Open Access
Gordon, Jason S.
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 16, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Albert E Luloff, Dissertation Advisor
  • Albert E Luloff, Committee Chair
  • James Craig Finley, Committee Member
  • Jeffrey Cash Bridger, Committee Member
  • Leland Luther Glenna, Committee Member
  • Solsiree Del Moral, Committee Member
  • Rich Stedman, Committee Member
  • Pennsylvania
  • Latinos
  • community
  • environmental perceptions
  • outdoor recreation
Although Latinos are the fastest growing population in the United States, environmental organizations and natural resource managers have relatively little information on their attitudes and behaviors toward the natural environment. The U.S. Latino population originates from over twenty nationalities, including the U.S., and represents a broad diversity of demographic backgrounds, cultural traits, and immigration experiences which have been understudied in the environmental concerns literature. As a result of this diversity, perspectives and concerns are likely to be highly variable among Latinos, making it even more critical to center attention on the needs and concerns of this population regarding the environment. Focusing on eleven counties of eastern Pennsylvania, this study aimed to investigate how Latino groups use and perceive natural areas such as parks, forests, and neighborhood open space. For each analysis, I examined if and how Latino perceptions and uses varied by sociodemographic background, ethnicity, and community social interactions. Then I explored associations between outdoor recreation, environmental values, and environmental behaviors. Community field theory guided the research. As a mixed methods study, successive data collection techniques built on previous methods. The four methods used were key informant interviews, a face-to-face household survey, facilitated discussion groups, and an intercept survey. This dissertation presents findings from the interviews and surveys. Although variables corresponded to a single conceptual model, several of the variables differed between analyses in order to gain a more complete understanding of relevant processes. Results evidenced the ways uses of natural resources and environmental behaviors reflected diverse Latino cultural characteristics and the context of residents’ daily experiences in the places where they lived. Among other factors, Latino uses of natural areas were influenced by social and physical barriers to community, rural-urban experiences, homeland narratives, and cultural identity. Participants generally showed a high level of appreciation for parks and natural areas. Passive forms of recreation such as picnicking, hang out, and playing sports dominated rural and urban park activities. Nature was considered a social experience, critical to maintaining cultural identity. Overall, the three separate analyses indicated community, ethnicity, a sense of connectivity with nature, and recreation behaviors differentially explained Latino environmental behaviors. Interviews suggested virtually no involvement in community-wide environmental initiatives. Analysis of the household survey dataset revealed all concepts significantly influenced communication about environmental issues. Community, connectivity, and recreation behaviors predicted environmental behaviors outside the home while sociodemographics, community, ethnicity, and connectivity predicted behaviors in the home. In the intercept survey, environmental behaviors were predictable for Latinos of three nationalities and two communities. Recreation behaviors were not related to environmental behaviors. Inconsistencies among methods suggest the continued importance of exploring community effects and connectivity with nature in future research. Results provide important information for an improved understanding of well-being in communities with large ethnic populations. This contribution to the understanding of the interrelation between the social context, race/ethnicity, and the natural environment represents a conceptual and methodological advance over prior work, which has tended toward single method techniques and limited theoretical perspectives. Implications will contribute to the effectiveness of public land management and pro-environmental initiatives by local Latino groups.