The Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center welcomed members of the Latinx community to its Las Montañas event on July 16.
The event hosted by the National Park Service kicked off Latino Conservation Week in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Visitors were treated to a new look to the Visitor Center as the it was decorated with bright colored papel picado or “cut paper.” The decorations are a long-practiced tradition in Latinx celebrations.
The event featured interactive information booths on local flora and fauna, live music, guided bilingual nature hikes, guided mountain bike rides, arts and craft activities, and a lineup of Latinx speakers who informed visitors on nature conservation efforts and wildlife recovery efforts.
The event began with an opening blessing ceremony led by Tataviam Elder and spiritual adviser Alan Salazar.
Following the opening ceremony, organizers Miroslava Munguia Ramos and Ashley Borrego took the stage and welcomed visitors in both English and Spanish.
The organizers expressed their delight with the turnout and praised the visitors for taking part in an event that builds on the importance of nature conservation and brings visibility to the impact of the Latinx community on local nature conservation.
Borrego, the Conservation Legacy community volunteer ambassador, said events like Las Montañas are important in building a stronger connection between the Latinx community in the Los Angeles County and Ventura County areas and the public recreation areas available to these communities.
“Connecting the Latinx community to the outdoors and having them see themselves as part of the conversation is important,” Borrego said. “We wanted to provide activities and bring in speakers that would extend their relationship [with nature] beyond just today.”
SMM National Recreation Area Park Ranger Miroslava Munguia Ramos said the event was also a celebration and showcase for work done by Latinx community members in the conservation efforts of the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding nature areas.
She explained that she was proud of the organizations who participated in the event and said that all the organizations were selected specifically for their significant work and impact on the conservation of local nature areas.
“Conservation is such a diverse field, so with our event we wanted to showcase the organizations locally that promote conservation in different ways, shapes and forms and give folks an opportunity to explore different ways to get involved in conservation, not just in the Santa Monica Mountains but to take that back to their own homes,” Ramos said.
Ramos explained that the National Park Service is partnered with Hispanic Access Foundation and Latino Conservation Week is an initiative founded by the foundation that has been highlighting Latinx conservation efforts and promotes stewardship and recreational activities that benefit local communities and parks through conservation.
The initiative began in 2014 and has since been promoting the Latinx community to embrace the outdoors and protect natural resources.
“They demonstrate that the Latinx community has a commitment to protecting nature,” Borrego said. “We [Latinx community] do so many things in our own lives to try to be sustainable and they show that it’s a systemic thing that we’re doing for the community at large.”
Both of the organizers expressed their desire to grow the relationship between outdoor recreation and the Latinx community, breaking down misconceptions about nature areas and reminding the community that nature is accessible to anyone who wishes to enjoy the outdoors.
“Growing up my family seemed to think the outdoors were cool but they’re far away. You have to go to Yosemite and pay to do all these things, but now for our Latinx community here we’re highlighting that our national recreation area is for everybody,” Munguia Ramos said. “Stay on trails, stay hydrated and it’s such a great experience to be outdoors.”
Among the organizations and programs represented at the event were members of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, National History Museum of Los Angeles, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains National Park Service.
Mountain Bike Unit volunteer Eugenia Luvizaro was a volunteer guide for the mountain bike trail rides at the event but also enjoyed the event as a visitor. She was born and raised in Brazil and said she has had a fascination for nature and nature conservation since childhood. She was excited after becoming a junior ranger at the event and said even while in her 60s, it’s never too late to experience becoming a junior ranger.
“I never had something like this as a kid but I always had friends and family taking me to fish, hike and camping, so getting this takes me back to that time,” Luvizaro said.
David Pineda attended the event with his family and said he was excited to attend an event specific to his Latinx background and his interest in nature conservation. He believes it is important for the Latinx community and the Los Angeles community to embrace the nature and wildlife of their communities and to explore ways to protect these resources.
He hopes more Angelenos and people in his community could shift their mindset to be more nature friendly.
“A lot of people are so city-oriented. People go out to hike, but they don’t really take in the nature that is inside and around those hikes,” Pineda said. “Some people might see nature more as an obstacle to overcome or be tamed, but the way of thinking could be more to embrace nature and co-exist with it.”
Pineda praised the organizers of the event for putting together an opportunity for members of the Latinx community to be exposed to the beauty of nature in their local areas and promote the continued beautification and preservation of these areas.
“I feel we’re not given too many opportunities to do stuff like this and to have events like these really empowers people to find ways to do work in this area of study, I think it’s great,” he said.
Written by Emmanuel Luissi for The Malibu Times.