“We have conducted polling over the years which consistently shows that Latinos support funding and legislation for conservation activities and addressing climate change at higher rates than does the general public,” says Shanna Edberg, Hispanic Access’ Director of Conservation Programs. “At the same time, Latinos have traditionally been left out of the decision-making process in the U.S. environmental movement. We are working to correct that narrative.”
Hispanic Access educates and mobilizes broad swathes of the Latino community to advocate for environmental justice—working with churches and other community organizations, recruiting and training new leaders, sponsoring fly-ins, collecting comments, seeking media placements, and more.
One initiative we are particularly proud of, our MANO (My Access to Network Opportunities) Project, has placed hundreds of young Latino professionals in internships at federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service. MANO internships are highly selective. In 2021, for example, Hispanic Access fielded 5,567 applications resulting in only 152 placements. “We are very pleased with the caliber of young people we are attracting to these positions,” says Maite Arce, Hispanic Access’ founder and CEO. “We are finding professionals who can not only do the job, but who can also excel and serve as role models for the broader Latino community.”
A special feature of the MANO Project, which makes it particularly attractive and accessible to people of modest means, is that all internships are paid. In addition, most interns receive housing and transportation stipends as well as health insurance during the time of their internships. In the words of Fernando Lara, a first-generation college student who worked his way through school, “Before learning about the MANO Project, I saw similar internships. However, they were unpaid, and I couldn’t participate because I wouldn’t have had time to do the internship, work, and still go to school. Thankfully, MANO’s paid internship paved the way for me to get into a field I’m passionate about without the burden of wondering if I was going to be able to pay the rent.”
MANO Project internships are always substantive, meaning that these highly qualified young people undertake rigorous professional work. Nathalia Romero, an environmental planning intern, says she is learning to “think like a mountain lion” as she develops a crossing for wild animals to traverse a major highway without being run over.
Lara, meanwhile, has transitioned from working in the biological sciences as an intern doing community outreach work to serving as a GIS mapping expert. Having just completed his geography degree at California State University Long Beach, he has now applied for a permanent position with the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office.
Indeed, more than 75 percent of our MANO Project participants go on to work full time in the environmental field after completing their internships. Hispanic Access is working to bump up this number even higher by offering career fairs and workshops on topics such as resume writing, interviewing, and parlaying bicultural skills to our MANO Project alumni.
For many MANO Project participants, the internship provides an avenue to give back to the broader Latino community. Ashley Suarez-Burgos began leading events for Hispanic Access Latino Conservation Week in 2015 and has continued to do so every year since completing her internship. Her first Latino Conservation Week event was in the Washington, D.C. area with the Arlington Public Library. For that activity, Suarez-Burgos taught yoga based on the life cycle of salmon and led a mindful coloring session about this migrating fish. She has also led events on building your own coral reef, invasive species bingo, planting native pollinator plants, sustainable fashion, and more. She says, “I'm trying to attract new people into the world of conservation, which requires new approaches.”
Hispanic Access is always looking for opportunities to elevate new Latino leadership. Suarez-Burgos now serves on our Ocean Advisory Council, where she has helped to produce our 2022 Conservation Policy Toolkit used for legislative advocacy, education, and grant funding, and has worked on research projects on various coastal issues and their impacts on different social groups.
We are particularly pleased to have invited another former MANO Project intern, Keila Vizcarra, to join our Board of Directors. Vizcarra, whose internship served as a launchpad for a career in the Forest Service, describes herself as “excited to be a part of an organization that has had a great impact on me and the Latinx community… Our community is facing a lot of complex issues such as climate change, the pandemic, mental health, and immigration.” She adds, “It is important for us to be vocal about the issues that affect our community and have our own members at the forefront representing us.”
Being at the forefront of environmental advocacy for Latino communities is what Hispanic Access does best. This past year, we were even invited to the White House in recognition of our environmental justice efforts. “It was an honor and a great affirmation of our work for me to visit the White House,” says Arce. “I feel that the tide is turning in terms of Latinos being seen as leaders of conservation efforts in this country. From our MANO Project to our outreach with pastors representing more than 150,000 churches, we are elevating voices to call for meaningful environmental protections not only for our Latino communities but for the nation as a whole.”
Written by Ellen Alderton for Hispanic Outlook on Education May 2022 Issue.