#VamosOutdoors- A Home Where I Am Me

The Outdoors Is A Home Where I Am Me


Family Campout in Alicia East Campground, Mt. Tamalpais, CA. Photo Credit: Jose Gonzalez.

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with REI to support Latino Outdoors’ #VamosCamping & #VamosOutdoors–and invite our community to enjoy our public lands and outdoor spaces. All opinions, thoughts, and musings are my own. -Jose Gonzalez

I have often shared that some of my most memorable outdoor experiences have been among the redwoods, from the giants at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, to the intimate community of Muir Woods National Monument. Consistently, the term that came to mind was the magical realism associated with Latin American literature.  I would think…these giants existthey are real—but with a sense of hyper-realism or maybe so unreal that they are so magical. They are living breathing giants, fantasy materialized. They are telling me so much in this silence if I listen attentively—I am not just looking at trees here. Layers of connection happen with all the senses and emotions as I walk around them. I am not just visiting a park to see things on display. I am connecting with myself in mind and spirit—a restorative experience. I learn about the place and myself and these elders have a story—a long life over so many human histories.  And all these connections, between nature and culture make me feel welcome and I think of how the outdoors connects with my ideas of home.

Home is where my ancestors and elders greet me

Home is not just where my immediate family is. My culture is deeply intergenerational and I’ve often lived in a home where my grandparents have raised me, where my aunts and uncles are ever present, but also where my elders from past generations still stop by to give advice or simply are present in the family space. So when I’m outdoors and I look at a family of redwoods, sequoias, or oaks, these are elders and ancestors as well— similar as those of Native American communities, where familiar spirits are present in these outdoors spaces. When I am connected to that in the outdoors, I am home.


Olompali State Historic Park, Novato, CA. Photo credit: Jose Gonzalez.


Home is where my familia welcomes me

Although the outdoors is a nurturing and healing space for solitary endeavors—often a place to “get away from it all” and quietly reflect by one self, to me home is also where my familia is present, in many senses of the word. Like many others, I do enjoy some personal space to be and reconnect with myself, but my community has raices in creating family in social spaces and the outdoors is and should be no different. Home is where the parents and the children play together and where families can be together to create a larger family of cultural familiarity and comfort. Home is where the campground feels no different than the plaza of my hometown, the cocina of my abuela, or me sitting with my parents on the front lawn, catching up on how the primos and tias are doing.


Family Campout at Alice Eastwood Campground, Mt. Tamalpais, CA. Photo by Alicia Cruz, Latino Outdoors Regional Coordinator.

Home is where my cultura sings to me

Beyond my family, home is where culture is blended with the space such that it does not feel like such extremely different spaces. Yes, some of the activities may be different but HOW we do them can still be very familiar. It is where beans are soaking near the campfire stove and where hot chocolate comes in the form of Abuelita or Ibarra tablets. It is where Chespirito, Chapulin Colorado, Cholula, and chanclas are mixed with leave-no-trace principles, proper tent setup, and countless naturalist quotes. It is where the table cover around which we will gather for a meal—in its resplendent array of color—will have come from Mexico or Peru. And yes, it is where the homemade salsa will be on that tabletop or someone will be asking who brought the Tapatio bottle.


Hiking Leadership module at Fernandez Ranch, John Muir Land Trust, Martinez, CA. Photo credit: Jose Gonzalez.

Home is Where I am Me

I am an immigrant from Mexico. I am an English Language Learner. I am a former Migrant student. I am the oldest of all my siblings and the first in my family to go to college. I grew up poor as my parents did their best to provide for us in a new country. My story is like that of many others and what my home was growing up was no different than countless others who followed a similar path. But I grew to love and understand the idea of “the Outdoors” in this new country, and advocate for a multifaceted view and interaction with nature and our public lands. Hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities became as comfortable and familiar as quinceañeras, bautizos, and posadas. This is important because it was powerful to realize I could function competently and comfortably in what could have been two seemingly disparate cultures. I began to explore the idea of being “ambicultural”— not just bicultural — a role in which I could leverage both my “Latino” culture and identity and my growing “outdoors” culture and identity to be me and be of service to my community. This was important because both places mattered to me and I did not want to leave my cultura at the trailhead or have my outdoor adventures be labeled as “another white thing he does”. Now I proudly take my huaraches to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or by the campfire at a local state park as we gather to make s’mores and others have their night cafecito con pan dulce.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Jose Gonzalez.

Home is where we’ll pitch tent, where we camp, where we hit the trail, where we’ll look up at the countless stars and where we will greet el sol, Tonatiuh. Because we bring home with us, not just packed in our daypack or car trunks, but also packed in our minds and hearts, to be shared with each other.  When we say “Vamos Camping” we are creating the space to take home with us. That is a reality and aspiration that should be within reach of anyone that loves and enjoys the outdoors regardless of their background. If home is where the heart is, then we can make home anywhere, and the outdoors should be no exception.


Photo credit: Graciela Cabello.


Jose Gonzalez is the Founder of Latino Outdoors. 

Julian’s Adventure at Kirby Cove

By Juan Telles

LO California, Central Valley Regional Coordinator



“This week, I had the pleasure of taking my five-year-old son camping for the first time. This post is dedicated to him.”


Julian (aka Little Tigre) is a wild child; his imagination takes him to places that usually involve anything minecraft, zombies, sharks and dinosaurs. His outdoor experience has been, mainly, in our urban parks, trails, and day-hikes in nature. His favorite activity is collecting rocks and sticks to take home. His passion for sticks and stones consequently lead our family and friends to find little treasures in the nooks of our homes and the compartments of our vehicles. He is curious, energetic, and always ready for adventure. Camping with Little Tigre has been something on my to-do list for quite some time. I was inspired by many things to make this happen for my little tiger. More specifically, camping with Chasqui Mom in early May at The Latino Outdoors Campout Conference, the newfound confidence in my outdoor skills, and a new book I bought at The Children & Nature Network Conference, “Vitamin N” by Richard Louv—motivated me to create this opportunity for Little Tigre. Thus, an inspired dad jumped at the opportunity to camp at Kirby Cove in The Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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We camped with Julian’s Tio Orlando and Tio Clay. These men helped me introduce a new experience to the young nature lover. Upon arrival, we all struggled to set up our tents. The confusion lied in the fact that the tents had been recently purchased, and we had not assembled them prior to our trip.  After an hour, our camp was set, and we explored the site. Venturing around the recreation area gave us three different types of chills: the temperature, wind, and mist gave us the cold chills (This was a world of difference from the Central Valley climate of 100 degree heat.), the beautiful sights gave us the awe-inspired chills, and we all felt the serenity of the space fill our bodies with a relaxation (insert hashtag) chill. I knew Julian was having fun; his main activity consisted of collecting sticks and yelling out, “BANANAS” at random. Now, if you were to ask me, I would not have an answer as to why. However, I could only guess that it meant that he was winning at life. He was bonding with his uncles and father in a very absurdly, amazing way.


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We bonded around the camp-fire: lounging, making fire-sticks, and cooking amazing food like the asada pictured.


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We bonded as nature explorers: on the trail, on the beach, and admiring the features of our surroundings.


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Strengthened the bond between a boy and his elders.



The camp adventure fulfilled something in Lil Tigre. He accomplished feat after feat. He battled the raccoons that threatened to take his food and rip his tent. He found so many sticks and a treasure chest. He slept outside for two nights. When asked about his favorite part, Julian joyfully responds that his favorite activities were, “Eating and making fire.”


Our time at Kirby Cove was epic. I can only hope our next adventure is just as amazing.

For more from Juan Telles, visit him at @onetelles  IG – Snapchat – Twitter


Cesar Chavez Taught Me to Love Climbing Mountains ~by Caro Garcia

This blog was originally posted in Caro Luevano-Garcia’s blog


I grew up in Arvin, California. This small town sits at the foot of Bear Mountain, toward the south-eastern end of the Central Valley. I recall that if it were a good year, the snow level might reach down past the foothills to the town itself, which inevitably led to an abundant display of wild flowers in the spring. In the mountains, toward the Tehachapi Pass, nuzzled into a small set of hills is Keene, the location of the United Farm Workers Union offices/compound, now a National Monument. The monument is part of a property known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz. When we went there for meetings, or to work on the property itself, or to work on boycott signs etc, it was simply called, La Paz. Beside the occasional trip to see the snow, going to La Paz was as close to going into nature as I got.

I remember the huelga days, through the eyes of a child.

I remember the rush of activity at my aunt’s home one afternoon when she announced that Cesar would be coming to the house for a meeting. I didn’t quite understand why or what for, but it was exciting. For me though, hanging out with cousins (I am the second oldest of the group) was all that mattered. The camaraderie of adults joined together by a cause would trickle down to the children, who with every passing event grew stronger in their own perception and self awareness.

I was about ten years old (1972) when I became acutely aware of what was going on and started asking questions. I learned about working conditions, wages, boycotts and fasting. I learned about fairness, basic rights, speaking out, and struggling to make life better. I learned to march in protest.

Chavez once said that, “self dedication is a spiritual experience.” He spoke of his belief that farm workers felt pride in their hard work, expertise and talent in helping crops grow to produce a bounty that ironically gentle hands would harvest to feed the world. Their work was in part a labor of love and respect for the Earth itself.
He was correct. When my family joined in the struggle for justice, I learned about the right to feel proud of who my mom and dad are, and the work they did to keep our family fed and in good health. I learned over the years that their work was more than just a paycheck. In learning to be proud of my ethnicity and culture, I learned also of racism.

I grew up knowing that the land my father managed was not ours, but that its bounty was a direct result of his dedication and commitment to the crops, and for that we could all be proud. His old truck wore a bumper sticker that read, “When you talk bad about a farmer, don’t talk with your mouth full.”

In learning that the growers finally signed contracts and that people as far away as England cared about where and how their food was grown, I learned to value my parents and their labor. Ultimately, I learned to value myself. I learned that I could do anything I wanted if I planned well, worked hard, remembered who I am, and celebrated myself accordingly. Celebrating oneself is not a naturally occurring phenomenon amongst the humble.
From Cesar I learned that we all need help sometimes (communities) and that learning from others (MLK, Gandhi) is just as smart if not smarter than trying to do it alone without input.

So when I finally accepted an invitation to go backpacking in Yosemite, an invitation I balked at for years, I jumped in with both feet. I asked questions, researched, bought equipment and most importantly, I said to myself, “Si se puede!” (I can do this!)
That said, I was like many grown ups, keenly aware of all the things that could go wrong, not the least of which was what my hair would look like after sleeping in the wild. One trip was all it took. I was hooked. But why? What is it about mountains that make us feel alive? For me, it was knowing in retrospect, at the end of it all, that in fact, I did it and I did not die.

I will not lie to you, I didn’t think of much beyond surviving that first trip. I stared down Half Dome. It was the kind of feeling you get when you stand up to a bully; a little scared, a little excited, heart racing, and looking around to see who has your back. I took pictures and when it was safe, I looked back and reflected. We were there. We did that. We saw that. We made it back. Look how far we went.
But a more meaningful change occurred within me as well. Like Cesar said, “Once chosen change begins, it cannot be reversed.” I wanted to go back. I wanted to see what else I could see, feel, touch, experience. Each trip we faced different mountains, different water crossings, different challenges. Each trip, I thought, I can do this!

I felt I was changing. I knew that in facing and conquering mountains I was conquering any doubts I had about what kind of person I am. Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” He and Cesar both knew that once a challenge was met, the challenged would be changed forever.
Being a great strategist, Cesar learned from each mistake, and each triumph. Likewise, I have learned a lesson on each trail, water crossing, pass, and mountain. Sometimes those lessons are about the trekking, about the process; how to make something happen. The lessons are about learning to get from one point to another without getting wet, slipping, falling, etc. Sometimes those lessons are more about content and meaning than process.
About community, Cesar said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them. The people that give you their food, give you their heart.” In the mountains, we share food, not only because it lightens our loads, but because it lightens our hearts as well. The community of hikers and backpackers is at once conjoined and distant. There is a respect for privacy and the sacred experience of being with oneself in the wilderness. At the same time, there is an understanding that if help is needed, help will be provided, even if its in the form of a bowl of chicken soup.

More frequently, the lessons for me are reflective, about myself. I truly am more than I think I am. I am bigger than my problems and obstacles. It’s a matter of having the courage to discover the boundaries of my own comfort zone, and then expanding them. It’s a matter of paying attention to what I say to myself when I’m doing something scary and then living the self talk. The lessons I have learned on a mountain are just as applicable in my day to day life. When I come across an injustice, I no longer fear the challenge of addressing the issue. I just plan, organize and seek assistance.

I was a lucky child in that I was able to grow up with parents, family, friends and neighbors that were part of La Causa and as a group, we grew in self pride, self worth and self determination. Learning to confront seemingly unsolvable problems with educated grace and calm, despite feeling fear and trepidation is one of the greatest lessons that can be taught to a child. It is a lesson I learned from being around Mr. Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.

But this was not the only lesson. Perhaps even more importantly, we learned that we matter. We learned that we can make our own contribution to society in whatever fashion we choose. Some of my generation of children whose parents were/ are UFW Union members have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and law enforcement officers. All have become better people through our shared knowledge that we are not powerless…that we matter. Cesar wanted that. He wanted us to know we matter so that we would be strong enough to effect change.
Now it is up to us to teach our children, and our children’s children, and our neighbors’ kids, and our kids’ friends, and pretty much anyone that will listen, that going out into the wild-unknown is good for our body, mind and soul. It’s not just about seeing the land, its also about seeing ourselves in it, a part of it. Take your kids out into the world, so that they don’t believe they belong in the periphery. Once we teach our children that we belong to the world and the world belongs to us; once we teach them that we all matter, we secure their future of inclusion. Once they feel included, they will feel empowered to effect change; to be the change.
When the mountains call they whisper, “Teach the children to love climbing mountains.” Pass it on.

César E. Chávez National Monument, Keene, CA
César E. Chávez Foundation