The Sonoma Ecology Center is launching a program called Senderos Naturales — “Pathways to Nature.” The goal of the program is to involve the Hispanic community in environmental issues. SEC staff commented, “We have always had the hope of interesting the Latino community in our programs, but have had little success.” This time, “Senderos Naturales” will be entirely organized and presented in Spanish, in the hope of creating Latino participation. The plan is to build the program gradually, creating an opportunity for the first participants to become the teachers and trainers of the next.
In truth, nature and the environment are not necessarily new to our Latino community. The majority of our population emigrated from rural areas in the Mexican states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Jalisco. Most of them depended on the land and earned their living from the land before they came to the United States. They know sustainability from living it. So why has the Ecology Center seen such low Latino participation in their programs?
There are lots of theories, but perhaps the most accurate one is that those with little money have little time for enjoyment of the land and the environment. The very farm workers who come from ranches to work for ranch owners here continue working the earth but, just as in Mexico, when they work for the ranch owner what they produce does not benefit them. They simply receive a wage, usually considerably less than a $15 living wage.
Our families live surrounded by mountains, vineyards and huge parks, just minutes from their homes, but they hardly have the time or the resources to take advantage of that beauty. The high cost of living in a tourist destination means they are barely able to survive.
As a part of the Pathways to Nature program, the Latino community will perhaps discover how those parts of the natural environment that are essential to life – air, water, plant life – have been compromised by individual interests. And then the message of Pope Francis about caring for our ‘common home’ will take on meaning: “I urgently invite you to create a new dialogue about the how we are constructing the future of the planet.”
We need to start a conversation that draws us all together. The environmental challenge that we are living, rooted in human actions, concerns and affects us all. The ecological movement worldwide has come along on a long and productive path, generating many citizen organizations that have raised public awareness. But involving the poorest is always a challenge.
Unfortunately, many efforts to find solutions to the climate crisis have been frustrated not just by the ambition of rich and powerful interests, but also by the lack of interest on the part of everyone else.
Attitudes that are blocking the path to solutions range from denial that there is a problem to blind trust in technical solutions. We need a new universal solidarity. As the South African bishops stated, “The talent and involvement of every one of us is necessary if we are to repair the damage to God’s creation by human abuse.” Everyone includes even the very poorest.
I hope that the Pathways to Nature program awakens the conscience of a disadvantaged people. I hope it is a welcoming place for people who newly take responsibility for their relationship to the earth. Each of us, at different moments, will be called by different names and in different languages, but with one heart for the ecosystem.