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‘Witness series’ in Gulfton shows Latino ties to environment

Part 3 of the 2023 Witness Series focuses on Latino connections to nature. /
CEC illustration, photo from Witness Series flyer

by Eduardo de la Garza

Aztec and Mayan cultures aren’t just background materials for a new Marvel superhero film.

The Aztecs and Mayans had many gods and goddesses associated with nature and the Earth. Some dealt with the essence of life itself, the wind, the rain, and the sun; others dealt with what sustains life, agriculture, and maize. Latino ancestors were always concerned with the environment and with honoring it.

And from 9 to 11 a.m. April 29, Madres del Parque, Houston Audubon, and The Nature Conservancy in Texas will hold “Gulfton Alive!/¡Celebración de la naturaleza de Gulfton!” — Latino Connections to Wildlife and Nature in Gulfton and the World at Burnett Bayland Park to show how the Latino community is tied to nature. It’s Part 3 of the 2023 Witness Series which explores Indigenous, African American, Latino, and Asian connections to nature and art.

“As a shared resource, every person has a right to enjoy nature and harvest the many benefits that it provides,” Houston Audubon Executive Director Helen E. Drummond said. “Nature is a great equalizer; and celebrating different communities’ connection to it can bring us together to better protect it.”

Part 1 of the Witness Series was about Indigenous people’s connections and Part 2 was about African Americans’ relationship to nature and art as told through oral legacy. On May 13 at the Chinese Community Center, Part 4 will highlight Asian art through calligraphy and a bonsai tree display.

“The Witness series opens an opportunity to show the world how these underserved cultures have overcome the struggles of being invisible and silenced,” said Maria Hernandez, co-founder of Madres del Parque. “Through these series, these cultures show the world their unique and peculiar way of connecting with nature.”

Madres del Parque (mothers of the park) was founded in 2016 by local moms in the Gulfton area. They noticed Burnett Bayland Park was overrun by litter and cleaned it to provide a safer environment for neighborhood kids and the community. Since then, the group has included more community projects for the park and has started working with Air Alliance Houston to reduce air pollution. The Gulfton area gets high levels of ozone because it doesn’t have much green spaces.

Madres del Parque’s goal is to preserve nature and green spaces in the community, Hernandez said. Another goal is to involve the community, overwhelmingly Latino (73 percent), in Burnett Bayland Park’s upkeep. It’s a community that at times, feels a little left out of the process — or other times, unwelcomed.

“We have to recognize that our experiences, voices and ideas are valuable,” Hernandez said. “Our families deserve for us to be present and vested to achieve the life we envisioned, not only for ourselves but as a part of something greater.”

Something greater can also mean honoring and recognizing what it means to be stewards of the Earth, Hernandez said. “That ancestral knowledge remains and transcends and allows human beings to learn about what it means to safeguard Mother Earth,” Hernandez said. “We do that through dances, art, gardening, cultural stories, intertwined relationships with and for the community.”

At Gulfton Alive!/¡Celebración de la naturaleza de Gulfton!” — Latino Connections to Wildlife and Nature in Gulfton and the World, people can expect a morning filled with a walk to see and hear the birds that populate Burnett Bayland Park, they can use the iNaturalist app to record flora and fauna in the park, and art activities. The event is free.

“I hope that celebrating the different ways communities connect to nature will make us more aware of our commonalities and our differences in way that helps bring us closer together,” Drummond said. “Nature can help us realize how much we need to work together for our collective common good. We need nature and nature needs us.”