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.
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.
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.
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.
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!