“Yo Cuento Outdoors”~The Stories Of Latino Outdoors. Part 4

Originally posted on Fit Fun And

Author: Southwest Ambassador for Latino Outdoors~Josie Gutierrez

 

The stories continue from our amazing volunteers at LatinoOutdoors.

This week we have Laura Torres~Social Media Contributor in Los Angeles, CA. I met Laura a little over a year ago and her kindness and authenticity is what drew me to her. Here is Laura’s story on her connections to the Outdoors.

Laura Torres~Social Media Contributor Los Angeles, CA

What are your earliest memories with a connection to nature?

My earliest memory of the outdoors is connected to living in Georgia and having fruit trees, growing some veggies, and a pond within walking distance of our home. It was great to have access to fresh fruits, especially when they were used to make dessert! I would also feed fish in the pond throughout the year and go fishing once they were big. My mom cleaned them and cooked them. Food is very important in my family and I think the Latino Culture in general. There were only two other Latino families in our community at that time and that we knew, and sharing food is one way we bonded.

What is your story in the outdoor space?

My story is one of learning to connect with Nature wherever I am. Whether I am in a rural space or a sprawling city. I have spent most of my life in Los Angeles and know firsthand the benefits and needs of regular access to nature. Making time to connect to nature is a priority. I am fortunate to currently work as the Field Representative for the National Parks Conservation Association. This allows me to connect with others in advocating for the protection of Natural Resources, increased access to the outdoors for everyone and increased representation of Latino Heritage in the National Park System. Volunteering with Latino Outdoors allows me to contribute to increased Latino Representation in the Outdoors and support other developing leaders on outings.

Photo credit- Laura Torres

What is it that makes the Outdoors so special to you?

It’s the place in which I feel most free, most at peace and humbled. I have a connection to the outdoors, as my place of grounding, my place of creativity, and my place of building memories with my partner. A place to reconnect with friends and family. Every day I am thinking of the need for supporting others in building their own unique connection to the outdoors.

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

I think about how my ancestors had a daily connection to the outdoors, that is far beyond my current connection. Nature is culturally and historically present in celebrations, survival and spiritual practice. By connecting with the outdoors I am active in strengthening my relationship and understanding of the earth. My Latinx identity goes beyond the snacks or clothes I wear when outdoors. It’s connected to supporting my community to have more access to the outdoors. “It’s connected to pushing my self to be in spaces that have predominantly been occupied by white males”. It is also about taking the time to learn about the native communities in an area I am enjoying and looking at the plants and researching on their multiple functions. I have much more to learn about my indigenous roots, while also learning how to take my nature adventures to the next level. It’s about making time to develop my relationship with the outdoors at my own pace and on my own terms. I started using Instagram to make sure I was being seen and that I could see others like myself in the outdoors. It was a way to connect and support each other. I think it is a great tool to feel empowered and have self-representation. I think it is working because I am starting to see mainstream media pay attention and acknowledge a need to include more diversity communities in our public lands and open spaces. I see myself “counting” as both a privilege and a responsibility. I have the privilege to have access to transportation to the great outdoors, having access to information and a basic understanding on how to prepare for the outdoors including securing permits when needed so that I can enjoy some truly magical places. I also have the responsibility to engage my representatives in issues of access to public lands and long term protection of natural resources.

Photo Credit-Laura Torres

How is this represented in the community around you?

I see that there is a growing interest in open spaces. many are starting their connection with the outdoors as a form of recreation and are willing to learn how they can not only bring others but also protect the local and national outdoor spaces. I am happy to see more meet-ups for hiking and seeing them expand. Among my friends, family and community I see an increase in yearly camping trips. I am also participating in conversations about the importance of more diversity regarding environmental education, health benefits and policy to keep our open spaces protected and accessible.

Why does what you do matter so much to you?

On a selfish note, I go kind of crazy when I don’t have regular access to nature, it’s my healthcare. I want access to nature in a fun and fulfilling way to be a given for my community. If I have children I want them to have beautiful, magical spaces to grow in and to have an opportunity to continue connecting with our heritage. It’s the best way to rest and refuel.

Photo credit-Laura Torres

Favorite hike to date and why?

My favorite hike was in Pinnacles National Park January 2016. It was my first over 3 mile solo hike in a new place. I usually hike with my friends or partner. This day I hiked a little over 6 miles in a trail that looped. This was on a whim while driving up to Pescadero to visit a friend that works on a farm. On the way up I took a detour. I had never visited the park before and only recently realized it existed. I thought this would be a great way to test my map skills and made sure I had my ten essentials and most importantly, checked in with my partner so he was aware of my location and hike. It felt great to know I had the freedom to be spontaneous. I was transitioning from one job to another and this was a great time to reflect and sow intentions for my career. This allowed time for myself and provided much increased confidence.

Favorite park and why?

My favorite place is Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca, Mexico. This is a magical place! It’s the place where my mother and I hiked together for the first time. It’s a beautiful place and knowing that I am getting a tiny glimpse of the beauty of my Mom’s home state fills me with pride. This deepened my connection with my Mother. When she agreed to go with me I felt she was showing me trust and openness to building a healthier relationship. The park is full of natural elements I love, a majestic view of mountains, water to take a dip in and relax and an interesting mix of plants including agaves and cacti. It is a place that reminds me of my ancestors and their connections to nature. Visiting Hierve el Agua was a long time desire I had. I was undocumented for over twenty years so when I finally gained legal status and went to visit in 2010 it was truly magical. 

I love sharing these stories. Thank you Laura for not only being a beautiful friend but for also believing that you can and doing so as well. You are smart, sweet and inspiring Chica and I can’t wait for your next Texas trip.

Fitfunand … Afuera!


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

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Why We Need a National Monument Designation

By Miché Lozano

 

My first visit to the Canyon 18 years old

When I turned 18 years old I asked my family to take me to the Grand Canyon for the first time. I had always wanted to visit, but despite living in the same state as the Grand Canyon, traveling was an expense that my family could rarely afford. Until my first visit to the canyon that year, I had never truly understood the meaning of the word vast. I fell in love with the depth and the beauty of the canyon. The Earth’s rough history is exposed in the layers of geologic time for all to marvel at. I swore to myself that I’d return. Since then, I’ve hiked around the canyon numerous times and I love taking people there for their first times as well. This fall, Ecoflight gave me the opportunity to fly over the Grand Canyon in a small aircraft and to see the canyon from an entirely new perspective.

EcoFlight educates and advocates for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat through experiential learning, which utilizes small aircraft to immerse people in the world of conservation. I was asked to be a part of their program, to speak on behalf of Latino Outdoors and share stories of my personal experiences with Latino Outdoors.

My goal was to help the students understand how different people experience the outdoors and how to include more perspectives, making space for folks from different backgrounds in conservation work. My colleague, Sarah Ponticello was also involved in the program; she was advocating on behalf of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (GGCHNM), which will protect the canyon’s currently unprotected lands for future generations to enjoy. Sarana Riggs from the Grand Canyon Trust and Jason Nez, a National Park Service archeologist, spoke to the group about the movement: Save the Confluence. Both Sarana and Jason are Diné (Navajo) and they provided their perspectives of the dilemmas that proposed construction of a tram and tourist resort at the sacred site would cause.

The Confluence is the sacred site where the bright blue waters of the Little Colorado River meet the Colorado River. The Navajo and Hopi have origin stories tied to the Confluence, they are deeply connected to what this place represents to them spiritually.

Although each of us had different agendas and prioritized some of the countless issues impacting the Grand Canyon in different ways, we all understand that this place is in need of protection. Having a National Monument designation added to this natural wonder is essential to the protection of its precious natural and cultural resources.

To be completely honest, flying over the Grand Canyon was never on my bucket list because it just seemed so unattainable. It’s one of those touristy things only rich people do, right? I try to make a conscious effort not to be elitist or resentful when I see other people enjoying the same things I enjoy. But I’ll be heading in on the Kaibab trail with a backpack ready to go hike the canyon for a few hours, then I’ll see all the people standing on the rim taking selfies and think to myself you’re not going in? You’re just gonna take photos of yourself? Really? Aggressively rolling my eyes.

I guess I like to think that experiencing the harshness of the canyon has altered the way I like to experience it: the perpetually dry heat, the spiny plants with their flowery secrets, and long hours of hiking and getting to know my friends while enveloped in the canyon’s embrace. Experiencing the canyon’s harsh features, venturing through its rugged terrain, builds character and I really like that. I did the “tourist” thing when I was 18 and visited for the first time. I just took pictures at the rim and wandered down a few switchbacks, that was it. It was beautiful and I remember enjoying it, but nowhere near the extent to which I appreciate it now. I wonder if those people on the rim get out much, I wonder if taking pictures on the rim is the most time they’ll spend outdoors. Now, everyone’s experience is different and I bet we all think that our way is the best way to experience the outdoors, until we try something new.

So there I am. I’m sitting in the cockpit of a small aircraft – taking selfies – and we’re taking off to fly over the Grand Canyon and I don’t know if I want to throw up from the sheer excitement or from the nausea that comes from flying.
We flew over the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the Grand Canyon and I watched the tall ponderosa pines that blanket the landscape slowly blurring into a sea of green. There was no reference point for perspective, you just have to take it all in and it’s incredible. The Grand Canyon is BIG. I mean it’s really, really BIG. I was literally flying over it and I still couldn’t see all of it. I thought I knew the meaning of Vast from my first visit to the canyon, but this was different, an entirely new feeling, once again I was immersed in an overwhelming sense of wonder. 

To a regular tourist who is not from the area or involved with all the political turmoil that surrounds the canyon, this view is breathtaking. But for people like myself and the other activists who were involved in EcoFlight’s program, I think this flight was something truly special. There it was. Everything that we want to protect, everything we are fighting for through policies, conferences, and petitions. The history of the Earth exposed by the famous Colorado River that sliced its way through the layers of ancient rock, allowing us to read into our past. The ancestral lands of the many indigenous people like the Navajo whose identities are deeply woven into that land. All of it, from a Condors’ eye view. The following photograph stirs a lot of emotions within me. Just south of the Grand Canyon (which is out of view) is a Uranium mine under the shadow of a sacred site known as Red Butte, on the horizon is the San Francisco Peaks mountain range (another sacred site); home to the highest point in Arizona just north of Flagstaff.

Two sacred sites and a uranium mine all in the same photo

 

The eye-sore you see here is a uranium mine.

 

The Navajo and Hopi are their own sovereign nations, but that hasn’t stopped the historical abuse of their land. Our own government has painfully often prioritized resource extraction on Navajo and Hopi land—adding to the history of broken promises since the first treaties were signed.It also reinforced the different perspectives the government and tribal communities had in regards to land. A sacred site is disregarded for its economic value as an extractable resource. . The same uranium used to fuel the cold war and generate energy for our society inflicted tremendous cultural loss and suffering on the people of the Navajo and Hopi nations for generations. The number of threats from uranium mining claims that could be validated in the near future is staggering, including jeopardizing the water source for over 30 million people who rely on the Colorado River and indigenous groups will likely suffer the worst of those repercussions. It’s scary stuff.

I won’t go too into detail about the history of mining activities and the environmental racism that has occurred and is still happening, but I will say that contemporary relationships between natural resource agencies and indigenous groups are sometimes strained because of that painful history. Luckily, I think times are changing and people are looking at the past with disdain and feeling hopeful about moving forward into a future of improved relationships with both the land and its indigenous people.

With the breath-taking view of Grand Canyon behind me, I spoke to the group of students in EcoFlight’s program about Latino Outdoors and our collective efforts to create opportunities for Latinx communities to access the outdoors and re-connect our culture with the land. I enjoy public speaking, but I was really intrigued by the curiosity and passion the students demonstrated during their experience. I also learned so much information I never knew from the other speakers, like the issues revolving around the Confluence and all the hope people were putting behind the national monument proposal.

Sarah Ponticello speaking to the students from EcoFlight about the GGCHNM

If the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument comes into fruition it will:

  1. Permanently protect 1.7 million acres of land that surround Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining.
  2. Permanently protect the entire Grand Canyon, its rich cultural and ecological heritage, archaeological sites, and waters sacred to Native American communities throughout the region.

Flying over the Canyon was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I got to see the confluence for the first time and my understanding of the word vast was rejuvenated with a healthy dose of amazement. Let’s say I do get a second chance to fly over the canyon, I would definitely go for it!

I would just hate to fly over the Grand Canyon and see it peppered with mining operations and obnoxious tourist attractions that have total disregard for the validity of Native American culture and their sacred sites. I think the intrinsic value of the Grand Canyon is much too important to allow such desecration.