The third annual Americas Latino Eco-Festival supports a new, integrated era in environmental conservation


In September, Pope Francis became the fourth pope to visit the United States, delivering a message before Congress in which he asked Americans to support undocumented immigrants and join in a global movement to combat climate change and poverty.

It feels — for lack of a better word — rather serendipitous that the progressive, South American-born pope’s visit came just a month before the third annual Americas Latino Eco-Festival (ALEF). The pope’s message of inclusion and justice, his belief that the Earth’s health is analogous to our own survival as a species, embodies the festival’s mission 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.”

ALEF was born in 2013 out of a lack of diversity in this important discussion about the health of our planet and society. While survey after survey shows that Latinos are far more likely than Anglos to view global warming as a problem and, consequently, support policies aimed at curbing it, Latinos have been largely left out of the environmental movement in the U.S.

In 2014, Dorceta Taylor, of the University of Michigan, released a report called Green 2.0, examining why, despite decades of promises to diversify, mainstream environmental organizations are still white.

“People of color are 36 percent of the U.S. population, and comprise 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce,” Taylor writes in the report, “but they do not exceed 16 percent of the staff in any of the organizations surveyed.”

Based on confidential interviews with 21 environmental leaders, this so-called “green ceiling” arises from unconscious bias, discrimination and insular recruiting, as well as a general disinterest in diversifying their organizations. 

“The result,” according to Taylor, is “an overwhelmingly white “Green Insiders’ Club.”

That’s a problem when we consider Latinos make up the largest minority group in the U.S. — roughly 55 million people strong, and growing.

And their exclusion from the environmental conversation becomes an even more evident problem when confronted with how minorities (Latinos and African Americans in particular) are disproportionately affected by climate change related issues. Take a moment to let the following numbers sink in: Of the 10 most polluted cities in the nation, six have populations that are 40 percent or more Latino; 72 percent of Latinos in Colorado live in areas that fall below the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality safety standards; Latino children are 60 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Latino whites, and to compound that problem, one in five Latino adults are unable to pay for asthma medicines.

All of this despite the fact that 54 percent of Latinos see climate change as something that is extremely important to them personally (only 37 percent of whites answered the same), and 63 percent of Latinos support broad federal action to slow climate change (compared with less than half of whites).

The conversation around environmental justice has been whitewashed, to say the least. And this, quite simply, must end.

So we can’t overstate the importance of a conference like ALEF, where celebrities, artists, scientists, religious figures and community and public policy leaders join together to inspire this nation’s diverse Latino communities to take an active role in “browning” the conservation movement.

We encourage you, no matter the color of your skin, to support a new, integrated era in environmental conservation by attending some of the amazing panels, exhibits and training sessions that the dedicated ALEF team has put together this year. We have taken the time to highlight just a tiny fraction of the events at this year’s festival, but we can assure you: there’s nothing you want to miss.

Breaking through the deforestation din

by Matt Cortina

As a kid, Sarah Dupont loved getting lost in the woods with her dogs. That connection to the forest stayed with her in adulthood, buoyed by a trip in 1999 to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. With tropical ecologists, she pinpointed the area of Madre de Dios in the southeastern part of the country as a particularly rich and diverse area under imminent threat of destruction.

Motivated by that first trip, Dupont returned time and again, eventually founding the Amazon Aid Foundation. The nonprofit works to protect and reforest the Madre de Dios region through education and multimedia awareness and advocacy projects intended to motivate and galvanize youth and activist populations to fight back against deforestation.

“We feel that if people in general don’t know what’s going on [or] what is the value of the Amazon, then they can’t take action,” Dupont says.

Dupont worked with Sissy Spacek and Herbie Hancock to release the documentary Amazon Gold in 2012, which investigated how the mining industry destroyed the Peruvian rainforest, and its communities, in the pursuit of gold. The mining industry has caused 76 percent of people in towns near the mines to test positive for having “three times above toxic levels of mercury,” in their system.

Anthem for the Amazon, which Dupont will screen at ALEF, is a short project that brought together 500 children from 50 countries to sing a song in support of protecting the Amazonian rainforest. Dupont will follow-up that screening with a question and answer session.

The Amazon Aid Foundation, Dupont says, marries these artistic “transmedia” outlets with deeply researched science from some of the world’s best ecologists. The research done by these scientists has found the Madre de Dios region to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, with thousands of plant and animal species. Nestled against the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains, the region is constantly losing species from deforestation and contamination caused by animal agriculture and mining.

Dupont says it’s crucial to share the message of the Amazon’s importance in new, engaging ways especially because research, now more than ever, has shown how important the rainforest is to global climates. Dupont says deforestation in the Amazon is now being directly linked to droughts in California and Texas, as the removal of dense forest limits transpiration (the process by which moisture is taken from the rainforest and transported across climates) and the reduced capacity for rainforests to draw in moisture from the nearby ocean. Scientists, according to Dupont, say the rainforest needs to remain at 80 percent capacity for these water cycles to continue. Dupont says the Amazon is already at 81 percent.

The message Dupont hopes to get across in her work, her documentaries and another ALEF panel “Why Climate Change, Why Us,” is that it’s not too late to prevent deforestation and begin reforesting the Amazon. For us, that includes being a smarter consumer (of agriculture and other products that come from the region) and pressing for better policy from our elected leaders.

A river runs through it

by Amanda Moutinho

The Santiago River was once a thriving piece of the community in El Salto, a town on the edge of Guadalajara, Mexico. But in recent decades, it has become a wasteland. Due to major industrialization of the area, the river has served as a dumping ground for companies — 80 percent of which are American and Japanese. Tests on the river found more than 1,000 known chemicals in the water, including high levels of arsenic, chromium, lead and phosphorus, which gives the river its unnaturally foamy appearance.  The residents of the town suffer from increased health risks of respiratory disease, kidney failure and higher chances of cancer. In 2008, after falling in a canal near the junction with the Santiago River, a 6-year-old boy died of arsenic poisoning.

The film Silent River, showing at ALEF, focuses on 24-year-old Atawalpa Sofia as she and her community fight to clean up the Santiago River in the face of inactive law enforcement and pressure to quit — including death threats and being chased out of town.

Filmmakers Jason Jaacks and Steve Fisher have shown their film on both sides of the border, hoping to raise awareness for this cause.

“I remember one particular moment when I was on the bridge right over the waterfalls. I stood there, and I saw this foam. It just really struck me that this river was the dystopia of U.S. consumption. This is where it all ended up,” Fisher says. “This was the drain of the United States in so many ways. Of course this is one river of many. But really, this is one of the most contaminated, and primarily by international industries. It was heart wrenching. … It really motivated me to come back to the U.S. and say, ‘Look, this is happening. We are also responsible and something must be done.’” 

Silent River shows the impact that the outside world can have on Latin America, pointing to the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Regions like El Salto are particularly vulnerable because companies can exploit natural resources, cheap labor and lack of laws. And Fisher says even with documentation of lawbreaking, the government still fails to enforce any penalties on the corporations.

The memory of what the river once was remains strong in the minds of the people who knew it then. But there are some young activists, like Sofia, who never knew the clean river. This lost consciousness raises a red flag — an unpolluted world should be standard, not fantasy.

“Sometimes when I sleep, I dream of a clean river, and I dream that I go there, and I can swim in the river,” Sofia says in the opening lines of the film. “I don’t like to wake up when I dream like that.”

A type of prayer

by Caitlin Rockett

Sitting on a couch at a home in North Boulder, clad in jeans, a white shirt and a light jacket, Ernesto Cardenal doesn’t look like a Catholic priest.

Then again, “priest” is only one of Cardenal’s titles.

He holds a red paperback book in his hands, a pen clipped to the cover to mark his place. He stops reading to greet me, and says, in Spanish, that I should take a seat. I follow his direction and take a seat across from him, but he goes back to his book for a moment once the pleasantries are out of the way.

Far from offended, I’m grateful — we have exhausted my “comfortable” Spanish and would now have to venture into uncharted linguistic territory.

The Nicaraguan celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this year, and it seems that nearly a century of life has rendered three men within a single body: a religious iconoclast, a political revolutionary and a poet whose words can inspire a kind of Sagan-like wonder in the universe.

These seemingly disparate personalities are inextricable in Cardenal. Born to a wealthy family in the colonial city of Granada, Cardenal left home at 18 to study literature, first in Mexico and then at Columbia University in New York. He returned to Nicaragua after his studies and opened a bookstore, but the despotic political climate in his native land would pull the young man away from such a mild-mannered professional endeavor.

In 1954, Cardenal joined the April Revolution, an uprising against the brutal regime of Anastasio Somoza Garcia — but shortly thereafter, the leaders of the uprising were captured and killed.

In an abrupt change of course, Cardenal entered the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani in New Haven, Kentucky, where he studied under famed American Catholic writer and mystic Thomas Merton. Merton’s writings, much like Cardenal’s, took up controversial issues like race relations, economic injustice and violence, and the Christian responsibility in alleviating these problems.

Cardenal transferred to a Benedictine monastery in Mexico, and then studied theology at a seminary in Colombia before finally traveling back to Nicaragua where he was ordained as a Catholic priest in his hometown of Granada in 1965.

And since then it seems Cardenal has found satisfaction in nothing less than changing the world — he founded an artist’s community and relentlessly championed Marxism and denounced American imperialism in Central America. He joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which ultimately overthrew Anastasio Somoza Garcia in 1979. Within the resulting new government, Cardenal took a position as Minister of Culture, in which he hosted workshops in poetry and theater and further promulgated Sandinista political views.

His political involvement was a direct defiance of the conservative views of the Catholic Church at the time, and consequently drew the ire of Pope John Paul II (a moment immortalized in a tense picture of the Pope’s visit to Nicaragua in 1983).

And all the while Cardenal was writing, creating a vast collection of theology-infused poems and books.

Ultimately, his life’s work has aimed to upend any establishment that creates vast chasms between humans. He has, for decades, traveled the globe, reading from his collective works and continuing to spread the message of liberation theology, an interpretation of the Bible through the eyes of poverty.

His time in Colorado will be spent doing more of the same. Cardenal will speak at the third annual Americas Latino Eco-Festival, specifically about Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment, which is what has brought me to the home in North Boulder.

A translator — whose home we are in — makes me a cup of green tea and takes a seat between Cardenal and me, and I ask how he reconciles religion and science when so many see the two pursuits as mutually exclusive.

“For me it’s all one thing: Science that studies the cosmos and the cosmos that studies mysticism,” Cardenal says. “I conceive of God as the creator of this world and science as the study of this creation. For me, reading science books is a type of prayer.”

He passes the red paperback book to me via the translator. The book is called El Viaje al Amor: Las nuevas claves cientificas (The Journey to Love: The new scientific keys) by Spanish lawyer, economist and scientific communicator Eduardo Punset. The book examines love from a scientific perspective, from the chemistry that occurs when we “feel” love, to the psychology of mate choice, to the evolutionary reasons we marry.

“There’s an English biologist who says that science is a more sure path toward God,” Cardenal continues as I examine the book. “And I agree with that.”

It seems, finally, that the Vatican’s vision of Christianity is beginning to skew closer to Cardenal’s. While Pope Francis maintains some of the traditional views of the Church, he shares Cardenal’s appreciation for science, a fact made clear in his second encyclical, Laudato si’, in which the Pope calls for international action against the threat of global warming.

Earlier this year, Cardenal wrote he expected the election of nothing more than another “conservative and reactionary” pope in 2013. Instead, the church elected Argentine-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the non-traditional papal name Francis, and quickly eschewed many of the ornate trappings of papal life.

“We are seeing a true revolution in the Vatican,” Cardenal wrote. “Pope Francis does not want to live like a pope. He has refused to occupy the pontiff ’s palace, with its 14 rooms. He has rejected the popemobile. He talks directly to people on the telephone. He uses simple and clear language. He does not want to be called pope, but simply bishop (the Bishop of Rome).”

I ask Cardenal if the popularity of this progressive pope can create real change in the face of a slow-moving, existential threat like global warming.

“I don’t know, but I hope it can,” he says. “If we follow what the encyclical says, we can save the world.”

Despite uncertainty, Cardenal sees hope in “miracles” happening around the world: the election of a black president in the U.S., and an Indian president in Bolivia. Perhaps these are signs that humans can see past superficial differences and take action to save our shared home.

And this, Cardenal says, cannot happen without evolution, without revolution. It cannot happen without God. These things are not mutually exclusive, but symbiotic.

“Mahatma Ghandi said the Gospel is political or it’s not anything,” Cardenal says. “That’s what I believe. The message of the Gospel is that the world must be changed and that’s a political message.”

Much the same way we entered our conversation, Cardenal gently exits the conversation after 45 minutes or so by saying he thinks that’s enough for now. But I take a chance and ask if he’ll tell me if he has hope that humanity can overcome the climate crisis we’ve created.

True to form, he calls on science — man’s study of God’s work — for his answer.

“My hope is in evolution, that it can solve the problem.”


Thursday, Oct. 15 

Corn Mothers Blessing: Patricia Sigala, Belinda Garcia, Rita Flores de Wallace & Sacred Songs by Jesus Hidalgo. 8:10 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

Festival Opening Remarks. 8:30 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

Addresses. 9 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

Nestor Torres, Grammy Winner Flautist — “Let There be Light & Passion Fruit.” 10:30 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

Meet & Greet. 10:45 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

#SoyMiTierra: Calling out Misperceptions about Latinos and the Environment. 11 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

#DiscoverMiTierra: Reclaiming the Outdoors, our Heritage, and our Wellness as a Civil Rights Mandate. 11:45 a.m. Metropolitan State University, St. Cajetan’s Church, 299 S. Raleigh St., Denver.

Activist Art: From Concept to Screen with Andres Useche. 12:30-2 p.m. Metropolitan State University Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

Meet & Greet Lunch. 1:00 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

#ActOnClimate: The Clean Power Plan and the Clean Energy Incentive Advancing New Jobs, Healthy Communities, and Environmental Justice. 1:45 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

#Protect MiTierra: Mobilizing Latino Americans to Act on Climate Because it is Personal and our Moral Mandate. 2:50 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

Father Ernesto Cardenal (poet, priest, activist, Nicaraguan former Minister of Culture) — Climate of Hope in Pope Francis’ Encyclica. 3:50 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

#LatinosPorLaTierra: Building Intersectionality, Unity And Visibility Across Progressive Movements & Across the Americas. 4:15 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

GreenLatinos Dinner: Looking Back and Looking Ahead on a Shared Coalition (By invitation only). 6:30 p.m. Metropolitan State University, Adirondack Room, Tivoli.

Friday, Oct. 16 

Climate of Hope Leadership Training:

Volviendo a mis Raices. 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Denver Art Museum, Ponti Hall, 100 W. 14th Ave Parkway, Denver.

Southwest Culinary Happy Hour with Artemio Rodriguez and Graficomovil Printmaking Workshop. 5:00 p.m. Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, Denver.

ALEF Gala — Because Advocates Must Come Together. 7 p.m. Spring Hill Suites Denver, 1190 Auraria Parkway, Denver.

Saturday, Oct. 17 

Breakfast with Bianca Jagger. 8:30 a.m. Spring Hill Suites Denver, 1190 Auraria Parkway, Denver. Climate of Hope Youth Leadership Training. 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway St., Denver.

Welcome. Why Climate Change? Why Us? 9 a.m. Panel discussion.

Small Group 1: Personal Space: Storytelling through Personal Contact. 10:10 a.m.

Small Group 2: Public Space: Communication. 11:10 p.m.

Reporting and Wrap Up. 12:45 p.m.

ALEF Climate of Hope Rally Concert. 1:50 p.m.

#DiscoverMiTierra Family Day. 10 a.m Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway.

Film Forum. 10:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Denver Art Museum, Sharp Auditorium, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway. 

• Song of the Sea. 10:30 a.m. 

• Silent River — welcome. 12:15 p.m. 

• Silent River. 12:25 p.m.

• Yo Soy Rojo El Rio Colorado. 1 p.m. 

• Silent River and Yo Soy Rojo Q&A. 1:05 p.m.

• Mercury Uprising. 1:50 p.m. 

• Anthem for the Amazon. 2:05 p.m. 

• Mercury Uprising and Anthem for the Amazon Q&A — with Sara Dupont. 2:10 p.m. 

• Estamos Aqui. 2:30 p.m. 

• An American Ascent — welcome from Mindy Aponte. 3:15 p.m. 

• An American Ascent. 3:20 p.m. 

• An American Ascent Q&A. 4:30pm

ALEF Best Books and Storytelling. 10 a.m. Denver Art Museum, Level 4 North, Pre- Columbian Study Gallery, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

• Maria Ramirez. 11 a.m. • Mateo de Valenzuela. 12:30 p.m.

• Luis J. Rodriguez. 1:30 p.m. 

• Edna Iturralde. 3 p.m.

Arturo Garcia: Migrations. 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Denver Art Museum, Duncan Pavillion, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

Live Performances and Mural Artist at Work. 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Denver Art Museum, Ponti Hall, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

David Garcia: Mural Artist “Marcha por el Agua.” 10:30-4 p.m.

El Sistema & Rocky Ridge Music

Center Showcase. 10:15 a.m.

Fiesta Colorado Carnival Sinaloa. 11:30 a.m.

Aztec Dancers Huitzilopotchli. Noon.

Fiesta Colorado Dances from Jalisco. 12:25 p.m.

Nestor Torres. 1 p.m.

“Forest Scenes” — music by Hector Villa Lobos with pianist SoYoung Lee, choreographer Viki Psihoyos, and 18 members of the Colorado Ballet. 2 p.m. Hammond Piano Duo: “The Americas a Cuatro Manos: Tangos, Swing and Blues.” 2 p.m.

Festival Closing Keynote and Perfromance — “Why Art Matters to the Planet .” 4 p.m.

Dip Deeper – Immerse Yourself Student Art Showcase. 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Denver Art Museum, North Lower Level Concourse, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

Master Artist Workshop with Printmaker Artemio Rodriguez. 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Denver Art Museum, North Lower Level Classroom, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

Artemio Rodriguez Printmaking Bus (Graficomovil). 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Denver Art Museum, The Acoma Plaza, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

Planet Shorts: Kids Animated Film Series. 10:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Denver Art Museum, North 4th Floor Seminar Room, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.

Drop-in Gallery Experiences. 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Denver Art Museum, North Level 7 and Hamilton Level 2 Newman Overlook, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver. •Experience 1: Arturo Garcia- Color pencil workshop by Denver based artist.

• Experience 2: Art in Nature – Nature artworks are used to encourage visitors to create.

Family Programs. 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Various Denver Art Museum Venues

• A Promise to Keep. Explore art in Africa. Level 4, Hamilton. 

• Light the Way. Make a lamp that shines. Level 5, North. 

• Family Activity Cart. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Choose a family backpack. Level 1, Hamilton. Conservation Uncovered. Noon-3 p.m. PreVIEW Space, Level 6, North. Conserving textiles.

Green Initiatives & Sponsor Fair. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Denver Art Museum, Schlessman Hall.

Climate Latino Rally Concert: Una Cancion al Sol. 2:30 p.m. Denver Art Museum, The Acoma Plaza.

People and Forest First: A New Climate Agenda — with Bianca Jagger & Ernesto Cardenal. 1:30 p.m. Denver Public Library-Fresh City Life, 10 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver.


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