Estoy Aquí- Con Gratitud Y Apreciación

Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District, CA.

In the coming weeks I hope many of you have the opportunity to enjoy time outdoors. It is one of the many ways that I hope you spend time with family, friends, peers, loved ones—or anyone that connects you to the spirit of gratitude and appreciation. The holiday season may be celebrated differently by a diversity of our communities, but I want to stress the intent of what it is for many and what it can be for all—a reminder of the light that can guides us as we continue forward, reflect on our growth, celebrate success, and be thankful for what brings us joy and harmony in our lives. These are trying times for many reflecting on the political shift from the presidential election, and the implications for the work and the communities so many of us value. We can analyze the reasons for the outcome and cast blame if so desired. But this is where we are, and it doesn’t change that it is up to all of us to provide the leadership we need for each other and where it counts. Whether in struggle, in solidarity, as allies, or in any way we can support each other, now is the time to show it in authenticity and with the right intention. Every action, however small or large, helps, from inviting a new family to experience the restorative benefits of the outdoors, to the policy work in maintaining open and equitable access to our public lands. Use your favorite quote, inspiration, or guiding principles, whatever it takes—but never forget to realize that you can actualize change and make a positive difference for someone from where you stand. Most importantly, you have the power in making a difference where you live and with what you have.

LatinXplorers in Hood River, OR. Photo by Ray Perkins.

I want to connect that to what 2016 has meant to me with the work with Latino Outdoors. I always wanted to make a difference. That is why I went into teaching, because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to my community in the way that education had given to me. I saw it as a way to pay it forward and enjoying a certain livelihood and show my parents that “I made it”. But it was still not enough. I wanted to risk forward and leave the security of a teaching position to “try this idea”—that there was an opportunity to identify, connect, and celebrate Latino leadership with the outdoors. I was looking for individuals, communities, and organizations to which I could plug in and ultimately I ended up creating what I was looking for. I took the step forward from where I stood and stumbled into something larger than myself.

Cosumnes River Preserve Outing with Bureau of Land Management CA. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.

Latino Outdoors started with an idea which has been shaping into building an organization with the responsibility to a passionate and dedicated volunteer based that in just this year delivered over 70 outdoor experiences. I’m astounded by what a small dedicated group has been doing to change a space in the outdoor world. But as the quote says, never be surprised by what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish…

Malibu Creek State Park, CA State Parks.

Our team is composed of college students or recent graduates vibrant with the ideas and pedagogy of making a difference in this space to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are parents or community members that simply wanted to connect with nature and share that joy with others as they doubted their own expertise in this field. They are working professionals who have seen the outdoors as an outlet for adventure and finding others “like me”. They are Chicano/as, Latino/as, Latinxs, Raza, Paisas, Hispanos, or a variety of nationalities. They have clear indigenous roots or identify as Afro-Latino. They are “envatomentalists”, “ecolatinos”, “ecocholos” and a variety of other mestizaje identities that highlight an ambicultural space that connects more of our communities with the outdoors.  Regardless of the varied reasons, they all said yes to working in and building this community—and for that I am grateful. They are the community I was looking for and I am dedicating next year to supporting them.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

I started 2016 with personal challenges and a big opportunity for growth—as well as a need to continue to focus the work and steward the responsibility now in my hands. When I first launched my blog I wanted to see if my story connected with others—and was curious what we could build. Since then I met President Obama in the Oval Office, hit the trails with Secretary Sally Jewell, co-produced a movie that screened as a White House event, received a conservation award with Harrison Ford, traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, delivered a series of presentations and workshops on increasing diversity in conservation, and had my face and story in several publications that I honestly never thought I would appear in. We engaged in several initiatives to increase diversity in our public lands, from the Parks Now coalition in California to the Latino Conservation Alliance and The Next 100 Coalition at the national level. From Latino Conservation Week to #OptOutside, we were there to say “Estamos Aqui” in our public lands and #EncuentraTuParque. Those are all privileges and opportunities I didn’t have before Latino Outdoors.

Photo by Pete Souza, White House, used with permission.

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, CA.

Latino Conservation Alliance reception for Raul Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Natural Resources Committee.

Spirit of the Muries, Murie Center, Teton Science Schools, Grand Teton National Park.

Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

Next 100 Coalition, Washington D.C.

Many of you followed me and thanked me for what I was doing. Though it may have looked simple at times through social media, it came with a lot of work and a continuous search for that balance of service and self-care. It was not easy and I had to re-examine how I could best serve my community while caring for myself and providing the time for personal space.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But an important piece remains the same—gratitude and appreciation for being in this place. I was able to do what I enjoyed and cared about. I was being of service how I wanted to be when I first left graduate school. I felt my voice was being heard and that my identity was being seen—and that I could begin to not feel alone. Many of you showed that. If you gave me a helping hand, thank you. If you supported Latino Outdoors, thank you. I appreciate your patience with me and the work we do—and my commitment is to show that your investment is worthwhile and that we will pay it forward.

Members of various youth leadership programs including San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy.

In 2016 I had a hashtag associated with me: #whereisjose. Bueno, estoy aqui. And although Latino Outdoors will continue to change along with my presence, my answer will be simple #hereisjose.

See you on the trails in 2017. Con respeto y admiración,

José G. González Founder, Executive Director @Latino Outdoors


Cesar Chavez, Naturalist, Farmworker Organizer, Friend by Albert “Abby” Ybarra

On the 23rd anniversary of the death of Cesar Chavez

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In the years since our dear brother, friend, and community leader Cesar Chavez passed away, I’ve had the occasion to think about the blessings in my life and how my family found itself in the middle of a historic movement. I learned the native ways from my grandfather who took us on many outdoor trips. As a young child, I remember walking with him as he searched for medicinal plants use for his work as a “Curandero”. These early environmental excursions to the outdoors were my entry and what soon became my life’s passion and connection to nature. It was during these treks that my grandfather told me about his farm labor organizing work. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I had the chance to learn about the great United Farmworkers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and it’s contributions to Latinos and labor.

While in college, my brothers, friends and I gathered food to feed the striking farmworkers in the grape fields in Delano, CA. On one of our first winter break trips to Delano, we all met Cesar Chavez at the 40 Acres United Farm Workers (UFW) headquarters. I knew immediately he was going to be someone we could follow anywhere and into the world when he was organizing. The history of my grandfather’s organizing work in the 1930s in San Diego County immediately had all the relevance in the world. I knew this stuff, although I never picked crops, I knew farm work from my family history. Our ancestors lived off the Sonora desert for generations, as gathers and farmers, and those stories and my subsequent calling to gardening became evident to me and where I was headed in life.

I am an Assistant Scout Master and Venturing Crew Advisor with the Boy Scouts of America. My work with the Scouting programs has kept me outdoors for most of my non-school time. As I learned later from my elders, this was my destiny and I was to be a person who cared and worked for others. I was born into activism with my own family and the love of social justice led me to join Cesar and the movement. I was ready and understood what had to be done – had to be done now.

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Being around Cesar Chavez and his family gave us time to see and watch him work with the union and his family. My initial inclination was that he was a hard working person who was an inspiration to all who worked with him. After his fast of 1972, we saw a different Cesar not seen by the media or masses who followed his work. He went to Arizona (Mt. Lemon) for a few weeks to heal up from the fast. He hiked daily, and continued to grow in strength with longer hikes in and around the canyon. He loved being in the natural world, surrounded by fast moving streams and playing simple games like playing horse shoes and eating healthy. I believe our long talks led me to improve my own eating habits and Cesar gave me a book to read which helped me go vegetarian for many years. Learning to eat healthy and organic in the early 70’s was not easy. There was no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to shop in and grocery stores rarely carried organic products.

Cesar’s activities outside of organizing revealed to me that he liked being outdoors. He enjoyed taking his family beach camping to Carpentaria Ca. The things he did with his family often showed us that Cesar was connected to the natural wonders, and led his family to enjoy it with him.

In later years of his union life, Cesar had more time to work his organic gardens. As small time gardener since early youth myself, this was an area where I felt comfortable talking with Cesar. Our last long conversation was at La Paz where he was preparing his annual winter garden. La Paz is the union headquarters and home in Keen CA. That was the winter of 1992, probably October or November. Cesar’s gardens varied in sizes but usually he grew everything on about 2 to 3 acres, and he set up his own drip irrigation system. Cesar Chavez never used pesticides on his food production. I saw him one more time in February in Los Angeles for a funeral mass for a long union supporter Fr. Olivares. I stood just a few feet away with Jackson Brown who played for the service. Cesar smiled slightly when our eyes met but I recall most is that he looked very tired that day.
Sadly, this was our last meeting, as a few months later he was called to walk to the other side on March 23, 1993.

As I look back I can see it was my destiny to meet and know Cesar. His presence was powerful. For anyone who had the chance to talk with Cesar, you would know immediately that he was an inspiration and what he envisioned for farm workers we could also wish for ourselves.

Our talks about gardens and the natural world we lived in are the best memories I have to share about my times with Cesar. Whenever I here talk about aquaponics gardening, I can recall that coldish day at La Paz (Keene CA) when Cesar and I last spoke in length. We talked at length about the future of aquaponics gardening and the understanding that our ancestors had already proven this system with the creation of the gardens of Xochilmilco in Mexico City, in the 8th century by the Nahua people.

Our meeting, the connection of our families, and now my life’s work in environmental and conservation education had its roots in the many times I spoke one on one with one of the most inspirational people in my lifetime. Knowing him up close and our personal, our family connections, makes my work more meaningful. I like to think Cesar would smile at what I’ve done with my time working to connect people back to our innate connection to the natural world.

Albert “Abby” Ybarra
Yaqui
Project Indigenous
Environmental Education Specialist
Actor
Musician


Latino Outdoors Interview: A Conversation with Claudio Rodriguez

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gracias!!