Joining Jennifer, our LO Coordinator in the SF Bay Area South Bay, on a family nature hike you may not know the lineage and heritage she carries in her blood and with every step. But that becomes very clear once you have a conversation with her mom—and you learn about the strength and resiliency she carries, as well as the connection to nature and the outdoors at an early age.
Jennifer is a biology student—a major she chose to learn more about the natural world and share that passion with others. And it also connects with whyy she was interested in volunteering for Latino Outdoors:
“I know so many people that don’t engage in outdoors activities because it’s not a focus in our culture. I am bilingual, and would love to get the chance to engage our youth and hope to inspire them to pursue a career helping our planet and enjoying nature.”
On a recent community hike with Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, she reminded me of the first LO hike she joined—one I had set up with Santa Clara County Parks so she could see what we were trying to do with our “Familias Outdoors” idea with Latino Outdoors. Basically, “what does it look like to invite families that otherwise may not engage in outdoor activities due to a host of real or perceived barriers? And what happens when the barriers are tackled?”
This was back in September 27, 2015 and it was a powerful reminder of the work that our volunteers do not just in the San Francisco Bay Area, but throughout the state and in other parts of the country.
That day we were led by a Latino ranger, Fernando Elias, who was at times more excited than us to share what he did and where he worked. He was diligent, prepared, patient, and overall conveyed a sense of pride to be of service to la comunidad. As someone that had been peppering ideas throughout the Bay Area, I was hoping this would be one of several outings that could happen in the South Bay and Peninsula but I needed help—I needed a team that could make it happen for the long run. Into that idea and desire stepped in Jennifer that day, excited, observant, and eager to help.
Jennifer reminded me how that day we were powerfully impacted by families coming to visit a park that most of them had never visited before—in fact, it could be easy to get lost in getting there. But once there, the magic of nature and the experience of being outdoors led the rest of the way. The Santa Clara County Parks ranger shared “all the cool stuff” in a ranger vehicle and he brought out pelts for the kids to touch and wonder where they came from. Then we were off on a hike where he paused and shared information about the landscape as a naturalist. And it was there that a mother shared with us how impactful this outing was—that it had been quite some time since she and her kids had been out and simply enjoyed being together outside since the passing of her husband. That it was special to see her kids smile and play in this setting because they had been through a difficult time.
To be honest I had forgotten about that moment, but it came rushing back to me when Jennifer reminded me—and it reminded me of so many other similar moments with families on other Latino Outdoors outings. The power of nature, familia, y cultura coming together. And here we were in 2017, sitting at a table at Pichetti preserve, with Jennifer’s family, with her mom sharing how special it was to be here with her daughter, and sharing her life story of what brought her to the us, and how she became a more resilient woman.
I could only sit there with pride—and again reminded of the power of nature, familia, and cultura coming together, and the leadership of Latino Outdoors volunteers helping to continue to drive this forward and making it happen.
Jose Gonzalez is the Founder and Executive Director of Latino Outdoors. He also doodles, thinks, and helps other organizations with diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the outdoors.