Making memories in the outdoors is a part of growing up in El Paso. As a kid, my father used to take me out to the desert to hike every Saturday morning. Using the arroyos as our only trails, my love for nature blossomed alongside the desert’s wildflowers. Driving the roads that now cover the landscapes that once brought me closer to my father, I tell my own kids what they used to look like.
I want our future generations to build a similar love and connection to what I was able to build to the outdoors. This is why I am working to protect our nearby public lands. Castner Range, on the outskirts of El Paso, is home to over 7,000 acres of West Texas beauty. President Joe Biden recently announced the creation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado, and we believe that Castner Range should be the next. A Castner Range National Monument would honor my area’s Latinx heritage and protect the region’s beautiful landscapes for all to enjoy.
Castner Range not fully protected
In many ways, Castner Range — which is near El Paso’s 82% Latinx community — tells the story of many Latinx communities nationwide. Despite our proximity to Castner Range, the area is not fully protected and is closed off to the public. This fits into a larger nationwide pattern: sites that commemorate Latinx heritage are disproportionately excluded when it comes to officially designated heritage and conservation sites. Nature is supposed to be a “Great Equalizer,” but people of color and economically disadvantaged communities — like ours — are most likely to live without its benefits.
Despite these hardships, my community is strong and unified by the movement to preserve the Castner Range, a movement that goes back 50 years and is powered by grassroots leaders as well as a coalition of local organizations like the Frontera Land Alliance, El Paso Community Foundation and many more. Communities across the country have heard our calls to action as well. In June, 92 organizations representing millions of members signed a letter to President Biden, which included Latinx-led groups like Hispanic Access Foundation, Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO), and Latino Outdoors. The letter also showed support from national environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, and Vet Voice Foundation.
Honor El Paso’s complicated history
Designating Castner Range a national monument would honor El Paso’s complicated history. El Paso is a Spanish term that literally translates to the “passageway,” a name that honors our region’s location between Mexico and the United States. The name “El Paso” reminds us of our history of migration, conquest, and colonization, but also of the sharing of culture, language, and natural resources. In more ways than one, Castner Range tells the story of many Latinxs.
The designation would also have tangible effects on our economy. Previous designations of national monuments in other regions have proven to boost local business, tourism, and help with job creation. In El Paso, these benefits would contribute to closing the wealth gap between Latinx and white communities.
America the Beautiful initiative
As a pastor, I believe that it is our duty to be stewards of the land. I am part of a larger, longtime movement in El Paso that has worked hard with much joy and enthusiasm for our community. Our movement now needs President Biden to use the executive powers granted to him in the Antiquities Act to designate Castner Range as a National Monument. The Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative is about addressing climate change, nature loss, and inequitable access to the outdoors — designating Castner Range a national monument is an opportunity to do all three.
Our El Paso community has three things: heart, faith, and hope. My dad used to often say: you carry seeds. You carry seeds of love, and of great wisdom, but you can also carry seeds of hate if you’re not careful. We plant our seeds wherever we go, so make sure that you’re always planting seeds of love for your neighbors. That is the only way we are going to heal our land.
We hope that you will join our movement to honor our heritage and heal our land.