Latinos want more access to open space

Xavier Morales
Xavier Morales

Members of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California recently trekked to Whitewater to express our strong support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s efforts to secure national monument status for the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Snow to Sand.

We believe that preserving open spaces like these in our magnificent desert is important for the health of Californians and Latinos in particular.

Repeated studies show that predominantly African American and Latino communities have far less access to parks in their own neighborhoods than their white neighbors. Consider a recent report by the Community Health Council, which found that communities in South Los Angeles had 1.2 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, compared to 70.1 acres for every 1,000 residents of West Los Angeles.

This lack of green space has health implications. Considering that nearly 43 percent of Latinos who are hospitalized in California have diabetes and that half of Latino children born since 2000 are predicted to become diabetic in their lifetime, it quickly becomes clear that Californians need to do everything we can to protect and make open space accessible to all families.

The Latino population in California is growing rapidly, including in San Bernardino County, home to most of the public lands being proposed as national monuments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2014, the Hispanic population in the county increased by 63 percent, while the total population increased by 24 percent. The proposed protected areas are also easily within a morning drive for one quarter of California’s residents.

It is not uncommon in the Latino community to have an annual tradition of extended family camping in forests or parks. My family spends a few days each year exploring our protected open spaces. I love explaining to my 8-year-old how time, wind, water and the sun have shaped the landscapes. Together, we are building memories that will last a lifetime.

I’m not alone in this tradition. Extensive research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that manages many of California’s protected forests, found that Latinos in particular avail themselves of recreation areas that can accommodate extended family gatherings. These public lands are important to our health and familial connections.

We applaud Feinstein’s efforts to advance legislation through Congress, but we cannot afford to wait for Congress to act. As the senator has advocated, President Barack Obama should use the Antiquities Act to swiftly protect our California desert.

Xavier Morales is executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.