Aribba en el Cielo. Abajo en la Tierra. Afuero con Latino Outdoors.
I promised you more stories from the amazing Latino Outdoors leaders, coordinators and volunteers. This organization has provided us the space to grow and nurture nature in our own unique and individual ways. Nature knows no boundaries and how beautiful is that? Here we all are, hikers, bikers, mountain climbers, bird watchers, backpackers, environmentalist and the list goes on but our passion is the same … Tierra Madre! We have individually been called to nature in our own way and up next is the story of Ruby J. Garcia~Executive Projects Coordinator.
What are some of the earliest memories you have with a connection to Nature?
I remember sitting in my grandma’s little mint garden as a small child. I’d help her transform rocks into ladybugs with a little bit of paint. One of my favorite past times as a child was examining California burclover fruit; I’d unravel it and eat the tiny seeds inside. This activity was very soothing for me, and I can confidently say that it is the foundation to my connection with nature.
I also remember standing beneath towering nopales and being so awe inspired. I grew up in the country, next door to a ditch – yes, I played in it during summer months. There was a pond at the end of this ditch, with a tire swing hanging from a tree. The ditch itself was lined with eucalyptus trees and a few weeping willows. And there was a bridge, where I’d sit and watch the tadpoles before jumping in to catch them. I remember catching ladybugs in the adjacent open field. This was my refuge, and I revisit it from time to time.
At 30, I am still soothed by the tiniest details of my interactions with nature. In these moments, I am fully immersed in nature and the burden of being human leaves me; suddenly, I experience life as one with my environment.
Tell me more about who Ruby is and how you connect to doing what you do now in the outdoor space?
[Big sigh] I was at Fresno Community College, switching majors every semester, when I finally decided to visit the Fresno State website to browse their programs and find a career path that would maintain my interest. Scrolling, scrolling through the programs. Then I saw “Recreation Administration” and was struck with curiosity. As I scanned this major I was hooked by, ”Adventure” “Serve at-risk youth” and “Leadership.” I wasn’t much of an outdoor enthusiast at the time, but intuition told me that this was the path I needed to take. At this time, my connection to nature was fairly faint. My connection to the outdoors was simple: I liked to be outside, in the sun, surrounded by plants.
A few years later, I ventured to Yosemite in a time of tremendous hardship and eventually fell in love with hiking. I say “eventually” because my first two or three visits to this park consisted of driving around the park, awestruck. You see, I didn’t know what to do. I just knew that I wanted to be in that space. So, I sort of just drove around aimlessly; awestruck and taking it all in. Eventually, I brought a backpack with some food and water (my “day pack” – I know that now) and took my very first day hike to Nevada Falls. It was emotionally painful and awkward, because nobody on the trail looked like me; that’s super uncomfortable. And I was alone on this journey. Everywhere I looked I saw groups of happy White people with gear. I honestly felt like I didn’t belong there, and I felt like I wasn’t free to feel connected to that space. But at the same time, I was in awe of my hike. And it became clear that the only time I ever felt I had potential as a person was when I found myself on an outdoor adventure. And I remember thinking, “Why not?”
It would be a few years before I took my first Recreation Administration course, but, when I did, all of these connections came flooding in. I began to realize that outdoor recreation was my passion because I saw its potential as a tool for empowerment. I uprooted myself and my children from Fresno so that I could attend Humboldt State University; eighth hours away from home. Outdoor recreation became my go-to tool as I established myself as an independent, empowered single mother – a life changing endeavor. You see, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of outdoor recreation whilst learning the theory and practice behind such efforts. I have gained the confidence, empowerment, and resilience that comes with relentlessly pushing one’s boundaries. I have simultaneously witnessed, experienced, studied, and managed the power of recreation, emerging with an unbreakable faith that recreation is the antitheses to oppression. I advocate for this field with all of my heart, because it has allowed me to break cycles of poverty and oppression.
What is the connection that makes the outdoors so special to you?
Connecting with nature alleviates the negative parts of my human experience. It allows me to reconnect with myself and the world around me. I see my potential more clearly when I find myself in open spaces. I also use nature as a tool to accomplish my motherhood endeavors, teaching my children about the value of wonder, perseverance, environmental stewardship, and so forth. Outdoor spaces alleviate stress, encourage introspection, and promote well-being. We were meant to be outside.
How do you celebrate the connections between a Latinx identity and do you see yourself “counting” in the outdoors?
I highlight my connection between a Latinx identity and the outdoors with an unruly and celebratory rebelliousness, because this is my chosen avenue to empowerment, and I had to fight for it. I fought against the uncomfortableness of feeling unwelcomed in the outdoors. I stood against all odds and refused to fold in my pursuit of higher education. My experience has been that I make myself count in this field, as an outdoor enthusiast and recreation professional. And now that I’ve accomplished that, I seek to do the same for others as an extension of my own healing and empowerment.
How do you see it in others and the community around you?
There is a sense of comradery within the campus community here at Humboldt State. I see Latinx students making that journey to the outdoors together, venturing into an extremely culturally significant space which we’ve tradionally been excluded from as an act of resistance, self-discovery, and healing. It’s the adventure of a lifetime!
Why does what you do matter to you?
I wouldn’t be the empowered woman I am today without my unbreakable connection to nature. I couldn’t love myself, my children, or my community the way I do without having climbed this mountain. I believe in humankind’s capacity for growth, because I did it. Through my work I seek to create this opportunity for others.
It’s important that we use the outdoors to foster a connection between people and the environment. Yes, I want to promote environmental stewardship. Yes, conservation is of the utmost importance. I have heard a lot about providing outdoor recreation opportunities to underserved communities as a way of incorporating them into the mainstream conservation movement.
I’ve heard that people do not protect what they do not love. And I’ve heard the conservation movement needs all the help it can get. But my approach is this: Create outdoor recreation opportunities to uplift people first, and watch environmental stewardship come naturally. I don’t understand how we can expect populations that have been tradionally marginalized and excluded from the outdoors to even entertain ideas surrounding protecting our public lands, until they become empowered and make the journey to our public lands.
What three words best describe you?
Introspective: I learned how to love myself by spending lots of time exploring my mental and spiritual temples. This was my first step towards my journey to empowerment.
Open: Openness has helped me embrace vulnerability, practice honesty, and create pathways to understanding myself and the world around me. I am open and honest with myself and others on so many levels, and it has been so exhilarating to see the opportunities for growth this brings.
Resilient: My ability to thrive in unbelievably unfavorable conditions is something I have worked really hard for and am very proud of. At times I am in disbelief of my growth; it astounds me. The result is a profound belief in humankind’s capacity for growth.
The river or the beach?
Hands down the beach! The California Coastal National Monument is among my favorite places in California. I love to agate hunt, go tidepooling and watch the water in all its magnificence. Sometimes I visit Luffenholtz County Beach Park just to get quick kisses from my favorite place in Humboldt.
If you had one day to go outside where would you go and why?
The answer to this question is almost always the same. I would got to Humboldt Lagoons State Park to agate hunt by myself. I am a firm believer in self-care and spending time alone. Agate hunting couples nicely with this, because it is a passive activity which alleviates stress and promotes a sense of well-being.
Thank you Ruby for sharing your story. A Latina Outdoors powerhouse and inspiration. The passion you have for the outdoors is now something your children will always associate with you. Couldn’t imagine better memories! Your on the right path Mamacita!
Stay tuned for more stories of Latino Outdoors “Yo Cuento Afuera”.
Southwest Ambassador for Latino Outdoors~Josie Gutierrez