Martha Sonato, a Willamette University Student had many questions for The Friends of the Columbia Gorge when Kevin Gorman gave a presentation to her class about the non-profits efforts to preserve the Gorge. These questions quickly lead to Sonato’s inquiring about the 30% of Latinos that populate Hood River and their representation in the environmental efforts in the gorge. Sonato’s energy and interest lead to her involvement in a project with The Friends of the Columbia River Gorge. That project lead to Sonato becoming the youngest and only Latina to join The Friends of the Columbia River Gorge Board of Directors, at the age of 19. Read more about Sonato and her representation for Hood River Latina’s below.

Redefining Environmentalism
The Friends of the Columbia Gorge formed in 1980, fueled by concerns that urban sprawl would destroy the area’s wild beauty. The organization pushed for federal protection of the region, and in 1986, Friends succeeded with passage of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act — a complex plan that works to preserve the landscape while balancing the varying needs of everyone who lives, works and plays there.
When it comes to Hood River’s Latino community, which includes numerous farmworkers, Sonato says many are unfamiliar with the Scenic Act and its far-reaching impact. Language and cultural differences create barriers to awareness, Sonato says, but so does a narrow definition of environmentalism.
“The people I know in the Latino community may not be concerned about a wildflower going extinct because they have other, more pressing issues to deal with — bringing food to the table, working to provide for their children, paying for education,” Sonato says.
“But so many environmental decisions affect their daily lives. For instance, when coal trains pass through the gorge, the coal dust spreads out into in the air, and that air doesn’t discriminate in who it affects.”

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