Poll shows strong Latino support for conservation

 

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HECHO and other Latino groups have already begun pushing for stronger protections for the nation’s waterways and are involved in efforts to stop a proposed dam on southern Gila River. Trujillo noted that it was involvement from the Hispanic community in Las Cruces, too, that helped secure the recent National Monument Designation for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico.

Nationwide, the Latino population is growing, particularly in Western states like Colorado and New Mexico, making it an increasingly important political constituency. In New Mexico, for instance, Latinos account for 37 percent of the electorate, the highest proportion in any state.

And though many politicians have traditionally seen Latinos as a single, or dual-issue, voting block concerned mostly with immigration rights and jobs, HECHO’s survey indicates public lands protection is important to this growing group of voters as well.

That means to court the Latino vote, candidates will have to do more than talk about immigration.

“We’re not just a single issue community,” Arce said. “In the West especially, Latinos are deeply affected by water issues,” she said, adding that more than a third of Latinos in the U.S. live in states supplied with water by the Colorado River Basin.

As with other minorities, higher poverty rates and less access to resources mean that a disproportionate number of Latinos face the threat of polluted waterways. And nationwide Latino children have a 40 percent greater chance of dying of asthma, and almost half of all Latinos in the country live in one of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities in the country. That means Latino communities are hit harder by pollution-causing industries, making many people more conservative when it comes to, say, oil and gas development, Trujillo said.

All of that adds up to a wake-up call, he said. “Hispanics are going to be playing larger roles in every aspect of the U.S. economy, so (politicians) will have to engage us on many other levels. The environment will certainly be one of them.”

Sarah Tory is an editorial intern at
High Country News. She tweets @tory_sarah.