May 20 2016

As a teenager growing up in the eastern Coachella Valley, I began to look for opportunities to grow and give back to the community. Soon, I found myself joining the Building Healthy Communities volunteer team to boost our community’s health and supporting the local campaign for three new national monuments in our region – the Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains national monuments. Watching our community rally behind the national monuments has opened my eyes to the power of our voices in this region.

This month we proudly celebrated these three new national monuments for our community. Families from my community joined the event with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other prominent leaders, and shared stories about why these lands are important. We traversed the brand new monument’s trails on guided hikes and heard the songs of Native American Birdsingers who came to share their cultural heritage.

This campaign has been empowering for our families – we’ve learned that we can advocate for ourselves and have a positive impact on the region and our quality of life.  That’s why I was deeply grateful for President Obama’s recent designation of these national monuments, and thankful for the leadership of Interior Secretary Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Dianne Feinstein on this issue.

sand to snow

The eastern Coachella Valley is plagued by issues that run deep. Our local parks are often overrun with graffiti and crime. Many of our families are low income, and some struggle to make ends meet. Latino families face an uphill battle to be engaged in the community and advocate for change. That’s why our involvement in the national monuments campaign was so important. Many of the families in our community don’t have many resources – and yet, when the opportunity arose, we volunteered our time. We wrote letters of support, reached out to our local leaders, and went on guided tours of the proposed national monuments. Now, we have these beautiful, protected public lands to spend time in with our families and friends for generations to come.

When I visited what is now the Sand to Snow National Monument I was struck by its unique plants and quickly changing landscape that moves from desert floor to snow-capped mountains. I learned that these lands are a critical wildlife corridor in Southern California, and that they’re home to rare desert rivers that support wildlife in the area. Centuries ago, local tribes left us petroglyphs on large desert rocks to illustrate their lives. I learned about the geological history of these areas, picked up volcanic rocks, and even smelled a special desert plant our guide picked out for its odd cheesy scent.

In the fall I’m going to college in Long Beach, where I’m going to study anthropology and archaeology. I know that in many ways, I was inspired by the Native American artifacts and wonders in the new national monuments in our backyard.

The designation of the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains national monuments means that these lands are now stars on the map of the desert. I know that I now have a passion to ensure that our newest national monuments are preserved for generations to enjoy.

Alondra Jimenez of Coachella is a volunteer with Building Healthy Communities and The Council of Mexican Federations. Email her at alondra398@gmail.com.

This commentary was first published in The Desert Sun. Click here to read it there.

Click here to learn more about Eastern Coachella Valley Building Healthy Communities.

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