“Yo Cuento Outside”~The Stories Of Latino Outdoors. Part 2

Originally Posted on: http://www.fitfunand.com/latino-outdoors/yo-cuento-outsidethe-stories-of-latino-outdoors-2/

Author: Southwest Ambassador for Latino Outdoors~Josie Gutierrez

Aribba en el Cielo. Abajo en la Tierra. Afuero con Latino Outdoors.

 

I promised you more stories from the amazing Latino Outdoors leaders, coordinators and volunteers. This organization has provided us the space to grow and nurture nature in our own unique and individual ways. Nature knows no boundaries and how beautiful is that? Here we all are, hikers, bikers, mountain climbers, bird watchers, backpackers, environmentalist and the list goes on but our passion is the same … Tierra Madre! We have individually been called to nature in our own way and up next is the story of Ruby J. Garcia~Executive Projects Coordinator.

Ruby J. Garcia~Executive Projects Coordinator

 

What are some of the earliest memories you have with a connection to Nature?

I remember sitting in my grandma’s little mint garden as a small child. I’d help her transform rocks into ladybugs with a little bit of paint. One of my favorite past times as a child was examining California burclover fruit; I’d unravel it and eat the tiny seeds inside. This activity was very soothing for me, and I can confidently say that it is the foundation to my connection with nature.

I also remember standing beneath towering nopales and being so awe inspired. I grew up in the country, next door to a ditch – yes, I played in it during summer months. There was a pond at the end of this ditch, with a tire swing hanging from a tree. The ditch itself was lined with eucalyptus trees and a few weeping willows. And there was a bridge, where I’d sit and watch the tadpoles before jumping in to catch them. I remember catching ladybugs in the adjacent open field. This was my refuge, and I revisit it from time to time.

At 30, I am still soothed by the tiniest details of my interactions with nature. In these moments, I am fully immersed in nature and the burden of being human leaves me; suddenly, I experience life as one with my environment.

Tell me more about who Ruby is and how you connect to doing what you do now in the outdoor space?

[Big sigh] I was at Fresno Community College, switching majors every semester, when I finally decided to visit the Fresno State website to browse their programs and find a career path that would maintain my interest. Scrolling, scrolling through the programs. Then I saw “Recreation Administration” and was struck with curiosity. As I scanned this major I was hooked by, ”Adventure” “Serve at-risk youth” and “Leadership.” I wasn’t much of an outdoor enthusiast at the time, but intuition told me that this was the path I needed to take. At this time, my connection to nature was fairly faint. My connection to the outdoors was simple: I liked to be outside, in the sun, surrounded by plants.  

A few years later, I ventured to Yosemite in a time of tremendous hardship and eventually fell in love with hiking. I say “eventually” because my first two or three visits to this park consisted of driving around the park, awestruck.  You see, I didn’t know what to do. I just knew that I wanted to be in that space. So, I sort of just drove around aimlessly; awestruck and taking it all in. Eventually, I brought a backpack with some food and water (my “day pack” – I know that now) and took my very first day hike to Nevada Falls. It was emotionally painful and awkward, because nobody on the trail looked like me; that’s super uncomfortable. And I was alone on this journey. Everywhere I looked I saw groups of happy White people with gear. I honestly felt like I didn’t belong there, and I felt like I wasn’t free to feel connected to that space. But at the same time, I was in awe of my hike. And it became clear that the only time I ever felt I had potential as a person was when I found myself on an outdoor adventure. And I remember thinking, “Why not?”

It would be a few years before I took my first Recreation Administration course, but, when I did, all of these connections came flooding in. I began to realize that outdoor recreation was my passion because I saw its potential as a tool for empowerment. I uprooted myself and my children from Fresno so that I could attend Humboldt State University; eighth hours away from home. Outdoor recreation became my go-to tool as I established myself as an independent, empowered single mother – a life changing endeavor. You see, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of outdoor recreation whilst learning the theory and practice behind such efforts. I have gained the confidence, empowerment, and resilience that comes with relentlessly pushing one’s boundaries. I have simultaneously witnessed, experienced, studied, and managed the power of recreation, emerging with an unbreakable faith that recreation is the antitheses to oppression. I advocate for this field with all of my heart, because it has allowed me to break cycles of poverty and oppression.

What is the connection that makes the outdoors so special to you?

Connecting with nature alleviates the negative parts of my human experience. It allows me to reconnect with myself and the world around me. I see my potential more clearly when I find myself in open spaces. I also use nature as a tool to accomplish my motherhood endeavors, teaching my children about the value of wonder, perseverance, environmental stewardship, and so forth. Outdoor spaces alleviate stress, encourage introspection, and promote well-being. We were meant to be outside.

How do you celebrate the connections between a Latinx identity and do you see yourself “counting” in the outdoors?

I highlight my connection between a Latinx identity and the outdoors with an unruly and celebratory rebelliousness, because this is my chosen avenue to empowerment, and I had to fight for it. I fought against the uncomfortableness of feeling unwelcomed in the outdoors. I stood against all odds and refused to fold in my pursuit of higher education. My experience has been that I make myself count in this field, as an outdoor enthusiast and recreation professional. And now that I’ve accomplished that, I seek to do the same for others as an extension of my own healing and empowerment.

How do you see it in others and the community around you?

There is a sense of comradery within the campus community here at Humboldt State. I see Latinx students making that journey to the outdoors together, venturing into an extremely culturally significant space which we’ve tradionally been excluded from as an act of resistance, self-discovery, and healing. It’s the adventure of a lifetime!

Why does what you do matter to you?

I wouldn’t be the empowered woman I am today without my unbreakable connection to nature. I couldn’t love myself, my children, or my community the way I do without having climbed this mountain. I believe in humankind’s capacity for growth, because I did it. Through my work I seek to create this opportunity for others.

It’s important that we use the outdoors to foster a connection between people and the environment. Yes, I want to promote environmental stewardship. Yes, conservation is of the utmost importance. I have heard a lot about providing outdoor recreation opportunities to underserved communities as a way of incorporating them into the mainstream conservation movement.

I’ve heard that people do not protect what they do not love. And I’ve heard the conservation movement needs all the help it can get. But my approach is this: Create outdoor recreation opportunities to uplift people first, and watch environmental stewardship come naturally. I don’t understand how we can expect populations that have been tradionally marginalized and excluded from the outdoors to even entertain ideas surrounding protecting our public lands, until they become empowered and make the journey to our public lands.

What three words best describe you?

Introspective: I learned how to love myself by spending lots of time exploring my mental and spiritual temples. This was my first step towards my journey to empowerment.

Open: Openness has helped me embrace vulnerability, practice honesty, and create pathways to understanding myself and the world around me. I am open and honest with myself and others on so many levels, and it has been so exhilarating to see the opportunities for growth this brings.

Resilient: My ability to thrive in unbelievably unfavorable conditions is something I have worked really hard for and am very proud of. At times I am in disbelief of my growth; it astounds me. The result is a profound belief in humankind’s capacity for growth.

The river or the beach?

Hands down the beach! The California Coastal National Monument is among my favorite places in California. I love to agate hunt, go tidepooling and watch the water in all its magnificence. Sometimes I visit Luffenholtz County Beach Parkjust to get quick kisses from my favorite place in Humboldt.

If you had one day to go outside where would you go and why?

The answer to this question is almost always the same. I would got to Humboldt Lagoons State Park to agate hunt by myself. I am a firm believer in self-care and spending time alone. Agate hunting couples nicely with this, because it is a passive activity which alleviates stress and promotes a sense of well-being.

The Family that Ruby built : )

 

Thank you Ruby for sharing your story. A Latina Outdoors powerhouse and inspiration. The passion you have for the outdoors is now something your children will always associate with you. Couldn’t imagine better memories! Your on the right path Mamacita!

Stay tuned for more stories of Latino Outdoors “Yo Cuento Afuera”.

Southwest Ambassador for Latino Outdoors~Josie Gutierrez


No Pues Wow! Latina Trail Crew Breaks Down Barriers to Stewardship

No, pues, wow.

For those who know me, you’ll recognize the sentence above as my go-to catchphrase. It’s a Spanglish phrase best used to communicate awe in a natural setting. I frequently mutter it after reaching a ridge-top view after a steep climb. But right now, after having spent a week wandering in the woods with the Latina Trail Crew, “no pues wow” feels like an appropriate statement.

Latina Trail Crew explore an unnamed lake at Mt. Rainier

So what happened? The Latina Trail Crew was launched in conjunction with Washington Trails Association and Latino Outdoors.  On July 23rd, nine young girls (ranging in age from 13 to 16) embarked on an epic adventure at Mt. Rainier. We were stationed out of the White River campground and spent our days building trails, exploring rivers and contemplating the future of equity in the outdoors. Most of the participants hailed from the South Park neighborhood of Seattle and were alumni of the esteemed Duwamish Youth Corps. They had spent several months learning about environmental justice and community healing and were eager to take the lessons learned in South Park to the wild lands of Mt. Rainier.

several participants had never experienced snow in the mountains – so naturally we went looking for snow. 

 

Over the course of four days of trail work and over 30 hours of volunteer maintenance, the nine girls learned about the parks natural history, careers in the park service, and their own place in world of public land conservation.  We also learned, first-hand, just how ruthless the bugs can be in the sub-alpine.

Gazing over majestic scenery or scratching a bug bite?

 

 

This work would not have been possible without the support of the Washington National Park Fund, who raised funds to provide students for each participant. We are also greatly indebted to the folks at Mt. Rainier National Park (including Ranger Orozco, Ranger Annie, and Ranger Montgomery) who welcomes the crew to the park and inspired several to consider careers in the Park Service.

Ranger Montgomery explains the importance of building an inclusive conservation legacy. 

 

Thanks to the support of REI, Outdoor Research and MSR, the adventure doesn’t stop here. Each of the girls received numerous outdoor gear (ranging from stoves to backpacks to Goretex rain jackets) to encourage further exploration. It is our hope that WTA and Latino Outdoors have merely planted a seed, a passion for the outdoors, that will be further cultivated in years to come.

Girls pose with trail bosses, Boston and Alex, after a hard day of building check-steps.

Ranger Orozco, current Latino Outdoors Washington Ambassador, joins the girls to chat careers in the Park Service. 

 

No, pues, wow. 


How Cesar Chavez Inspired My Journey to Environmentalism

By Laura Torres

 

As we recognize Cesar Chavez Day today, I find myself reflecting on how Chavez’s life and teachings influenced my own life, and shaped my perspective of what it means to be an environmentalist.

In 1997, I transitioned from elementary to middle school. Beyond the superficial changes, (from collecting Lisa Frank stickers and wearing a lot of pink to wearing only dark colors, crazy hoop earrings and way too much eyeliner, and lipstick too) my mind was also transforming.

My English teacher Mr. Duenas, thankfully, recognized that many of my classmates were experiencing similar evolutions.  He was patient and understanding with his squirrely class, and treated us with respect. He became our advocate when he made it his mission to teach us about our Mexican-American history. I was immediately drawn to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the many leaders associated with the farmworkers’ struggles. I also gained a new appreciation and understanding for what it meant to be a leader

.

Learning about Cesar Chavez, I gained an understanding of what it looks like when communities like mine take a stand for their own health and wellness. The 1990’s was a difficult time for my community of Boyle Heights and I was familiar with struggle. As I learned about the violence Cesar Chavez and other farmers faced, I felt angry. However, I became inspired when I learned about his organizing. Upon understanding the story of the grape strike, I felt hopeful to know that people can make an impact and demand a life with dignity. And I felt empowered to know that I too could improve conditions in my own community.

Aside from the grape strike and hunger strikes that he is primarily known for, Chavez was concerned about the damage that humans cause to the earth. In learning about his life and the early work of the United Farm Workers, it is clear Cesar Chavez was creating a movement that was about much more than labor rights. He had a vision of a better quality of life for the poor, one in which the environment was healthy, too.

He was frustrated by the lack of awareness of threats to the planet, stating, “It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease. When the poor share some of the power that the affluent now monopolize, we will give a damn.”

I began to question the conditions in my community. Chavez’s fight for a life with dignity made me see that my family experienced so many of the same struggles of working in painful conditions for low pay. This stuck with me through my college years, where I learned about how communities of color are the most affected by pollution. I thought of Boyle Heights, where I grew up, which is surrounded by freeways and adjacent to factories. I thought of the cement-covered LA River, and of the difficulties my community faces in accessing healthy food and open green space. Chavez’s analysis of power and his dedication to organizing made me feel the responsibility to organize and look at power structures in my own life. And this was the dawn of my professional career as an organizer; I want to know that I am active in reminding my community that we have power when we organize.

Cesar Chavez once said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” This comment has stayed with me through my career, from my years as an education-focused organizer to present day.

I learned a lot in my time working with parents in my previous positions as a parent advocate, community organizer, and project manager for community gardens. Many of the parents I worked with were immigrants from Latin America, and I distinctly recall a nostalgia for the nature of their homeland. They shared how they raised their own food and grew up playing outdoors. Many lamented that their children would not experience a childhood in the hills, bonding with animals or simply being able to breathe fresh air. As I became friends with some of them on social media, they would marvel at my pictures of hikes. They were shocked that I could access the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains.  They had only known the San Gabriels as a faraway background or the Santa Monica Mountains as a place in which they worked for rich people but had no idea that they were public lands. I found myself spending time chatting with them about self-care by eating healthy food and the importance of spending time outdoors.  I saw the opportunity to connect our conversations on food to the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Chavez was an environmentalist who grew organic food and incorporated hikes, meditation and prayer into his daily life. His connection to nature and his regular hikes were the self-care, which provided him with strength to continue to advocate for a life with dignity. His close connection to the land and tremendous respect for nature is a reminder that the word ‘environmentalist’ takes many shapes. Being an environmentalist goes deeper than knowing where the closest organic co-op is, or staying up to date on the latest eco-trends. It’s about having respect for the environment and a willingness to care for nature in our everyday lives.

In my own life, I seek time outdoors to clear my head, to relieve the stress of city life, and to rekindle my sense of adventure. I have come to believe that access to natural spaces is essential for improving one’s quality of life. I experienced the benefits of spending time in nature in my own life, and began to share it with friends
and family. I officially  joined Latino Outdoors as a volunteer in 2015 as I felt need to increase the representations of Latinos, and, more specifically, Latinas in the outdoors. Joining Latino Outdoors has helped me embrace my culture and connect with some amazing people. Being a part of this group reminds me of Cesar Chavez outlook, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures”.
Access to nature has become a major part of my career, through advocating for an expanded Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area that would reach more Los Angeles-area communities and foster stronger connections to nature. I have no doubt that increased access to nature is beneficial for LA. I am grateful to combine my passion for conservation and preservation of history in my work.

The teachings of Cesar Chavez, by way of Mr. Duenas, had a profound impact on my life that continue to present themselves each day. Cesar Chavez is an example of someone who committed himself to organizing for an improved quality of life, while keeping his cultural practices and connecting with the environment. I am inspired to do the same as I work to connect Angelinos to public lands and preserve the great legacy of Cesar Chavez, at Cesar Chavez National Monument, and to expand his and the farmworkers’ story through sites across California and Arizona. Like Cesar Chavez, I am an environmentalist, because I believe it’s an essential part of living a better quality of life. On Cesar Chavez Day and each day forward, I will work to advocate for fair representation in our National Park System and speak up for opportunities to share the stories of Cesar Chavez and the many people who helped shape our country’s shared history. Si se puede!