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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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