Un Sofrito: A Love of Culture, Science & Wildlife | Blog | Nature
This piece comes to us from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). To honor Hispanic Heritage Month, WCS and Nature are bringing you stories in the fields of nature and conservation.
As a child of immigrants, cultural identity was central to my upbringing. I’m Caribbean and Central American, remixed with the Latino diaspora found throughout New York City. I was influenced heavily by a variety of customs: from language and food to music and religion. It all is intertwined in the love and Orgullo (pride) of our culture.
At the core of this love lies the profound appreciation of the beauty of “home,” which in essence encompasses nature and wildlife. I never would have imagined working in my field, much less helping to cultivate a new generation of STEM leaders. I respected but didn’t excel in math and science in school. I had a secret love for biology and astrophysics, but because of my own frustration with the subject and lack of mentorship to encourage me, I ran away from it.
I shifted my focus to the arts and advocacy instead. I loved museums and art history, including learning about the Latino diaspora. I was fascinated by political and social movements back in the homelands and how they were reflected in the everyday life of New York City and in my own family’s history.
I ended up studying political science with a minor in Caribbean and Latin American studies. Although it didn’t prepare me for a career, it helped me grow as a person aware of her presence and influence. A college degree and a masters meant charting a course toward a better future. I chose subjects that would engage me, help my community, and be key to understanding my history.
I began my career with U.S Senator Charles E. Schumer (NY). I started as his front desk person answering phones, then worked in constituent affairs—all of which laid a strong foundation for my future work in government and community relations. I helped constituents resolve their cases and had the honor of working in other areas, including managing the senator’s internship program—participants in which I am proud to say have gone on to hold incredible positions (elected and non-elected) in government.
Yet while that work was satisfying, I needed to find my niche in work that involved culture and the arts. I had no idea roles like mine in cultural organizations existed until I came across an opportunity to do government affairs at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). There, I was able to develop professionally in my field while reconnecting with a love for science I thought I had lost.
I began to see how my early interests in culture and identity had a deep connection to nature. Whether it was reading books or poetry, studying artworks that were love letters about the coqui and mangroves of Puerto Rico, the Rosa de Bayahibe of the Dominican Republic, the significance of the quetzal bird of Guatemala, the jaguar in the Americas, the mountains of Peru, the Salt Flats in Bolivia (the list goes on), these stories of love for culture captivated me.
At AMNH, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, I have advocated supporting sound environmental policy and funding to keep education programs for youth going. Such programs help ensure that communities of color take advantage of the resources that such iconic institutions have to offer. Cultural and science organizations like AMNH and WCS constantly have to defend their funding and yet are expected to inspire and train the next generations of leaders in these fields.
I have found this work to be challenging yet fulfilling because I see myself in these youth who feel disconnected from the science fields. In my work, I realized that my own personal story resonated in the narratives of why it is critical for communities of color to be represented in STEM careers. The way I speak, the community I come from, the way I connect to cultural and scientific institutions, and how I have advocated—all of these have been different and needed.
Since coming to WCS five years ago, I’ve worked both to foster general support for our mission and to nurture public investment to sustain programming and operations at our five parks (the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo). My work ensures that our parks have the funding to keep our animals thriving and our parks accessible to youth and families.
It’s been a privilege to work with diverse constituencies in New York alongside community leaders and organizations, government officials, and agencies. The blending of nature, culture, and public service in which I immersed myself as a teenager has taken shape as I advocate for the conservation of wild places and the people and wildlife they sustain.