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Celebrating women in conservation: Vanessa Cárdenas

Vanessa Cardenas

“Helping build a conservationist movement that is inclusive of the US Latino community is a priority for me, our work on Climatico aims to do that and I look forward to the day when the Pan-American Latino family work hand in hand on a regional agenda to face climate change.”

Vanessa Cárdenas
Director, Latino outreach

What I do for nature

I work with national and local Latino organizations and leaders to create the space and dialogue for action around climate change between US Latinos and their countries of origin as part of WWF’s Climático. Today’s climate impacts are serious, but there is still time to avoid the most severe dangers ahead. By preparing local communities, helping ecosystems adapt to rapid change, and reducing the pollution from dirty energy and unsustainable forest and food systems we can build a better future for all.

Why I do it

My best childhood memories are spending time outdoors. By US standards we were poor, but we were rich in nature. I spent countless hours atop a fig tree in my grandma’s yard, balancing on its vigorous branches to pluck the velvety fruit. Once I had my fill, I exchanged them with plumbs or apples from my neighbor’s yard. When not eating fruit, I was taking rhinoceros beetles off our corn plants or collecting roses from the yard. Walking to school meant crisscrossing lettuce, onions and potato fields and jumping over creeks lined with calla lily flowers.

Years later I found myself living in a suburb of Washington, DC. The apartment complex where my immigrant family lived included rows and rows of buildings which looked exactly the same, surrounded by concrete parking lots. The few trees around were not for climbing; the patches of green grass had warning signs to keep off them; and the most succulent fruits were usually found at grocery stores we couldn’t afford.

What does that have to do with my work today? Nowadays nature and its bounty have become a privilege for some while others are being displaced, getting sick, and losing jobs due to environmental degradation and contamination. And this is happening not just in developing countries, but also here in the US. For example, Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic whites due to living in highly polluted cities.

That is why my work with WWF’s Climatico project is so important to me. Activating Latino communities in the US to influence environmental policy to improve their livelihoods in the US and in their countries of origin is paramount.

US Latinos, by virtue of their deep connections to the land and their countries of origin understand the threats we face as our natural resources are depleted globally. I am thankful for the childhood that I had. While I did not possess material things, I was able to grow healthy and free. Every kid deserves the same, regardless of where they live.