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


Wellness Walks 2016: Para el Bienestar de Nuestra Comunidad

This coming weekend, Saturday Nov 12,  marks the end of the Wellness Walks in Marin County for the year. It is another year of a successful round of monthly outings connecting families with the open spaces in their communities in the San Francisco Bay Area–and a feat worth celebrating!

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In the words of coordinator Alicia Cruz, who started the Wellness Walks in 2015, “during a difficult time, these walks saved me” and it was created “out of a sense of service to promote well-being, build community, and to create access for families that otherwise would not be connecting with their nearby parks and open spaces.” They simply started with Alicia wanting to explore the natural spaces in Marin, and sharing that interest, passion, and curiosity with her community.

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CA State Parks noticed and the Wellness Walks institutionalized under a partnership that provided monthly transportation support for a year with funding from the CA State Parks Foundation. Alicia worked with CA State Parks staff to provided guided hikes, nature walks, and other outdoor experiences for families that not only provided physical wellness but a space for cognitive and spiritual wellness, as well as learning about outdoors.

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Since then over 22 outings have taken place with many families visiting their state parks for the first time. For many, the walks provide an opportunity for family bonding, for a space to breathe from the daily stress, and to convene with others. For CA State Parks, it provides an opportunity to deliver on its mission to provide more access for more Californians–and for Alicia, it provides an opportunity to expand on the definition of an outdoor experience while establishing a clear personal connection of what holistic wellness can look like with nature.

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The success of the Wellness Walks in Marin is self-evident. But it is important to note that it is realized out of an intent and purpose of service. They started with the power of welcome and invitation, and have been sustained with the relationships of community, family, and volunteer support. While funding is essential to support the logistical work, it is the people behind it that actualize it all.

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As we close out the year, and as many of us face physical, mental, and spiritual stress, we invite you to take the time for healing and wellness with nature and go outdoors. It is also the time of the year many of us begin to reflect on gratitude and appreciation–and reconnect with our families and loved ones for the holidays. May a nearby trail and parkland provide the space for all of that, for yourself, with your family, and your community.

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If you’re in the SF Bay Area on Saturday, Nov 12, join us!

José G. González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors, a volunteer-run organization focused on celebrating Latino culture in nature and connecting families with the outdoors. 


My Park is Yosemite

#MyParkIsYosemite

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My first time hiking Half Dome.

Yosemite National Park is certainly a special place, both in its physical beauty and grandeur but as well as in the imagination and mind of what we envision as majestic national parks. It is embedded in the mythology of the National Park Service with a rich history that includes the Buffalo soldiers, John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, and of course its role in being a precursor to the National Park Service by being protected by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 before the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.  Yosemite is also special in that it is a world-class destination so close to so many communities in the Central Valley of California and yet not many in those communities may always easily access it.

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CA Mini-Corps Outdoor Education Program Instructors training in Yosemite to provide outdoor education to Migrant students throughout CA.

Growing up in the Central Valley I would often hear about Yosemite, but it would be years before I would really get to discover its beauty. I recall as a college student finally entering the Yosemite Valley on a morning with light fog and emergent sunlight. It was magical. I would return to explore Tuolumne Meadows and Lambert Dome. Later, with a group of friends we scaled Half Dome, and returned several times to repeat that experience. Whether it was walking Mariposa Grove with park rangers as we trained Latino college students to be outdoor instructors for migrant students, or simply hiking the Panoramic trail with friends, Yosemite kept providing a diversity of experiences. It is that diversity that presents an opportunity—to welcome a diversity of the American public, from near and afar, to enjoy a diversity of experiences within the park.

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It is important to me, as a Latinx immigrant, a US Citizen, an English-Language Learner, and the first in my family to go to college, to be a role model of how our parks are for all—and the work we need to continue to advance in true inclusivity. I strive to exemplify how my cultura is important to me in these spaces, and how we create more inclusive environments to welcome all regardless of background. Yosemite welcomed me in its grandeur, and as a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador, I want to extend that invitation to others. We much to do but we also have much to celebrate, and regardless we start somewhere. Since that first time I wandered into Yosemite Valley, I have visited many other national parks and public lands and yet in many ways My Park Is Yosemite. It does not have to be yours or it can be, so long as you can see and feel yourself reflected in such a place.

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En este año que celebramos el centenario de nuestros parques nacionales,  vengan, encuentren su parque, están bienvenidos, es mi placer ser su embajador y guía.

This post is part of the #MyParkIsYosemite campaign. If your park is also Yosemite, join us! If you want to express your love for other parks or other public lands share that too! #Next100 #PublicLandsForAll #EncuentraTuParque

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José González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors. He is a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador and represents Latino Outdoors in several coalitions including the Latino Conservation Alliance and the Next 100 Coalition. He also serves on a National Park Service advisory committee and has been recognized with several honors, including the National Wildlife Federation, Grist Magazine, and The Murie Center.

To learn more about the Next 100 Coalition, check out this site and sign the petition.