Tell us your story, what is your connection to the land and conservation?
My story begins in the city of Lynwood, a town in Southeastern L.A. County nestled between South Gate, Compton, and South Central. Growing up, I loved watching nature documentaries with my dad and letting my imagination go wild. Unfortunately, I was not able to connect first hand with nature as often as I’d like, so I decided to become one of the founding members of my high school’s environmental science club. This led me to apply for an Environmental Science degree at UC Davis. While at Davis, I became ever more entrenched in my love for water and nature to the point that I switched majors to Hydrology. Soon after graduation, I landed a job as an Ecohydrologist at CBEC Eco-engineering, where I get to enjoy the outdoors and work on projects that enhance fragile ecosystems and habitat for endangered species.
How is this connection expressed or misunderstood in your community and culture—in the broader conservation community?
I feel like this connection with the environment is often viewed as “out of reach” for many in the Latino community. In my experience, there are Latinos that may even shy away from going outdoors too often because they associate it with farm work.
Latino identities are connected to the outdoors, the environment, and conservation—how are those words reflective of YOU?
I love being outdoors, even when I have to hack my way through 8’ tall blackberry bushes in order to survey the topography. I see the human race as shepherds of our environment and in order to allow future generations the opportunity to enjoy it, we must do our best to conserve the ecosystems that keep our water flowing and our sustenance growing.
What needs to change and how do we grow, celebrate, and have the broader conservation movement connect with the role and values Latinos bring to the field?
I believe that the greater conservation movement needs to acknowledge the huge portion of the population that is not actively involved with the outdoors. The Latino community might feel ignored by the approach of wildlife officials. I’ve spoken with people who say that they “have more important things to worry about” than the outdoors. There needs to be better environmental education tailored to the Latino community in order to spread awareness and involvement with nature.
Why does this issue and work matter to you?
This issue resonates with me because I’ve seen the physical and mental benefits that time outdoors can bring. I want to help show families the beauty that lies at our doorstep and expand their minds beyond the vecindad.
What does success in this work look like to you and how is your work connected to it?
Success to me would be equal participation in the conservation community. I rarely see other Latinos in my career field or along the hiking trails that are open to the public.
I see my work as a small contribution towards the betterment of our environment. I hope I can contribute towards Latino Outdoors’ mission of “Connecting Cultura and Community with the Outdoors”.
Rafael Rodriguez is a graduate from UC Davis with a degree in Hydrology. He began a career as an Ecohydrologist in West Sacramento that allows him to spend plenty of time outdoors. However, he wants to support “ways to help my community build an intimate relationship with their environment”. With that in mind he has connected with our Latino Outdoors team in Sacramento to support and participate in our community events.