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For some, it’s a hard truth to grasp; for others, it’s an everyday reality.

Latino communities are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change, air pollution, and environmental hazards. They’re more likely to get asthma and to live near industrial activity that causes smog. That’s why Latino communities are more likely to be concerned about environmental threats and are, in fact, leading the charge to advance conservation.

At Conservation Colorado, our Protégete program helps Latino communities and leaders to build a more powerful, influential voice in the fight against climate change in hopes of a healthy future. We sat down with Noe Orgaz, the Protégete community organizer for Denver, to talk about his experiences growing up in Los Angeles and to explore what inspired him to professionally engage with Latinos communities through conservation advocacy.

What is Latino Conservation Week? Why is this celebration important?

Latino Conservation Week is an opportunity for the Latino community to address conservation issues and bring awareness to the environmental issues that impact the Latino community. We talk about how we can conserve, work toward a future that thrives, and possibly mitigate a lot of the effects of climate change we’re dealing with today.

Our Protégete community explores Genesee Park & Buffalo Herd Overlook during the kickoff event of Latino Conservation Week 2018

Where did you grow up, and what was the environment like there? How did you interact with the resources around you?

I grew up in Los Angeles, California. The environment that I grew up in was a lot of asphalt and concrete. The area that I remember most is my grandmother’s house. Her backyard was adjacent to the LA River, with huge trees that I remember climbing on.

My parents didn’t feel safe drinking water out of the faucet so we always had to boil it in order to cook with it or simply drink it. We were worried it would be contaminated and make us sick. That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about conservation today. Through my own life and the lives of other people experiencing oppression, I’ve seen the impact of environmental injustice.

In your work, in your professional experience, what are the most pressing conservation issues that face Colorado’s Latino community?

One of the more prevalent issues right now that Latinos are dealing with is the air quality in their communities. A lot of folks live near highways or near areas where there is construction. We’re seeing a lot of children get asthma from breathing polluted air in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.

One of the bills we worked on this legislative session — the school setbacks bill — really got me thinking about the air pollution that kids like mine are experiencing. The bill was trying to increase the distance between schools and oil and gas drilling. It’s really troubling to know that there are communities that have oil rigs right by their football fields or playgrounds. The idea of young people getting an education and breathing in the pollution from drilling and fracking  — not to mention the risks of spills, explosions, and fires — it just doesn’t sit right by me. It’s definitely something that should be addressed — we need to make it safer for people to get a basic education. When I think about my own children, I think about how many oil companies are drilling next to schools serving low-income families and Latino youth, and that makes me want to work hard to change it.

Why is this celebration of Latino Conservation Week important?

Latino Conservation Week is important because it is an opportunity and a timeframe for people to be able to address the issues that most impact the Latino community — but this should be something that goes on on a regular basis, an everyday basis. Every day should be like Latino Conservation Week.