Letter: Hispanic Heritage: Our Roots Are in the Red Rock


By Uriel L. Flores

Hispanic Heritage Month came to a conclusion on Oct. 15. The month has been a time to connect with the folklore, dances, music and great food that characterize Hispanic and Latino heritage. But that’s not all that defines Latino heritage, especially in Utah.
At the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month, community leaders spoke at a public event in Salt Lake City to recognize the rich histories and diversity of Latinidad in Utah. However, they failed to mention the important historical and cultural connection Hispanics have to public lands and the redrock wilderness.
As a senior at the University of Utah, I visited the Rio Mesa Center this fall with some fellow students. There, I was able to experience the redrock wilderness firsthand. It was spectacular to be immersed in mother nature’s artwork, from the boulders to the shape of the sandstones, hiking beneath moonlight and listening to the wilderness just beyond our tents. We spoke with an ornithologist who said that even in arid environments the rivers provide sufficient life for migratory birds to use as a stepping stone in their long journeys home.
Like the birds finding their way home, Utah’s Hispanic, Latino and Latinx community members can find their roots within redrock wilderness. Take for example, that all land that we recognize as Utah was once part of México. When control of the territory was lost in the Mexican-American war, our heritage did not shift south with the U.S. border.
Place names throughout canyon country, including the San Rafael Swell, Mexican Mountain, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, San Juan, and the  Green and Virgin Rivers were so named by, or in honor of, the Spaniards who explored the Colorado Plateau as long as 245 years ago.
These and many more places throughout our public land remind me that as a Hispanic I am a part of this country and that my people have been a part of this country’s heritage from the start. In fact, the discovery of scarlet macaw feathers, Canyonlands National Park and the newly restored Bears Ears National Monument point out that the ancestors of countless Latinos today probably roamed these places too.
Latinos in Utah should know that our voices matter to protect our cherished public lands. It’s a matter of protecting our heritage in Utah. When wildlands are diminished, so is our part in the American story.
It’s incredibly clear how industrial tourism and climate catastrophe have changed the redrock landscapes. In this region, where the Dolores and Colorado Rivers have carved the land — the redundant roads, parking lots, boat ramps, busted biocrust and river water levels were incredibly disheartening to witness.
There I realized that any loss of precious wilderness in our state hurts more than recreation or the charismatic species who depend on the landscape corridor to travel along with their already declining ranges. The disruption of our precious desert nature also diminishes cultural resources that are part of Utah’s Latino community history.
We as people are a part of Utah’s wild nature, and popular opinion among Latinos in the west reflects that. Latinos across the west consistently poll as avid conservation supporters. 83% of Latinos support protecting 30% of land and water in its natural state by 2030 and 93% support creating more national parks, national monuments and wildlife refuges.
We are not going to let our voices be suppressed any longer. It is our right as stakeholders who stand to lose part of our cultural heritage to demand these lands protected as wilderness, national monuments and all deserving designations in the public land preservation system.
— Uriel L. Flores, a University of Utah student majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies with an emphasis in Land Conservation and Management. He is working towards leadership on affecting climate change and public lands in Utah.