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As advocates seek to draw commitments from governments to fight against climate change at COP28, they also look to raise awareness about other kinds of impact on the population.

In that context, the Hispanic Access Foundation published a report that sheds light on the impact of climate change on the health, safety, food security, and cultural legacy of Latinos in the United States.

The study, titled Cultural Erosion, emphasizes the often-overlooked connection between climate change, Latino heritage, and the consequences of colonial legacies. From tangible heritage sites to intangible traditions, the document aims to elevate awareness of the threats posed by climate change while also proposing policy recommendations to safeguard Latino communities impacted by this.

The report mentions that over half of the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population live in states facing heightened climate threats, including air pollution, extreme heat, and flooding. Concerns are particularly acute in Texas and Florida, where rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and variable precipitation regimes threaten crops but also traditions. The destruction of heritage sites due to climate change is already displacing communities globally.

The document also emphasizes the role of heritage in community building, enhancing quality of life, and promoting social sustainability. Heritage sites serve as vital spaces for communities during disasters as tangible links to the past. However, economic development initiatives tied to heritage conservation often lead to gentrification, it says, disproportionately affecting Latino communities.

The report provides different examples to back up its claim. One of them is Little Haiti, in Florida. "With rising sea levels posing a growing threat, local community activists in Miami's predominantly Black neighborhoods are focusing on resilience efforts and fighting ongoing gentrification. They aim to empower the residents rather than displacing them, seeking to mitigate the impacts of climate change," it reads.

Authors warn about tangible impacts such as the loss of historic structures, something that could erase "the physical history of this Afro-Caribbean neighborhood." As for the intangible aspect, they say, it would be illustrated by the displacement of residents and demographic shifts.

"This includes the erosion of cultural traditions, languages, and vital social networks
integral to the community's identity and in some cases, leads to the commercial appropriation of cultural elements," the report adds.

Other intangible impact would be the loss of certain agricultural practices. Crops in coastal regions, vital to Latino heritage, face risks like saltwater intrusion and changing productivity. The Intangible Cultural Heritage of agricultural practices, especially in Florida and Texas, is threatened as traditional methods may become unsustainable, the document warns.

Coastal erosion, rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and climate gentrification further endanger Latino heritage. The text points out the risks to cultural landmarks, soil integrity, and livelihoods such as construction and agriculture. The displacement of Latino communities due to climate change has profound impacts on both tangible and intangible aspects of their cultural heritage.

The report concludes with policy recommendations, urging the development of an inventory of at-risk heritage, prioritizing community engagement, as well as including Taino descendants in protective legislation for Native Americans.

The act, known as s NAGPRA, requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funds to repatriate human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiians. Authors are asking the descendants of the Taino Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean be included as well.

Additionally, urgent actions to reduce climate pollutants are proposed, with a focus on the disproportionate impact on the Latino community.

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