My Culture’s Influence in my Environmental Journey

By Gabriela Worrel

 

Ever since I was a child, I loved the outdoors and cared deeply about nature. Growing up in a

multi-cultural family with an anglo father and Latina mother (from Russian and Mexican

descent), identity has always been challenging to define. However, one thing I know for sure is

that Latino culture has been a big influence on my life. As a child, I enjoyed visiting Mexico with

my parents and particularly my mother, who ran a business with my grandparents in Baja

California – in the town where she grew up. Life was much different in Ensenada – a seaside

town across the border from San Diego. As a young child, I was fascinated with the goats and

chickens my grandmother kept for their milk and eggs, the stripped down style of architecture

and furnishings, and the way my grandmother did many things by hand (things that were often

done with machines or in factories in the US).

 

Later, I was trained as a biologist and urban planner. Now, I work as an outreach coordinator for

an environmental nonprofit organization in Orange County, California. In my position, I help

engage others in implementing a wildlife corridor – a strip of habitat that connects two major

ecosystems in the region, and which will allow animals to move back and forth between

habitats. Corridors are essential for ecosystem health and more are needed in southern

California.

 

When I became connected to Latino Outdoors, I began thinking about the question: What

influence did my Latina family have on my love of nature, and my choice in vocation? Here are

three major ways my particular experiences growing up Latina contributed to my love of the

outdoors, nature, and conservation.

 

Cultivating ‘Enough’

Spending time with my family in Mexico on an almost weekly-bases, I noticed two major

differences from the lifestyle I experienced in the States. First, the physical surroundings were

much more simple and less luxurious. More importantly, life was still good. This had nothing to

do with being poor. Simply put, there was little emphasis on consuming, having luxury items,

and buying ‘stuff’. Money was thought of as something to save and used to fulfill fundamental

needs like education, housing, health care, and was shared with others in need. Secondly, most

people I encountered were careful in everyday life not to waste resources. For example, my

grandparents had a water heater that was turned down very low (or off) most of the time until

someone needed to bathe, at which time the temperature of the water would be temporarily

turned up. As a child, I took for granted the ethic of simple living and frugality, but as an adult I

see how this ethic is vital to living in such a way to minimize our impact on nature.

 

Connection to Natural Processes

Exposure to agriculture, livestock and doing things by hand was important for helping me

understand how nature works and where basic things come from. At a young age, I saw in a

practical way the process of nature’s provision of all of our needs. I saw first had how much time

and effort it takes to grow food, care for chickens that produce eggs, and make yogurt from

fresh goat milk. Understanding these processes helped me later connect the dots that

conservation is important, because we are dependent on nature for clean air, water, food, and

beauty.

 

Community Care

A value I have learned from my Latino community is the centrality of relationships and the rich

life that comes from helping each other. In my family, great focus was placed on helping others

we encountered through church, family relationships, and friends. It is not such a stretch to say

that nature has become part of my ‘community’, and the value of our collective wellbeing

extends to caring for our local nature – the forests, waters, and animals with which we share our

lives.

 

Of course, I realize not all Latinos grew up like me; Latinos are diverse and have different

experiences that impact their relationship with nature. My hope is that regardless of our different

values and traditions, we can find common ground in preserving a healthy planet for future

generations.

 

Gabriel Worrel is an outreach coordinator at Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., an organization committed

to preserving open space and establishing the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor in Orange

County, California. www.wildlifecorridor.org

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