identity,” says Vilar.

Kristina Puga is a freelance journalist and writes about inspirational people age 60 and older for her site WiserWithAge.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kristinapuga.

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