Opinion: Latino voices helped secure San Gabriel Mountains as national monument, let’s keep it up

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The President’s designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument is great news both for California and the people who live near this national treasure; it’s also a testament to the growing influence of Latinos in the environmental community and in the effort to combat climate change.

But protecting this land was the right move no matter where you come from or what your last name is.

President Obama deserves credit for acting, but he didn’t do so in a vacuum. He is listening to a local community that, for ten long years, has worked daily to see this area permanently protected.

— Jennifer Allen

The San Gabriel Mountains provide one-third of Los Angeles County’s clean drinking water, a county where 48.3 percent of residents are Latino, and where drought conditions continue to force Angelinos to cut down on water use. Latinos are playing a bigger role and speaking out about the need to address climate change, and to protect open spaces like the 350,000 acres of the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

That is something that simply hadn’t happened before on the scale that it’s taking place today.

The coalition that worked for more than a decade to convince the government and the President about the need to protect the San Gabriel Mountains included many Hispanic leaders and Latino organizations. Hispanics played a role in the other organizations that formed San Gabriel Mountains Forever (the leading group behind permanent protection for these mountains), just as we’re doing in the conservation movement all across the country.

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More importantly, while we want our families and all underserved communities to have recreational opportunities, Hispanics are speaking out and organizing because we see the impact that carbon pollution and climate change are having on the health of our families, and the damage they can cause to our communities.

Just last month, the Denver City Council in Colorado approved a proclamation calling for greater investment in clean energy and clean air that had been proposed and championed by the Latino community there. The vote that achieved that was the culmination of a months-long effort by the Latino community through a local program called Protégete supported by the League of Conservation Voters.

A similar effort is underway in neighboring Aurora so that their City Council also takes this important step.

This program in Colorado, however, didn’t achieve that victory on its own. It succeeded because of the people of Denver. As teams of organizers and volunteers headed out this year to reach out to folks at grocery stores, community centers, and in their neighborhoods, they soon found they weren’t just collecting signatures on petitions, they found people eager to help.

Whether it was the retiree who struggles to breathe as a result of working at a dirty, coal-fired power plant for many years, or the mother whose child gasps to catch her breath because of air quality that fails to meet acceptable standards, our community in Denver – like in so many other parts of the country – knows first-hand that the impact of air pollution isn’t theoretical. It’s personal.

In the same week the proclamation passed, Latinos from across the country traveled to New York for the People’s Climate March, ensuring that our community was represented at that historic event calling on the UN to recognize and fight climate change. Their story there was also just as important as the President’s event last week. That’s because it’s voices like theirs and others that make days like those possible.

President Obama deserves credit for acting, but he didn’t do so in a vacuum. He is listening to a local community that, for ten long years, has worked daily to see this area permanently protected.

That speaks to the power we have, and that we need to exercise. We need to make sure that our communities tell policy makers, candidates, reporters, industry officials and anyone else who will listen that these issues matter to us, that we expect them to be responsive to our communities, and that we’re going to hold them accountable for their decisions.

San Gabriel Mountains’ designation is a victory for each and every one of us, but it’s by no means the only thing we care about in the fight for clean air and a healthier future for our children and grandchildren. The President and Congress need to hear that from us too.