Hispanics are passionate about their public parks and open spaces. Parks are often the center of family life and activities, used as social settings for picnics and get-togethers with family and friends. As such, their protection and environmental conservation ranks high on Latinos’ priority list.

The 2012 Colorado College Western States Survey shows that the protection of parks, clean air and water is a top issue for Latinos. In fact, 87 percent of Latinos surveyed believe we can protect land and water while still having a strong economy – we don’t have to choose one over the other. Even further, 94 percent agree that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of the economies of western states.

To be clear, cultural traditions are not the sole reason these and other Latinos consistently express strong support for clean air, water and land. The U.S. Hispanic population is disproportionately affected by environmental contamination in many parts of the country.

Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, unsafe drinking water, and lead and mercury contamination – all of which can cause serious health problems – according to the American Lung Association. Hispanics also face higher rates of asthma than whites, and because they account for nearly one-third of those not protected by health insurance, they are less likely to receive specialized care.

Latinos are more likely to live immediately adjacent to polluting industries and in areas failing to meet national pollution standards. A 1995 study found that 80 percent of Latinos lived in areas that failed to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards, compared to 65 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Whites.

Pollution in the United States poses health risks for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, or country of origin. Unfortunately, Hispanics are disproportionately affected by factors that place their long-term health in serious jeopardy.

Hispanic Access Foundation undertakes campaigns to educate Hispanics about the issues affecting their surroundings, the importance of preserving parks and how they can become advocates, not just for themselves, but also for the environment. Whether through public service announcements, trips to nature locations or messages delivered from the pulpit, Latinos are becoming engaged and empowered in fighting for the surroundings many of us take for granted.

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