Acts of Courage, Acts of Culture: The Wilderness Act and Latin America

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In 1940 Mexico had more national parks than any country in the world. Nestled among pine and fir forests, sprawling across volcanoes in the shadow of Mexico City, these parks bore the mark of a particular kind of conservation. Linked to the Mexican Revolution, a vibrant and widespread battle for social justice from 1910 to 1940, the most representative government in the nation’s history created parks as one of many components of a pervasive policy transformation that sought to elevate and empower working Mexicans by providing labor protections, redistributing land, invigorating education, and implementing meaningful political reforms in accord with the Constitution of 1917. While these parks protected natural scenery and had wild components (forests, lakes, glaciers), they were emphatically parks designed for people—places for rural and urban workers to relax or to find new livelihoods in tourism. At their creation, no wilderness whispered in these woods and no wildlife ran in these ecosystems; this was conservation in service of the poor and vulnerable, conservation with social objectives, conservation with people at the center. Today, nearly every remaining swath of greenery gasping for air in the Valley of Mexico is one of these emblems of the revolutionary movement—social justice stitched into the landscape as conservation.