By Alejandro Granados
Working in Yosemite National Park is amazing. I get to live in one of the most beautiful natural spaces in the world and I doubt I’ll ever have a drive to work as colorful and grand as the one I have now. I also find myself surrounded by people who don’t understand where I come from and I don’t understand where they come from. Growing up, my parents couldn’t afford to take us up to Yosemite National Park and I think my parents actively tried to avoid living in conditions like the ones they grew up in rural Mexico. When I started working in a National Park, I had to integrate myself into white culture and outdoor culture, which in some way are one in the same. However, like oil and water, I feel a disconnect between my culture and this culture. I feel like it took me in and puked me out like a sunburned American tourist eating greasy Mexican street food. This is a short, brief list of three things I do to cope with cultural isolation in no particular order of importance:
1.) I don’t ever listen to Podcasts because I can’t focus long enough on purely auditory stimuli for more than a song’s length. I’d rather listen to “Lemonade” on my drive to work than the steady drone of the nasal radio voice explaining the process of something I care nothing about. Then, I found Latino USA. It’s usually my ritual to listen to Latino USA on my 1.5 hour drive down to the Central Valley to visit my family. I managed to catch the tail end of a program where they were reading off the credits to the Latino USA staff on a car ride to work one morning. Maria Hinojosa’s voice, anchor and executive producer of Latino USA, evokes the nurturing, powerful warmth of strong Latinas who’ve shaped me into who I am. I get to indirectly participate in conversations surrounding issues that affect my community like immigration reform, farm worker’s rights, and education equity by perching myself as a wallflower in these conversations. I feel starved of these issues because living and working around pristine wilderness tends to make it feel like I’m living in a magical bubble where nothing bad ever happens and racism, classism, and all the other isms and would affect me on a much higher level …
2.) I started learning to cook the food my mother made for me growing up, and makes for me when I go visit. At first, I felt self-conscious in this community where the norm is to eat dishes that include kale, squash, and other vegetables I’ve never heard of while the foods I eat are kind of frowned upon. Tacos are too greasy and horchata is too sugary in this hyper-healthy community. Healthy food is a commodity, and growing up we ate not-so-healthy food because we couldn’t afford to eat healthier. This is the reality in which I grew up, and one I have to constantly defend whenever I eat in the presence of someone eating a salad. I make myself carne asada tacos with cilantro, onions, and tomatillo sauce. I serve myself a tall, cold glass of horchata to perfectly compliment the savory of the tacos. I eat them myself and feel satisfied as I binge-watch as many episodes of El Chavo del Ocho. At night, especially in the wintertime, I would make myself a warm cup of atolé and read a good book or watch an episode of whatever television show I’m binging on at the moment.
3.) I speak up whenever I feel like my personal identity is being put on the line. As a sexually fluid Latino, I’ve been quiet all my life instances of overt racism or subtle microagressions because I didn’t want my queerness or my brownness to be thrust out into the openness. I saw my voice as a loud siren that would flag me down as an “other”. Every time I held it in, every time I let those instances of racism pass, I felt like I was swallowing a toxic bollus that would tear apart my stomach and intestines. I swallowed and swallowed until the taste became comforting and I became desensitized to how harmful it was to me. Living and working in the outdoors has marked a turning point for me where I decided to spit up the toxic racism I was expected to swallow at the expense of a white person’s comfortability. Whenever someone called me by the name of the only other Latino male employee on campus, I would proudly and firmly correct them rather than smile and nod to avoid confrontation. I realized that softening the blow of their racism wasn’t my responsibility. I realized that when hiking in the wilderness not being acknowledged by hikers while my white peers got a smile and a nod was a situation in which I needed to vent rather than give them the benefit of the doubt of, “maybe they just didn’t see me.” I valued my body and mind too much to keep all of that in me, boiling building up pressure.
I am still on a journey of self-care and as a person of color in the outdoor sphere. I’m learning the things that will help me become successful in navigating this culture and integrate my own culture into it. If this self-reflection piece helps somebody else going through a similar struggle then I feel like my objective for writing this has been successful.
Alejandro Granados is a Central Valley native. Lover of literature, language, and changing the face of the outdoors.