Monument will preserve Latino heritage

Op-ed by Paul ‘Pablo’ A. Martinez
Las Cruces Sun-News, May 25, 2014




For too long, the 400-year legacy of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States has been underrepresented in the telling of the American story. But it looks like that is finally changing.

Last week, President Obama acted decisively to protect the rich Hispanic and Latino heritage and culture that defines the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region here in New Mexico. These Las Cruces-area public lands bind us to our history and traditions, and keep us connected with our families today. By recognizing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, the president has honored our heritage and culture.

In 2012 and 2013, President Obama used his pen to protect two other national monuments meaningful to Latinos: the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in California and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos. In response, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) passed a resolution at our national convention last summer — unanimously — in support of these actions and also calling for protection of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and other sites that preserve Latino history.

Now with the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument protected, it is clear our parks, monuments and public lands are beginning to reflect the full diversity of the American story.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is rich with history. Many of the prominent geographic features of the region have Spanish names, indicative of the influential role Hispanics have played in the area for centuries. These include the Sierra de Las Uvas, Picacho Peak, and the Potrillo, Robledo and Doña Ana mountains.

Also, the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro passes through this region, use of which dates back over 12,000 years. The majestic, craggy peaks of the Organ Mountains — Los Organos — provided springs for travelers along the Camino Real and signaled that they had entered another land.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks also features the northern boundary of the Gadsden Purchase which redefined the American-Mexico border 150 years ago.

More recently, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is where our parents took us to learn about the outdoors and our heritage, and where we take our children and grandchildren today. By protecting these lands, we can ensure that these values and these places can be handed down and kept accessible for generations to come.

It cannot be denied that protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is a victory for all of New Mexico’s citizens, mainly because it ensures that we can all hunt, hike and enjoy these lands with our families.

But thanks to the new monument, future generations of Latinos especially will be able to learn about the sacrifices that were made by our forebears — sacrifices that have secured the place of Latinos in the histories of New Mexico and the United States.

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Lujan have made protecting important public lands and traditional land uses in New Mexico a priority.

They worked hard for years to secure permanent protection of the Rio Grande del Norte public lands last year, and Senators Udall and Heinrich have done the same for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. We are grateful for their efforts because their hard work has helped to ensure the Latino story in New Mexico will endure for all time.

And of course, on behalf of LULAC, I would like to offer my gratitude to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for listening to our community and to President Obama for using his authority to make the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument a reality. Without his leadership, this great day would not have come.

Paul “Pablo” Martinez is state director for LULAC.