Defining Our Bay Community: A Reflection on Hispanic Heritage Month
The many stakeholders working to strengthen the Chesapeake Bay watershed are truly phenomenal. From conservationists to sportsmen, foundations, governments, businesses, and houses of worship, the Bay gives us so much and we work to give back. I give back by helping to enhance our watershed’s environmental resilience, many others focus on economic stability or community livelihood. We are all coming to this work with different backgrounds; representing all walks of life. So this September, in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, I spent time reflecting on some of the lesser known groups working to enhance our watershed.
Recently our Alliance interns working in the Chesapeake Bay Program Communications office presented their final projects. They reflected on the different cultures and communities living and working in the watershed. In the gorgeous photo essay created by Carlin Stiehl, three Hispanic H-2B workers are pictured capturing and transferring menhaden on a fishing vessel. Carlin writes, “The process of transferring fish onto the boat is physically intensive, leaving the crew wading waist deep in menhaden on the ride to the processing plant…much of the fishing industry is supported by people that come to the United States from Latin American countries on H-2B work visas.” The number of visas per season and state varies each year from 30,000 to 60,000, which is still not enough to cover the needs of the industry.
Thanks to a Baltimore Sun article, I learned just how truly ingrained these workers, mainly of Hispanic background, have been in our Chesapeake Bay crabbing history and culture: “In the 1980s, crab houses started bringing workers from Mexico through a program that lets them live and work in the United States during the warmer months… The plant operators say it’s difficult to get domestic workers for seasonal, manual-labor jobs in the remote watermen’s villages on the Eastern Shore.”These workers have quickly become the backbone of the Maryland seafood industry, positively impacting the regional economy and livelihood of many local businesses.
This impact made me think about how we define our Bay communities. Many environmental organizations have had similar discussions, specifically surrounding the term “citizen scientists” which often represents community water monitoring program volunteers. The problem being that this phrase expressly excludes those of non-citizen status in our watershed. In response, programs have begun to replace this term with words such as ‘communities’ or ‘volunteers’ to create more inclusive and open experiences for all community members. This is a great advancement and one that I would love to see extended to how we define all peoples that enhance our watershed. Just because the H-2B visa creates seasonal employment on the Bay this should not diminish the recognition and impact such workers make on our watershed.
I celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by learning more about and recognizing the amazing H-2B workers crabbing, fishing, and farming in our watershed. I would encourage you to take time to learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month and some of the many Hispanic communities making a positive impact in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.