Latino Eco Festival Advocates For Environmental Justice Across Borders

By 2021, Latinos will make up over 50 percent of Colorado’s high school students, 32 percent of Denver County’s population and 24 percent of the under 18 population in Boulder, according to population projections cited by Americas Latino Eco Festival organizers.

“Those statistics just tell you that the discussion should not just be about Latino Americans joining a traditionally ‘white club’ conservation movement but that a movement can’t truly be without us. Moreover, recent polls and studies by national organizations are telling us that Latino Americans are not only the fastest growing segment of the population and the economy but the greenest with 93 percent of us believing in climate change,” explained festival founder Irene Vilar, a Puerto Rican American cultural activist, author and editor.

“Back home we come from a long tradition of recyclers and up cyclers. In part this is due to growing up in non-affluent societies where we cannot afford to dispose of that much, where even a crazy uncle holds a seat at the table. Relationships are not easily disposed of. In non-affluent societies you need each other more. The extended family is essential and can be a matter of survival,” Vilar said.

The 2nd Annual Americas Latino Eco Festival takes place in Denver and Boulder, September 11-15. Designed as a “Latino South by Southwest,” the festival is promoted as the nation’s largest multicultural environmental gathering hosted by Latino Americans. Thought leaders of North and South America will share solutions to the challenges arising from climate change and environmental degradation as well as to celebrate Latinos’ long history of ecological activism through multimedia presentations, film, art and music.

Nine of 10 Hispanic voters prefer investing in clean, renewable energy sources to fossil fuels, according to studies conducted by the National Resources Defense Council. Eighty-six percent of Latinos support the Obama administration taking action to limit carbon pollution – an even higher percentage than the 61 percent of all Americans who support the President’s climate action plan.

“We have to work on this together. We are placing Latinos as hosts of this multicultural festival to realign ill-informed perceptions and to bring to light and celebrate our own green legacy,” Vilar said. “The process of organizing and launching the first festival in 2013 confirmed my intuition that Latinos were not being heard in the conservation movement in this country. The movement did not have a multicultural face, which meant it did not represent the fabric of this country and could not offer viable solutions for the future.”

Festival events will take place at The Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder and the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, and other venues in the two cities. Over 60 artists, scientists, scholars, musicians and forum speakers are confirmed to attend. Keynote speakers include Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society and Hollywood actor and activist Edward James Olmos, who will host a dialogue entitled, “Overcoming Adversity and Stigma, the Power of Diversity, and the Forging of Environmental Stewardship.” Additional main attractions will be talks by Bianca Jagger of Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, U.N. Champion of the Earth Pati Ruiz Corzo, Goldman Environmental Prize winner Jose Pablo Orrego, Congressman Raul Grijalva, and actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr.

“North and South Americans – we are all one big family with shared histories that go way back; some painful, some redeeming,” proclaimed Vilar. “But fundamentally, there is a very persistent neurosis in this ‘extended family’ about a segment of the family…immigrants, and especially Latino immigrants. Latino Americans have been scapegoated by delusional members of the family with poor emotional intelligence taken in by group fantasies.”

“I think that scapegoating has been going on for too long. This coupled with vicious campaigns of disinformation, championed for example by quasi news soap operas like Fox News, have generated a family dysfunction that can only be cured through a special activism directed at people’s awareness of their ailing common home, the planet that has reached its limits and cannot be saved if we are not all engaged in the discussion and solutions,” she has concluded. “Multicultural knowledge platforms such as this festival are a major effort to end the scapegoating, realign people’s perceptions and create coalitions to work on environmental solutions for our shared future.”

Editor’s note: The mission of the Americas Latino Festival is to promote environmental awareness and create a platform for dialogue and mobilization for a just society to ensure that everyone has access to a healthy environment. The festival includes activities for all ages, races, economic backgrounds and interests. The 2014 festival is produced by Americas for Conservation + the Arts (AFC+A) and is presented in part by The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and The Dairy Center for the Arts. For more details, and

Read a speech by Festival Founder Irene Vilar, where she describes her background and presents ideas about overcoming cultural adversity and stigma at