Updated: Sep 30
Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis will host a Hispanic Heritage Environmental Festival, this Saturday, October 2. The festival is designed to encourage participation of the local community, particularly the Hispanic population, in outdoor activities—a part of our area Latinos too often don’t have access to.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in conjunction with Defensores De La Cuenca, Corazón Latino and the Chesapeake Conservancy to build on continuing outreach to Maryland’s Hispanic and Latino communities.
“In nature and environmental work there’s a lack of perspective of communities of color, “ said Abel Olivo, executive director of Defensores De La Cuenca. “The people most affected (by climate change and environment problems) are missing.”
The purpose of his organization is to engage Latinos in watershed-related issues by having fun in the environment, he said. He indicated a deeper goal is to provide more of a sense of ownership, belonging and connection to nature and the environment.
Defensores De La Cuenca does this by breaking down access barriers to the environment that many Latinos and Hispanics encounter. On Saturday, those signed up for the festival through the organization will have their entrance fee to the park paid for them. And there will be plenty of bilingual presenters at the festival too.
“There are lots of festivals that happen and the Latino community is an afterthought,” Olivo said. “This is different.”
But the language barrier is just one barrier many Latinos encounter when it comes to accessing the environment for recreation and education. And the Hispanic community is particularly vulnerable to environmental health issues, because they often live in lower cost housing in vulnerable areas.
Those can include a lack of green space, air quality issues, flooding and mold. Many Hispanics struggle with health problems like asthma and diabetes because of their environment, Olivo said.
“It’s not just if it’s in Spanish they will come,” he said. “It has real world implications. That’s why it's important to get the Latin community in nature and the environment.”
Maryland's Department of Natural Resources recognizes the Latino population is integral to its strategy of protecting and promoting the environment.
"The Latino community is one of the fastest growing segments of state park visitors," wrote DNR Muticultural Outreach Coordinator Michelle Ramirez, in an email. " (We want) visitors to feel that this is their park and their resources, and that they are stewards of the environment."
Ramirez said the festival took place once before in 2019. Last year's was cancelled due to the pandemic.
"The hope is we do this annually," she wrote. ""We want visitors to feel a sense of belonging in our public lands, and responsibility to help take care of it for all the future generations. We also want to show the representation of Latino members in the environmental field, and highlight prospective careers for our next generation of stewards."
Festivals like the one on Saturday are designed for fun recreational opportunities. There will be food trucks,, boat rides, fishing demonstrations, Zumba classes and more. But a real desire for those who sponsor the even is that some Latinos will take a deeper dive into environmental issues.
“Our primary goal is for people to come and have fun,”Olivo said. “If people have a positive experience (that will) encourage people to come back. We do this with the intent to create more Latino leadership.”
Olivo said his organization is in the process of helping to create an online academy where participants can sign up to take classes to learn more about environmental issues.
He said his organization is well aware that the priorities of many Latino families in our area are work, family and their religious faith. He believes festivals like Saturdays can be a first step in expanding the Hispanic community’s relationship with nature and allow them to have more of a voice in environmental issues.
The Sandy Point Hispanic Heritage Environmental Festival may be an introduction to the natural world that it would be hard not to like.
“You’re spending time with family, learning about the environment, and having fun,” Olivo noted.
“We welcome everyone to come and enjoy our large day-use facilities, the water access, and the new natural features we have added here at Sandy Point State Park,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio in a statement. “We are proud to host this Hispanic Heritage Month event, building on our continuing outreach to Maryland’s Hispanic and Latino communities,”