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Public land fossil fuel extraction significantly harms Latino community health. But Latino querencia for our public lands can bring the permanent protection of America’s redrock wilderness. Will you join Latinos for Utah wilderness?

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Herencia y Querencia (inheritance, heritage, and care)

Map of the Colorado Plateau (National Geographic)

Silvestre is a word for wild in Spanish. It’s the kind of wild that is majestic, breathtaking, and simply iconic—like Utah wilderness. There is no term for “wilderness” in Spanish nor in many indigenous languages of Latin America to convey the concept of public lands, held in trust for all of America, in their natural state. Millions of acres of canyon, mesa, valley, river, grassland, forest, and mountain are the shared inheritance of every person in the United States, no matter where you come from. Every member of the American public is allowed to determine the future of Utah’s wild lands regardless of origin or documentation status. Whether or not you are a citizen, or you live anywhere from California to Puerto Rico, public lands are your herencia—by law and by culture.

Public lands of the Colorado Plateau have a unique significance to Latino, Chicano, and Hispanic cultures. Just as wild Utah is the ancestral homeland for indigenous peoples and Tribes in the southwest, these lands also are part of the past, present, and futures of Latinx communities today.

Climate Change, 30×30, and Latinos

Latinos are unjustly affected by a climate crisis that is exacerbated by exploiting public lands. Almost 25% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the United States are released through public land fossil fuel extraction. These emissions threaten our health as burning fossil fuels releases volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter that directly affects lung and heart function. Latinos and Hispanics on average breathe 63% more air pollution than they create.

Popular opinion among people in the western U.S., especially Latinos, is the idea that public land should be a solution to the climate crisis and community health, not a part of the problem.1

Eighty-three percent of western Latinos2 support a national goal of protecting 30% of America’s lands and waters in their natural state by the year 2030. By protecting nature, our public lands provide a solution to the climate crisis and even extinction of life across the world. Studies say that a football field worth of nature is demolished every 30 seconds in the U.S.This loss of nature—accelerated by climate change—is a threat to our community’s health and prosperity. It affects clean air, water, and defenses against severe weather, floods and wildfires across America. In the United States, only 12% of land is currently protected in its natural state. America’s red rock wilderness throughout Utah accounts for one-and-a-half percent of the remaining land that needs to be conserved to reach the goal of protecting 30% of land in the United States by 2030.

By protecting the deserts and mountains of Utah, our country also validates the values that Latinos have for public land. 77% of Latinos think that we should maximize land for conservation and recreation rather than energy development. 81% of Latinos support making public lands a net-zero source of carbon pollution. When wild lands in Utah are conserved as wilderness, they validate these opinions because they keep carbon in the ground, and allow the land to absorb and store carbon that the atmosphere, in the ground and as plant matter.

With Latino grassroots advocacy for America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, Congress can pass a bill that offers a solution to America’s wellness in times of climate crisis and loss of biodiversity.


1Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial–ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure. C.W. Tessum et.al. 2019.

22021 Conservation in the West Poll. Colorado College.

Help End the Climate Crisis

Cultural Legacy

Latinos have deep roots and connection to America’s red rock wilderness. We deserve to have our stories told and reflected in the story of America. When we protect wild Utah, we protect Latino culture.

When Utah was México
Until 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the redrock, the mountains, and the forests that characterize the state of Utah were a part of México. Looking at a sandstone canyon is like looking into a time machine on a geologic and human scale. In the layers of rock and color, we see more than the emblematic nature of Utah, we also see Latino history. We see what the communities in the region saw when México gained independence from Spain. And still, that is late on the timeline of cultural history in the Colorado Plateau. For time immemorial countless tribes, pueblos, and bands of indigenous peoples recognized canyon country as their patria. Even the peoples whose descendants would eventually become known to the world as Latinos, Latinas, Latinx or Hispanic.

The Spanish Trail
Historically, Hispanics and others became acquainted with America’s red rock wilderness through using the old Spanish Trail. Places like the Antelope Range near Cedar City, Joshua Tree habitat near St. George, and the expanse of redrock country through Grand County and Emery County, Utah are directly adjacent to the Old Spanish trail. In fact, the trail runs directly through the southwestern span of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When looking upon America’s red rock wilderness we get a glimpse into the state of the country even long before the trail was established in 1829.

Place names
Latino and Hispanic culture is even in the names given to regions of America’s red rock wilderness. Places like the San Rafael Swell, Virgin River, Mexico Point, Mexican Mountain, San Juan River, the Green River (first called the Río Verde by the Spaniards), and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are names given by Spanish and Mexican nationals, or are names given in honor of them. Of course, these places like anywhere else in America’s redrock wilderness have names in the different languages of tribes in the region. But as the map reads now, Hispanic and Latino cultural influence is written onto public land. It’s also painted onto the redrock.

Sego Canyon & the Aztec Stone of the Sun
In a place called Sego Canyon, nestled between the proposed Desolation Canyon and Diamond Canyon wilderness is the Sego Canyon Rock Art Interpretive Site. There, several rock art panels with paintings and carvings tell stories from different indigenous families over a large period of time. The biggest panel is from the year 500 B.C. It features paintings of great figures, painted in red on the rust colored sandstone wall. One of these figures is called Venus. Venus stands tall on the wall holding two snakes, representing the cycles of the planet Venus–as the morning star and as the evening star. In 1980, researcher Dr. Cecilio Orozco recognized several of the glyphs on this Sego Canyon rock art panel to correspond to one of the cycles reflected in the Sun Stone. You may also know the Aztec Stone of the Sun by another name, The Aztec Calendar, which was carved almost 2000 years after this rock art panel was painted in México in 1479.

In 1990 the Deseret News reported that Dr. Orozco and his mentor Dr. Alfonso Rivas Salmón identified glyphs that are common to both the Aztec Calendar and rock art in Utah wilderness. They include snakes with four rattles, knotted rope symbols and other figures dividing time according to the four-year and eight-year cycles of Venus. In addition to Sego Canyon, the researchers found these very symbols on pictographs at Head of Sinbad, Black Dragon Canyon, Barrier Creek and Horseshoe Canyon, all places within Utah’s red rock canyon country.

According to Dr. Armando Solórzano, author and professor at the University of Utah, “This discovery led anthropologists to suggest that the Aztecs started their pilgrimage to Tenochtltian (Mexico City) from Utah.”

Dr. Solorzano also looks at the Uto-Aztecan language family to paint the picture of Latino cultural histories in Utah. According to Solórzano, for 5000 years the Utes, the Aztecs, the Mixtecans, Zapotecans, Mayans, Totonacans, and Tarascans–all peoples from whom contemporary Mexicans descend–spoke the same language. It’s a Uto-Aztecan language that was spoken throughout the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. Studies in historical linguistics have analyzed the Uto-Aztecan tongues — the Nahuatl language in particular — and they have determined that Nahuatl is actually not native to central Mexico. Instead, it was carried south. Dr. Solórzano has written,

Sego Canyon is considered one of the cities of Aztlan: the mythological place of the Aztecs. According to this legend, Aztlan “has its center in Utah where the Green River, the Colorado, and the San Juan meet to go through the Grand Canyon.”

Latino history and culture in Utah runs as deep as canyon and mesa walls. These stories can still be remembered and celebrated thanks to the fact that Utah wilderness through human history has been changed by nothing more than wind, water, and sun. In this vein public land is truly nuestra herencia. It is Latino heritage as well as inheritance, which is a precious gift worth guarding. Show your querencia (care and affection) for Utah wilderness by taking action now.

Act On Your Querencia