For the Love of Country

Among us Hispanics nothing defines our ties to nature, to the divine creation better than the amor por el terruño, or loosely translated, our love of country, an often spiritual connection with the land that sees us grow, that nurtures us, that gives us life.

"For us, conservation is handed down from generation to generation," says Amber Tafoya, Colorado coordinator of Nuestros Ríos, a Western conservation organization. "We are taught that we belong to the land not the other way around."

This attachment to the land rejects the notion that this is a disposable planet. It's not ours. We have borrowed it from the next generation.

"Nothing belongs only to you, you must use what you have for the greater good and share," adds Amber. "The beautiful part is that what you need then comes back to you from someone else sharing."

This "communal identity," as Amber calls it, this "amor por el terruño," has once more been proven true by means of a fascinating new poll.

According to a Colorado College survey conducted in six Western states, 87 percent of Hispanic respondents said that regardless of the current budgetary crisis, resources must be invested in preserving their state's land, water and wildlife. And 94 percent said that public lands are "an essential part" of the economies of these states.

The survey -- conducted among 2,400 registered voters, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic -- also undermines the notion that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are an unnecessary burden. Sixty-six percent of Hispanics surveyed said they consider them "important safeguards" to protect us all from toxic pollution.

"We grow up learning how to live in harmony with our surroundings," says Amber, who considers this poll "overwhelmingly strong proof" of the true values of our community. "Environmental protections make sure that those who use things put them back like they found them, it's just good sense."

But the coal industry, for example, is not leaving the planet just how it found it. It's abusing it with toxic emissions that are poisoning us all and disrupting the planet's climate.

It's no wonder then, that according to the survey, 81 percent of Hispanics support the EPA's actions to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants and from other fossil fuels. This compares to 70 percent among Western voters overall who support the EPA's actions.

This clear backing of EPA protections also highlights an aspect of self-defense. According to the survey, 60 percent of Hispanics consider air pollution and smog as either an extremely or very serious problem in their state. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2010 that almost half of Hispanics live in counties that frequently violate ground-level ozone standards.

The data, however, does not imply that our community opposes economic advancement. According to the Colorado College poll, 87 percent of Hispanics believe we can protect the environment at the same time we strengthen the economy.

And that strong economy, according to 80 percent of Hispanic respondents, will come by reducing the use of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, and by fostering the development of clean, renewable energy, such as solar and wind. Also, a similar percentage believes that this shift to a clean energy economy will create jobs.

"I like to think of our community as conservation pioneers," says Amber. "Because we feel so tied to the land, to our history, to our stories, we can see the changes in the future coming and look to repeat successes not failures."

It's the "amor por el terruño," with which we are born, we grow and we fight to preserve.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_sc.