We Must Act Now to Protect Our Oceans, Preserve Their Cultural Importance
By Maite Arce
When I think about the places I have lived and loved most in my life, they have always been near the ocean. When I was a child, my family lived on the shores of El Sauzal, Baja California, a small settlement for fishermen and their families near el Valle de Guadalupe. Growing up in this beautiful town I called home, my family primarily lived off of food from the sea.
In those days, the seafood was bountiful and my favorite thing to eat for breakfast was burritos de langosta and for lunch or dinner I would always ask my mother to make tostadas de ceviche. My community in Mexico was sustained primarily from jobs in the fishing industry. The men in town would leave for months at a time to work on boats as far north as Alaska and as far south as Argentina. I remember very vividly that along with all the other family celebrations such as quinceaneras and baptisms, there was usually a funeral for one of the fishermen in my community who had died on the job, which was extremely dangerous.
I also look back and remember the beautiful experiences and moments I had with my family on the coast. My abuelo and I would often fish off the jetty together using a coke can and fishing line because that was what was easily available at the time. The sea was interconnected with my community; we recreated in it, we ate the food it provided, and our livelihoods depended on it. The ocean was a part of who we were and an inseparable part of our cultura. And there was always an abundance of seafood, including tuna, langosta, abalone, clams, and muscles.
However, that abundance has disappeared.
The elders from my childhood community talk about the days past when they could dive for lobster off the shores of our community and how it is a shame that the younger generations have lost that resource. They reflect about how they wish they had known they were doing harm to the ocean ecosystem and how to have better cared for those resources to protect against overharvesting.
We talk about how we wish we could do it all over again and about how young people need to know these things and care about these issues to avoid additional depletion of our ocean resources and habitats. Now more than ever, we are aware of these pressing issues. Not only does overharvesting pose a threat to our ocean’s ecosystems, but also plastic pollution and most importantly climate change, increasingly threaten our waters.
The ocean has always been so deeply tied to our family, community and cultura, that I can’t imagine a world without healthy oceans. I’m using the power of my voice, I hope to shine a light on the myriad of Latino communities in both the United States and across the globe that depend on our oceans for their food, jobs, and the continuation of cultural traditions.
For these reasons, I am calling on all of Congress — regardless of what geography they represent whether it’s coastal communities or land-locked states — to protect our oceans. We all need healthy oceans no matter where you live. Our oceans regulate our weather patterns, give us rain and snow to drink, water our food, and raise our livestock. We are so deeply interconnected with our oceans, that it is our responsibility to ensure we protect humanity’s most valuable resource. It’s time we act now for the sake of our children and future generations.
Maite Arce is the Founder, President and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation.