Latino Outdoors Interview: A Conversation with Claudio Rodriguez


Tell us your story –  What is your connection to the land and conservation?

In a conch shell, I’m from South Side Tucson, Arizona and my journey began when my mom traveled from Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca to Nogales, Sonora where she worked in a maquiladora, she met my father who was an albañil, at the age of two the border crossed me, I learned choppy English in elementary, learned about guns and drugs in middle school, in high school I really learned my colors, I learned a different type of sign language. After being a trouble maker for a good while dodging bullets and ducking the law, I started losing friends. One friend in particular really impacted me, my best friend whom I lost through gang violence. After this I remembered conversations I had with him and he told me I was smart and I should go to school, after all the memories and liquor passed through my mind I decided it was time to enroll in community college, after a year in college a girl invited me to a community garden by the name of Tierra Y Libertad, I would say that I would go and I never showed up and I eventually gave in, so I showed up one Saturday morning in the fall, I walked to the address provided and I had this imagination of vegetables, trees, tomatoes and chickens but when I arrived there wasn’t anything but a dirt backyard, and I asked where the garden was and the response I got was, “we’re going to create it.” Tierra Y Libertad was a grassroots group in the south side of Tucson that talked about healthy food, gardening, and environmental justice. It saved my life and I thought they were crazy when I met them, I eventually became crazy myself. Now I create gardens in homes, schools and community centers. I have found my purpose, something the world needs, something I love, something I’m good at, something I can get paid to do, and something that makes my mother proud. Now I find myself working with kids creating food justice trough their little hands. Because it’s more than growing vegetables, it’s about seeing the magic when their eyes blow up and their smiles glow when they pull up their first carrot or taste their first cherry tomato, it’s about changing the environment that we live in, making our dreams our reality and it’s about creating value to our lives. Through mother earth we learn respect, value and humility. And of course if we ever run into each other I can tell you a gang(← did you catch the pun jaja) of stories that will make you laugh, wonder and maybe cry.


How is this connection celebrated/expressed and understood/misunderstood in your community and culture—in the broader conservation community?

The green movement has created a belief that people of color do not care for the environment when that’s what our culture is all about! We are reflections of our realities and its time to change our realities, lets make the hood healthy, we express our needs and dreams through hood clean ups, art, fiestas, ceremonies. Sometimes we do have neighbors or friends who say, “Why you got to be such a tree hugger” obviously I’m quoting a nice version of this. Eventually what we do rubs off on people because conservation work or sustainability work doesn’t have to be super literal or linear. In society we are told to be a cholo is a bad thing but when we look at history and our language cholo is an “aztequismo” derived from the nahuatl work xolotl wich is the dog that guides us to next world in our passing. In my journey as an eco-cholo I have heard stories of nanas referring to the homeboys who would protect the barrio from anyone wanting to do harm us. So a cholo is a protector, I am proud to be a cholo, to bring back ways to not only protect the neighborhood from drive-bys but also drive-thrus. I love talking to youngsters about being green and what it really means to take care of the hood, about what it takes to be an enVATOmentalist. And don’t get me wrong this work is not only pertaining to the barrio but also to our mountains, to our rivers, to our rains. We do everything we can to show anyone willing to learn about our desert medicines, how to conserve the rain, how to ask permission before stepping on a mountain, we need to bring back our connection as indigenous people back into our daily life, because if we don’t we will just end up being conquistadores with no soul, no respect and no understanding of the connection that everything holds.


Latino/Chicano identities are connected to the outdoors, the environment, and conservation—how are those words reflective of YOU, how is it expressed, what does it look like?

First off I’m Mexicano, a paisa and a cholo, I feel like I could never identify as a latino or hispano because I come from the people of the clouds, I’m a Zapoteca, from my mothers blood, from my mothers food, from my mothers love. When I look at my farthest relatives that I still had a connection with they speak about farming and raising animals and how they would converse with the plant nation, everything was treated with respect.
Our outdoors happens as soon as we look out or step out of the door of our home, what do we see, what do we smell and what do we hear. The outdoors and our environment are our reality, I live in the hood where hipsters in chanclas would get stung by haroin needles, were sex workers run business up and down the street and homefree people harvest tunas from the near by empty lot. But this is my environment and I feel safe in it.
My wife and I just recently came back from our honeymoon trip exploring the outdoors of Arizona in respects to national parks and monuments. I got to see beautiful site from Montezuma’s castle, the Petrified Forest, antelope canyon and many more before reaching the Grand Canyon. Our experience was a little crazy by the end of the trip I was just in awe of how everything was described with Eurocentric lenses, even when there was a chance to show a glimpse of native knowledge it was still white washed. As a brown man who hardly leaves his city (big step because before I wouldn’t even leave my barrio) it was amazing to witness the ignorance many people carried with them, from “ugly looking injuns” to white males being the first to have laid eyes on the magnificent wonders of nature when clearly there has been ceremonies carried out at all these sites for millions of years. (I’m not an archeologist). Other than that I fell in love with the mountains, the rock formations, the water that cut through rocks to make beautiful rivers and streams. Night skies are definitely beautiful when your with the love of your life.


What needs to change and how do we grow, celebrate, and have the broader conservation movement connect with the role and values Latinos bring to the field?

I think one of the biggest changes that I see Latino Outdoors doing is education and leading by example, that we as a people belong in the outdoors, to return to our mother, to learn from her. One thing that my wife and I noticed on our trip was that there were not many people of color working in national parks and that’s a change that I would love to see! Personally I would like to have a guideline on how to be in the outdoors like what to take and what to be aware of. I think we feel like we need hiking boots or fancy backpacks to be out here but we are hiking in chucks and dickies and we need to know that that’s ok too. It also cost money to enter some of the parks and I understand the need for that money but when a family is dealing with a low income the outdoors seem quite out of reach and we have to work harder to bring it within reach. Also as local Latino/Chicano/indigenous organizations wherever you are, you need to get in contact with outdoor organizations, the conservation groups, the people who are making decisions because we need to be at that table if not we are going to be on their menu, but never forget that you have to build your own table too because if not you’ll just be picking up their plates. Always make it fun, at least that what we strive for, make people feel welcomed and appreciated but y’all do this already.
Why does this issue and work matter to you?

It matters to me because I need my kids to be able to hike, run and swim in the forest, in the valleys and in the canyons. I need my kids to go with their mother to harvest herbs, go hunting and fishing with their uncles. There are things that can be measured that don’t matter and things that matter that can’t be measured. Our environment is immeasurable, pictures cannot do justice to the real beauty and magical feeling one gets from being in the middle of nature. We are surrounded by concrete too much that we forget the health benefits of going on hikes, eating wild foods, breathing fresh air. I mean don’t get me wrong I love the roar of a work truck but that noise will never compare to the roar of a mountain lion or a coyotes howl.

What does success in all this (a Chicano/Latino conservation identity, community connection, land conservation with Latino support, diversification of conservation movement, etc.) look like to you?

Success in my eyes is happiness. If we can make families or individuals happy and knowledgeable of their own backyards then I think we may be doing something right. In the work that I do in regards to urban food production I see success when a gardener does not need me any more, when they can handle it, when they know what they are doing and are growing better peppers than me. It’s about making others better, letting it all spiral into something bigger. I mean at first I was like what is Latinos Outdoors? Then I understood when I played with my own identity and messed around with Cholos Outdoors, making myself comfortable with who I was in the environment that I placed myself in. Some of the conservation work that I have partaken in has also included building with adobe, a dying art, now we are working to conserving homes in the barrio through a Mexicano lens. I wasn’t even planning on doing this but my wife pulled me in and I’m all for it.

How has work with (your organization/current project) connected to/is reflective of all this?

My work is building strong, safe and sustainable communities through urban food production. We are outside working in the dirt, creating mini eco systems in our backyard, restoring alleys and neighborhoods that the city has forgotten. Teaching youth skills that can help them start something in their home to ease the stresses of eating healthy and living healthy. We work towards changing the hood environment; a design that was meant to kill our people should motivate us to find the means to live a healthier, happier life. We are surrounded by liquor stores, fast food, and police militarization how can we not care, its our duty to act for the our generation, our generation before us and the ones that will come after us.

I want to thank Latino Outdoors and Jose Gonzales for the opportunity.


Exploring Europe and the Outdoors – By Zoraida Martínez

This past Summer I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain to finish my undergraduate classes. I had never experienced living in another country for a month and it was such a thrill to be able to do this. I have traveled to Mexico to visit family and once to England when I was 12 on a trip with my teachers and peers. When I learned about this opportunity I jumped aboard without hesitation. I had a plan of what other countries and cities to visit; summer could not come soon enough.

On arrival to Madrid it was night thus nothing was very visible but the excitement and jitters were completely present. With a quick glance of the building around, I was able to tell that things were going to be very different. For example, the dormitories in Madrid had one thing that I had never seen in the United States, different trash bins to separate and organize the trash. One trash bin was used for cardboard and other recyclables (bottles, paper, plastic), one for compost (fruit peels, left over food and such), and the other for non-recyclable trash. I really love this concept because it trains students to recycle properly even if they were not really trying. I feel that in the United States people only pretend to recycle in order to stay in the “hip and now” of generational trends with things, but that is not how it should be.

20150705_125754One thing that was very noticeable and I completely loved was that there were so many parks within walking distance from wherever you are in the city. Even the smallest monument has a park around it and it is completely open to the public. During some of the trips we took as a class we would walk and explore the parks. Even traveling to nearby cities would be an exploration day rich in culture and history. On some weekends we would walk through parks in the city and enjoy an afternoon listening to live musical bands performing in these local parks. Maybe our lives in the United States are always so busy and non-stop that we do not get to enjoy the freshness of nature or the sound of music in our local parks, but once in a while we should just take a break to take all that in. I feel that the more we spend the day in the outdoors, the more we will feel connected to what makes us happy.

Our stay in Spain, while it was a whole month, felt completely short. I was fortunate enough to travel on weekends to outside cities. One weekend, about half of the group decided to go to Barcelona and I was amongst them. The city was incredible and not to mention how gorgeous La Sagrada Familia is inside and out! Park Güell is incredible as well and the views it provides for our enjoyment are magnificent! The fountains, architecture and everything that the local encompasses was just an experience that I will never forget. On a different weekend I had the opportunity to travel to San Sebastian, in Northern Spain. The view of the Atlantic Ocean is amazingly breathtaking! Not to mention their food and the wine Txakoli, only produced in the grandeur of the Basque Country. Everything I saw and experienced is something that I will never forget since the Spanish country has taught me a lot of who I am.

IMG_2212After my program ended, I traveled with six others to other countries to enjoy and learn more about what Europe has been through for centuries. The first country on the list was Italy where we visited Rome and Venice.  The sites are incredible in both cities! I had never imagined being able to see old architecture first hand like I did there and making these amazing monuments available to the public is great. Getting around the cities was very efficient due to the well thought-out transportation system. Even when there was heavy traffic in public transportation it was not a problem to get around by foot because most of the tourist attractions were within walking distance. Seeing ancient ruins has always fascinated me and learning about cultures and how they made their civilizations grow has made me fall in love with archeology over and over again. Why I never pursued this degree is beyond me, but my love for it is always there. One thing I completely loved is that the airport in Venice is powered by solar energy! More than half of the power comes from the sun and it is amazing to see how much other countries are moving forward with green energy.

The next country was France where we only visited Paris! As a girl coming from a big city and never really using public transportation, I thought that the transportation system was great. We used the trains all the time to get everywhere and when we felt even more adventurous, we would walk to sights that we wanted to see, even when they were miles away. I feel that walking to places gets people to see the city on a more personal level as apposed to zooming by on a train. The Eiffel Tower was everything and more! We even had the chance to visit the Palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris. The gardens are astonishing! We walked all day and ended up rowing a boat in the small lake at Versailles. I am excited to see what the UN conference will bring here next year! With the amount activities and locals in this amazing city, we did not want to leave, but the United Kingdom was calling our names.

IMG_3323The United Kingdom is a country that has always interested me. Since the first time I visited this country as a little girl, I fell in love with it! London was our landing port and we immediately got to exploring the vast city. The weather was beautiful refreshing compared to the heat of the previous cities. A light sweater was enough for us to keep of comfortable in the cool breeze of this cloudy city. The second day in the country we decided do a trip to Windsor Castle, Roman Bath, and Stonehenge. Although I have been to Bath and Stonehenge before, it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is. Walking around the castle in Windsor we saw peaceful gardens that were perfect to walk in and have a picnic at any time of the day. What can I say about Stonehenge? Nothing I can say will ever do its beauty justice. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I know that I would go back in an instant if I had the chance. It has a serene feeling to it that I can relax and just think and reflect with nothing but an majestic view in front of me.

Our last country was Ireland and I knew from the moment we landed that I was going to return one day to this country. The people were friendly and very welcoming to us everywhere we went. It was not difficult to get around the city and here we decided to walk everywhere since we wanted to take in the entire city of Dublin. The history of the sites we saw was amazing to me and the history of how many people had to leave their country because of a famine, broke my heart. We went to the west coast to see the Cliffs of Moher and let me say that I was completely mesmerized by the beauty nature has created. I was amazed by how much people in this country love tourists and to me this is what gets people to return. There is one thing that was unnatural to me because our appliances are different and their dryers had something unusual. The house in which we stayed had a dryer that would collect the moisture from the wet clothes in a container and one would have to physically empty out the container. I loved this idea because the water that collects can be used to water the garden, whereas in the United States the dryers evaporate the water or shoot it down the drain. I am completely in love with this country and I know I will return one day.

My trip was short but it is one that I will stay with me forever. The entire month and a half that I was abroad was an experience that I will forever cherish because of everything that I learned and saw. I loved all the sites and locations. I loved every country, every culture, and all the new things that I learned about all the places. I know that I will return to all the countries one day and I will travel vastly to explore all the beautiful places this planet has to offer. The outdoors, open spaces, parks, and land as it relates to cultural heritage is something I will always cherish every place I go.


Zoraida Martínez ~ Ambassador



Science as a Tool for Connecting Latino Youth to Nature ~Andres Esparza~

As I sit here at my desk in Colorado, back from a Summer spent teaching in Yosemite, I’m left staring at a map on the wall in front of me. It is a topographic map of Yosemite Valley, a place that I called home for the past 7 years. While this map is only a 2 dimensional representation of a Valley full of waterfalls, wildlife, meadows, soaring Granite cliffs and the Merced River; it is still a reminder of why I love this place and others like and how much they mean to all of us. It also serves a reminder that this place, like so many others like it, exists for ALL of us. The lessons learned and memories forged in these natural wonders transcend any ethnic boundaries and instead unite us in our love and appreciation of our public lands.

I have been fortunate to have worked in Yosemite National Park since Fall 2008. During that time, I worked for NatureBridge (then Yosemite Institute) as an environmental educator connecting students to their public lands. I was able to teach them ecology through hands on experiences in the river, forests and meadows, teach them about leadership and self-reliance, bolster their self-confidence and create meaningful and long lasting connection to their public lands in an effort to create a sense of stewardship and appreciation of the natural world.

One special program I was able to take part in this past Summer was called the Field Research Course (FRC). It is a 2 week experience for high school students from all over the country who show an interest in the sciences and public lands and are interested in pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. Students arrive on a Sunday and spend the first 3 days at our Crane Flat campus getting to know one another, learning about the scientific process and what it means for park management, and getting geared up for 9 days of backpacking! When we finally depart for the backpacking portion of the FRC, students spend the first 2 days learning how to backpack which means setting up tents, sleeping outside, cooking on a small backpacking stove, reading maps and so many other things. After the initial couple days of madness, things settle down and we get to start exploring our true purpose out there. While out backpacking, students are expected make observations and come up with testable hypothesis about the natural environmental around them. The rest of the expedition is spent collecting data based on their questions and starting to think about what it all means. Finally, we all return to the Crane Flat campus and students compile and analyze their data and create presentations of their scientific findings for fellow students, staff, park employees, friends and family.

One of the FRC students investigating the relationship between macroinvertbrates and decomposing trees.

One of the FRC students investigating the relationship between macroinvertbrates and decomposing trees.

The reason I go into so much detail about this particular program is because it is one of many new and innovative programs popping up all around the country aimed at creating meaningful and long lasting connections between our youth and our public lands. As our county’s demographics change, so does our understanding and expectations of our nation’s public lands. It is up to us to keep pace with this change.

Gone are the days of public lands existing outside of the everyday lives of those living in the city. Now, more than ever, we are being bombarded by messages of public land sell-off’s, toxic mining spills into rivers and political battles over how to best use public lands. We have entered into a new era of conservation, one that goes beyond the Muir vs. Pinchot battle of Preservation vs. Conservation, and instead should be called the era of “Complexity Awareness”. It is an era in which we must take into account all the complexities of living in an intimately linked society and all the effects we have on the “downstream”.

As we move into a world where our everyday action have more and more impact on the natural world, how do we more forward in a sustainable manner?

That is the job of the next generation. They will be the ones who make laws that protect our natural resources, promote sustainable living infrastructures and create a better ecological future for everyone. However it is up to us to give them the support and guidance necessary to make that change.

One of the FRC students enjoying the High Country of Yosemite N.P. on the expedition.

One of the FRC students enjoying the High Country of Yosemite N.P. on the expedition.

I was lucky enough to have a very diverse group of young adults on my FRC trips this Summer. It was through the excitement and passion these diverse young adults that I was assured that the future is in the right hands. These students, who came from a variety of cultural backgrounds, were all here to learn about the Yosemite ecosystem, how science can inform management practices and ultimately, how they can exist in harmony with these and other natural treasures.

According to the US census, in 2050, Hispanics will account for 30% of the US populations. As a member of a group that will account for a third of the US population within my lifetime, I am hopeful that we, as a community, will pass on to our youth a love and appreciation of our natural world. I urge you all to share those special places you hold near and dear with someone close to you. That way, we, as Latinos, will share a legacy of love and appreciation for the land.


-Latino Outdoors Ambassador

Andres Esparza

Western Slope Colorado Region