Writer Irene Vilar came from a political family. Her mother, who devoted herself to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, spent decades in prison for political actions. Her family had two Episcopalian priests involved in liberation theology, a Latin American religious movement whose followers read the Bible as a Marxist text and struggled for social justice. Steeped in politics, she had no idea how much her vision of the world would change when she moved to Boulder in 1980 and learned about the environmental movement.
Universal demands for clean air, water and food inspired her. She thought that the struggle for the earth could unite communities with different experiences and political concerns.
But as she looked around at her eco-conscious peers, she noticed most of them were white. She wanted to change that and tap into ecologically sustainable political and social models people had been developing for thousands of years in Latin America.
Last year, she launched Americas Latin Eco-Festival: A New Shade of Green, which she dubs "the first multicultural gathering featuring Latin Americans." There, people can unite and organize "a more inclusive environmental movement, more collaboration, more tolerance, more curiosity and a desire to engage across different ethnicities and communities," she says.
While she has spent many years publishing books about the connection between Latino communities and environmentalism, she argues festivals are a much more immediate way to build interest in the issues. People connect, share culture and ideas and build a concrete, in-person movement.
The festival includes more than fifteen forums, speeches, documentary films, music and community-made art and focuses on three key environmental issues: clean air, natural food and water. More than 500 high school students will attend the event along with activists from Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC.
"We're trying to create a rainbow of subjects, but the main one is Latinos and why we are the solution and not the problem," she says.
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The festival opens Thursday night, from 7 to 10 p.m., with the Mother Earth Concert, at Macky Auditorium Concert Hall, featuring Grammy-winning La Santa Cecilia and an award ceremony for activist Dolores Huerta. Tickets cost $10 to $100. For more information and tickets, go to the festival website.