Self-Preservation in the Outdoors

By Alejandro Granados

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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.

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Alejandro Granados is a Central Valley native. Lover of literature, language, and changing the face of the outdoors.


Taking Flight: Part 2 by Veronica Padula

 

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Looking for waterbirds in the Florida Everglades I learned how to drive an airboat in the process

This is part 2 of 3. If you missed the first one you can find it here.

 

Taking Flight: Part 2

Here’s the thing, I did not necessarily grow up “in nature”. I grew up in a city in New Jersey, played indoor sports (fencing, not exactly your typical sport), and my main experience of the outdoors was going down the shore with my parents and hanging out on the beach or riding my bike with my dad along the boardwalk. I had never gone camping, never learned how to build a proper fire, never even seen a shooting star. So choosing a major that focused on nature, and then registering for a five-week field course at the Biosphere II in Arizona the summer after my freshman year of college meant I was taking huge steps out of my comfort zone.

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I helped teach a field ecology course in Belize last year. Had to take the snorkeling selfie.

But I was ready to learn and experience new things, and boy did I learn and experience what seemed like a million new things in those short five weeks. I learned how to be out in nature – by the time the course ended I could hike many miles, pitch a tent, and pull cactus spines from my skin (I may have lost a battle with an agave cactus during one hike). I learned how to identify birds and reptiles and mammals and plants. I learned what an ecosystem was. I loved considering how all the bits and pieces – organic and inorganic, microscopic and giant – of a particular ecosystem are interconnected, how they each play an integral role to keep the system functioning. I learned that humans were really good at altering landscapes. I learned what it meant to be a conservationist and environmentalist. And perhaps, most importantly, I learned that this was the type of work I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Oh, and I saw lots of shooting stars…

Well, wanting to study the environment and work outdoors is a bit different from the morgue, no? That first field course in Arizona awakened something in me and was the start of a crazy wonderful journey that continues today. The passion for the environment, the love for all the plants and animals, and the desire to explore all corners of the earth took me by surprise. Took my friends and family by surprise too, I think. Like I said, I didn’t necessarily grow up the outdoorsy type. But the natural world fascinated me and continues to fascinate me. I realized that science did not just happen at a lab bench or in a hospital. Science also happened outdoors, and I could pursue a career doing science outside.

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I spent two summers working on Alaska’s North Slope. We used a float plane to get around, it was spectacular.

Over the past decade (a little more than a decade at this point I guess) I have been figuring out exactly what kind of scientist I am. So many options. Ecology? Geology? Biology? Climatology? And those are just umbrella terms, with countless specialties within each of those fields. Throughout college I tried to seize any opportunity to be outside studying something. A geology course where we spent spring break hiking around Death Valley. An ecology course in Peru where we searched for frogs at night in the rainforest. A six month study abroad program in Australia where we explored rainforests AND coral reefs.
Among all these explorations, something did find me though… birds. During my last year of college I assisted on a black-crowned ni
ght heron project (check out the youtube videos of herons chumming in fish with pieces of bread, they are simply brilliant) in the New York-New Jersey Harbor. Birds are fascinating, and I was instantly hooked on them. Their health and well-being can tell us so much about what is happening in an ecosystem, and what could potentially be happening to the people in that ecosystem. I was also fortunate to be in the company of passionate scientists who cared deeply about their research and about the herons in the harbor, and took
the time to teach me and prepare me for a career in this field. Their enthusiasm was infectious and motivated me to continue studying birds.

They have been a constant in my life since then. They brought me to Alaska in 2007. More specifically, seabirds (marbled murrelets, they are perhaps some of the cutest birds out there) brought me to Alaska in 2007, and I essentially never left. I love Alaska, and the seabirds that call this place home. They are pretty special creatures, I often find myself wishing I was one of them when I’m watching them. I feel a deep connection to and love for the marine environment in Alaska – especially the seabirds. That is why I am currently studying them and educating other folks about them for my graduate degree. More on that in the next post…

Veronica is a Guest Contributor for Latino Outdoors and is working towards a Masters of Science in Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Anchorage/Fairbanks. If you would like to get in touch in Veronica her email is vmpadula@alaska.edu or follow her on Instagram @vmpadula.

 

Stay tuned for more!

 


Taking Flight by Veronica Padula

*This post is broken into three parts. I hope you enjoy!

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Veronica releasing a Thick-Billed Murre on St. Paul Island, Alaska.

Part 1

Ok, I have a confession… here it goes… I’m… 32 years old. Yea, that’s a hard one for me to admit. I realize some of you reading this are probably rolling your eyes at me right now because what is the big stinking deal about being 32, but stick with me. Because I’m 32 and I feel as though I’m only JUST figuring out who I am and what I want to be when I grow up. Because outside forces (read: the rest of the world) seem to tell me that I should really have my act together at this point. Because “adulting” is an art form that I have not quite mastered, although those outside forces seem to suggest that I should have mastered that art form ages ago. What exactly is adulting anyway, right? I tell myself to stop comparing my progress against what these outside forces expect progress to be. This is part of why admitting my age is difficult, I don’t exactly feel like I fit into what I believe that adult category to be just yet, I’m a little different…

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Koalas in Australia! This picture was taken at an animal sanctuary there, I was in heaven cuddling this little one

But then again, this feeling of being a little different is nothing new for me, and that feeling is something I’ve always struggled with. When I was little, I had a fleece blanket with rows of little white sheep, with one little black sheep in the bottom corner of the blanket. Guess which sheep I related to the most. I was born and raised in New Jersey, first-generation American on my mom’s side, as she and her immediate family had immigrated to the United States back in the 1970s from Uruguay, and deeply-rooted New Jersey Italian on my dad’s side, going back a couple of generations. On one side of my family, I was practically brand new to the region, and on the other side of my family I was probably related to a quarter of the people inhabiting a 20-mile radius around my house (ok, that might be an exaggeration, but it felt like that!).

Reflecting on it now, I wonder if my younger self considered this as part of why I always felt a little bit different. How did I define myself? How Latin American was I? How Italian was I? How Jersey was I? People often tell me that I don’t sound like I’m from New Jersey when I’m speaking. Have I just never had a Jersey accent because I grew up in a bilingual home, or have I really been away from Jersey for that long? But deep down inside I’d like to think I still have that tough-as-nails attitude and pride that comes with being a Jersey girl. You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl.

But seriously, how did I really define myself? Did I consider those factors back then, or are those questions I am asking myself now? I also wonder if these questions, rather than making me feel a bit different, could have united me with others. It might have taken me time to do so, but as I have opened up to other people about these topics, I have found kindred spirits with similar experiences. Why didn’t I talk about this sooner? Perhaps it takes getting older (I’m careful not to say “becoming an adult” as I do not feel as though I qualify for that just yet) to recognize the need to open up, and I have learned that many of us are similar in that we all feel just a little bit different…

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Ice fishing my first winter in Alaska. That fish was quite a catch!

Perhaps some things that stick with me most are the conversations with other first-generation Americans, and the similarities we shared in growing up first-generation American kids. Turns out many of them grew up feeling that the way to honor their parents’ sacrifices (leaving their home country, family, careers to start over, possibly moving to a place where they did not know the language, possibly traveling across dangerous borders) was to have super successful careers, with all the boxes that indicate “adulthood” checked. Seems like many of them felt themselves to be a bit different because of this desire to honor such sacrifices…

Me too. I believed my way of honoring my parents was by becoming a doctor when I grew up. As I was graduating high school, I specifically wanted to become a forensic pathologist, mostly because I watched lots of crime shows with my mom (who doesn’t love CSI or Law and Order?) and I was riveted by the things going on in the morgue. So I entered college thinking I would take the pre-med route, with just a bit of a twist. Instead of choosing Biology as my major, I chose Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology because I thought it would be cool and different to do a study abroad in the rainforest or at a coral reef. As a teenager entering college, choosing something because it seemed cool and different was totally logical. Mainly I was looking for adventure, and never really considered what I might be getting myself into. Little did I know that I’d find my life’s passion outside in nature…

 

 

 

 

Veronica is a Guest Contributor for Latino Outdoors and is working towards a Masters of Science in Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Anchorage/Fairbanks. If you would like to get in touch in Veronica her email is vmpadula@alaska.edu or follow her on Instagram @vmpadula.

 

Stay tuned for more!