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


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!