Preserving Latino Heritage through U.S. National Parks

There is nothing more beautiful than a luscious surrounding or the freshness of earthly morning mist. National parks not only have stunning landscapes or unique forests, but they are also powerful places to honor and celebrate Latino history all year round.

Within the National Park System, 24 parks have a primary story about Latino history and culture. At the same time, Latino history and culture can be found at hundreds of parks across the country.

With a mission to preserve, amplify, and elevate more stories that commemorate Hispanic heritage in parks and communities across the country, the National Park Foundation celebrates a decade of its Latino Heritage Fund program. The fund’s mission is to preserve Latino history and elevate Latinos’ stories and contributions to the U.S., past and present, through national parks.

National Park Foundation Board Director Patty Arvielo, Melinda “Mindy” Burbano Stearns, and NPF chief of staff Ruth Prescott collaborate with the National Park Foundation to protect wildlife and park lands and preserve history and culture, educate and engage youth, and connect people everywhere to the wonder of parks.

Patty Arvielo
National Park Foundation Board Director

Patty and Mindy at Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: Tami Heilman.

“For 35 years, I have advocated to advance diversity and inclusion within business, particularly for women and for Hispanic communities,” shares NPF Board Director Patty Arvielo. “My experience enables me to help support the National Park Foundation and national parks in general to advance diversity and inclusion and help preserve and share a fuller historical narrative that includes women’s contributions and our Latino heritage.”

Today, Arvielo raises awareness about the National Park Foundation’s Latino Heritage Fund and inspires more people to support this important work. She hopes to help ensure that the next generation learns about the contributions of early Latinos and immigrants to the nation through the wealth of knowledge and history national parks have to offer.

“As a Californian, César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, California, is a national park I want more people to know about,” she shares. “The park is located at the site of Chávez’ home and former headquarters for the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which Chávez co-founded with Dolores Huerta. This newest Latino heritage site commemorates the role Latinos have played in shaping the modern labor rights movement for all Americans, and farmworkers in particular.”

Arvielo has been a leader in the mortgage industry for more than 40 years. She is a results-driven entrepreneur who co-founded and leads the nation’s largest woman-owned and Latina-owned mortgage company in the U.S., New American Funding. In addition to serving on the National Park Foundation Board of Directors, she is serving a three-year term on the Harvard Kennedy School Board and serves on the Board of Directors for Century Communities. She is also a member of the Mortgage Bankers Association Residential Board of Governors, the Latino Donor Collaborative Board, Board of Directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County, and the Mortgage Bankers Association Affordable Homeownership Advisory Council. She also serves as a member of the Housing Counseling Federal Advisory Committee. Arvielo recently expanded her business empire by acquiring a 50 percent majority stake in #WeAllGrow Latina, one of the largest Latina social media platforms, and investing in Encantos, an award-winning educational technology company that focuses on bilingual education.

Melinda “Mindy” Burbano Stearns
National Park Foundation Board Director

Mindy at Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy of Mindy Stearns.

“As a television anchor and former reporter, I love sharing stories and national parks are full of fantastic and compelling stories,” shares Emmy nominated television anchor Melinda Burbano Stearns. “My background in journalism paired with my experience co-founding Stearns Family Charitable Foundation with my husband enables me to help support and engage more people with the National Park Foundation’s mission.”

In the past decade, Burbano Stearns has shifted trajectory from the television and film industry, focusing her efforts and influence on improving her local and global communities.

The Stearns have been honored for their dedication to community service and philanthropy with Starkey Hearing Foundation’s “American Couple of the Year Award,” Orange County’s “Giving Is Living Award,” and the 2014 Athlete’s First – Orangewood Children’s Foundation’s “Golden Heart Award” for leadership and impact on youth.

­­A proud champion of the National Park Foundation’s efforts to support Latino heritage sites through the Foundation’s Latino Heritage Fund, Stearns, alongside other generous donors, believes supporting the Latino Heritage Fund is an investment in their heritage.

“As a Latina, I want to instill in future generations the cultural significance of family gatherings at missions and parks,” she shares. “I want Latinos of all ages to feel connected to these special places and see themselves reflected and respected across the landscapes and historic sites.”

Spending time with family outdoors has always been one of her favorite pastimes. For her, it has become a tradition where shared food, many stories, and lots of laughter are involved.

“When the opportunity presented itself to be on the National Park Foundation Board Directors, it felt like a perfect match, a chance to help preserve these special places and our collective heritage, including my Latino heritage,” she shares.

Ruth Hernandez Prescott, J.D.
National Park Foundation Chief of Staff

Ruth enjoys a canoe trip at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine. Photo courtesy of Ruth Hernandez Prescott.

“Born and raised in Texas, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is a Latino heritage site that is close to my heart,” shares NPF chief of staff, Ruth Prescott.

Prior to joining the National Park Foundation, Prescott spent more than 25 years working in higher ed­­­ucation at various universities. Those experiences instilled in her a deep commitment to forever learning and helping ensure all people have opportunities to learn throughout their lives.

“National parks are some of the most engaging classrooms, so my background is a great fit for this organization’s mission,” she shares. “As my colleagues in the National Park Foundation’s History and Culture program say, “Before we can teach it, we have to preserve it,” and that is what we help do at the National Park Foundation. I was inspired to be part of a national organization that is helping to preserve special places that we can all learn from, whether it be history, science, culture, art, you name it. We work in collaboration with the National Park Service and partners to help preserve stories and sites that celebrate and honor the rich cultural mosaic of the United States, including the contributions of Latino communities, and we help connect all people to these park experiences.”

Today, Prescott advises the President/CEO, board, and executive team on strategies to enhance the operating efficiency of the National Park Foundation. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Office of the President working to advance the priorities of the President/CEO. In addition, Prescott coordinates the leadership team’s work to maximize departmental performance in support of organizational goals and objectives. She also supervises the preparation and planning for Board of Directors meetings and supports the President/CEO in managing interactions with the board chair and committee leadership. Prescott works with National Park Service (NPS) leadership to assure appropriate coordination of the Foundation’s efforts on behalf of NPS.

Joining the National Park Foundation in May 2014, working at the National Park Foundation gives Prescott a chance to help more families experience what she did with national parks. “It’s important to me to help increase access to parks for everyone, especially young people, as our national parks bring the stories of our nation to life,” she shares as she recalls how as a child, her parents took her family to national parks often.

“They’d load my sister and me up in the Chevrolet and drive to sites across the south, from the beautiful landscape parks to important cultural and historical sites,” she shares. “These experiences shaped my life in ways my parents could have never imagined. The moments we shared on those trips instilled a lifelong connection to these special places.”

Prescott is excited about what the next decade of the National Park Foundation’s Latino Heritage Fund program.

“I look forward to us doing even more great work in this space, thanks to the vision of many generous donors, including NPF Board Directors Patty Arvielo and Mindy Burbano Stearns.”

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