Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
When former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar served in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, he vowed to increase the diversity of the staff at the nation’s parks. Knowing Latinos were less likely to consider park service a viable career path and less likely to visit the parks, he set about changing the status quo.
First, with unemployment at higher levels for minorities than for whites, government-sector jobs with high security and decent benefits should be attractive to Latinos. But countering the park system’s vanilla reputation has been slow-going.
Of the 16,523 permanent workers in the National Park Service last quarter, 79 percent were white, 10.5 percent were black, 10.7 percent were Hispanic and just 3.6 were Asian, according to David Vela, the NPS’s man tasked with increasing diversity at the parks.
It’s a tall order to make the parks relevant to Latinos. First,they needed to not only convince minorities who seldom see the national parks as a vacation destination to give them a try, but consider working in them, too.
To do that, the National Park Service is working to make it clear that minorities matter to the parks. That sounds obvious, but it’s hard to convince a Latino kid to become a park ranger when he has never seen anyone who looks like him in the uniform and he only sees stories about old white men like John Muir on trail signs.
That’s if he even makes it outside in the first place; much national park space tends to be in rural areas where minorities settle in fewer numbers — and may not always feel welcome.
The park service has looked for ways to incorporate lessons about the important roles minorities played in the history of the area at various national parks and monuments. They’ve also launched National Park Service academies aimed at recruiting mostly minority youth to join the workforce.
The American Latino Heritage Fund was also created to assist in ensure the parks recognize and give voice to Latinos as an important part of the country’s history and story, and encourages Hispanics to give the parks a chance.
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