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How to Design Community Events for Latino Conservation Week

This year, Latino Conservation Week covers more than a hundred events around the United States and Puerto Rico. Scrolling through the list, I felt energized by all the planning and thought that went into the programming. I was also curious to learn what it looked like behind the scenes. What sparks the idea for an event? How does one collaborate across organizations? What does community engagement look like within the Latinx community?

I reached out to a few organizers who graciously shared their time and insights. I learned so much from each of them. I hope these conversations inspire and energize you to celebrate Latino Conservation Week, too!

Search this map to find a Latino Conservation Week event near you.

A conversation with Frances Ngo, Conservation Outreach Biologist at Tracy Aviary, Utah

Illustrated graphic of a lotería board game featuring a three by three grid of rectangles. From top left to right, the rectangles show a woman paddling a canoe on a river, hiking boots, a sandhill crane, a laptop, ears of corn, a bicycle, a woman hiking while picking up litter, a scenic overlook by a river, and an old-style video projector. Our phone call must have dropped at least three times. A flurry of texts and signal searches later, Frances Ngo and I were able to finally reconnect and laugh at the ubiquity of tech issues. Despite the connectivity challenges, I was grateful for the chance to join Frances Ngo for an enlightening chat on partnerships, community, and conservation.

Frances Ngo recently joined the Tracy Aviary Conservation Science Program in Salt Lake City, Utah as their new Conservation Outreach Biologist. She also used her graphic design and illustration skills to capture this year’s suite of events in a fun lotería design, pictured above. When I asked her about the graphic, Frances related, “I was thinking, how can I make [all the events] fit together cohesively? Well, lotería! That’s something my mom and I used to play.” It’s beautiful to see memory and family interwoven in Latinx culture and in these events.

With many events planned, building partnerships was crucial. At the beginning, Frances faced the added hurdle of being a relative newcomer to Salt Lake City. “When I was looking through my department’s contact sheets, I saw that we had collaborators listed for Latino Conservation Week. So I just started reaching out to people, sending cold emails saying, ‘Hi! I’m the new outreach biologist. Do you want to partner on this?’ Everybody was super enthusiastic and very welcoming. I was then added to an email chain where everybody was sharing ideas and asking how we can support each other.” Once event promotion began, the passion and enthusiasm spread quickly. Frances recounted, “Then other organizations reached out saying, ‘We saw your post and we would love to do this with you this year or next year.’”

“[Don’t be] afraid to reach out to people that you don’t know. Everybody brings something different.”

Speaking about the planned programs, Frances expressed, “This is about celebrating the connection that the Latinx community has with the outdoors. We want to provide space for people to do that. It’s always very exciting when people come to these events and they meet other people of color who are also interested in canoeing, birding, climbing, and swapping gear. It’s just that feeling of community. I feel joy when I see people connecting and saying, ‘Hey, I also do these things outdoors. We should be hiking buddies, for instance.’ [We help to increase] that sense of awareness that people are out there enjoying these things and maybe we can do this together.” And doing this together extends to the overarching goal of conservation as well.

When it comes to conservation, Frances stated, “Being at Tracy Aviary, I wonder if people question what is an aviary doing here? Isn’t that just a bird zoo? And, I mean, we are, but I feel like conservation in general is at the heart of our mission. You can’t do conservation without community investment. I think that’s really important no matter what type of conservation you’re doing.”

If you’re in Salt Lake City, Utah, I hope you have a chance to join Tracy Aviary, Jordan River Commission, Latino Outdoors Salt Lake City, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Bike Utah, Wasatch Community Gardens, Heal Utah, HECHO, Utah DNR, and more for a week of events. For event details, please visit: tracyaviaryconservation.org/latino-conservation-week

A conversation with Patricia Miguel, Community Outreach Coordinator at Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Virginia

Orange illustrated graphic of two persons bicycling and surrounded by white and black stars. Black text reads: Women & Bicycles. Under that, the text continues: Conservation and Culture Ride and Chat, July 24th 12:00 to 2:00 PM, Bluemont Park. I lack the words to describe how excited I was to chat with Community Outreach Coordinator Patricia Miguel about Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s upcoming bicycle ride, titled “Conservation and Culture Ride and Chat.” Growing up, I traveled everywhere by bicycle—it was how I learned the geography of my hometown. Similarly, wonderfully, everything and more, talking with Patricia Miguel was a ride through landscapes of culture and intentions.

This ride is only open to those who identify as trans, femme, non-binary, and/or a woman. When I asked why, Patricia explained that this population has been historically excluded and underrepresented in cycling culture. By design, this ride and chat would be centered on creating an experience where people showed up as their authentic selves. “It was important to us to make sure that this ride was speaking to the group of people that we were hoping to reach... it’s not necessarily going to draw in people who are experienced bicyclists. Rather we are looking for people who are newer to riding or who have had a long hiatus and are starting to get back on their bikes.”

In seeking to create a unique experience, Patricia paid close attention to the bicycle route. “We intentionally made sure that the route is short. That it’s fairly flat. No strenuous hill climbs. We’ll also have built in breaks so that we can check in with the participants to make sure they’re feeling alright. It’s pretty hot here [in Virginia], so we want to make sure that people are staying hydrated, taking breaks, and listening to their bodies.” The act of listening circled back many times during our chat.

Patricia added, “Intentionally built into this program is doing a round of introductions where we ask people to share their name and their pronouns so that we don’t make assumptions about anyone. [We’re trying to] make sure people stay grounded in their own personal experience.” I’ve enjoyed many group bike rides, but the opportunity to pause and learn about one another is what sets “Conservation and Culture Ride and Chat” apart.

The other thing that sets this ride apart is the cultural conversation piece. “In the middle of the ride we’re going to stop, park our bikes, then huddle up in a circle that is socially distant-appropriate and read passages of the article that resonated with people.” The article is “Why Being Green Comes Naturally to US Latinos,” written by Yvette Cabrera for Grist.

Though the article spends some time discussing the role of activism, Patricia says that activism or advocacy is not this bike ride’s ultimate goal: “I wouldn’t say that we’re hoping for people to become advocates. I would say that we just hope that people get what they want to get out of the event. We have a people-first mentality. I think a lot of the Latinx community uses the bike for transportation or utility. With that in mind, we’re not pushing for people to come out of this event to be super involved in their community, although that would be really great.” 

“It’s a matter of being present where you are and showing up for your community from the starting point that you’re at.”

Much of Patricia’s thinking about people and community comes from her academic background as a public anthropologist. “I didn’t come into transportation or the bike world through a traditional avenue. I think it’s a benefit. Anthropology is a great discipline because it gives you the tools to understand people and cultures and know how to ask questions when you don’t know things. Coming into situations without these assumptions is really important. Making sure that the community is involved in research projects throughout the entire process, working with the community to help figure out what they want to be, what they need, and together come up with solutions.”

Follow along WABA’s journey: waba.org. And to those who identify as trans, femme, non-binary, and/or a woman (and if you don’t, you can still join in the fun), celebrate Latino Conservation Week with a bicycle ride on July 24, 2021: http://latinoconservationweek.com/events/2021-events/item/1311-