11/5/17

“Yo Cuento Outdoors”~The Stories of Latino Outdoors. Part 4

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.

Laura Torres~Social Media Contributor Los Angeles, CA

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.

Photo credit- Laura Torres

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.

Photo Credit-Laura Torres

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.

Photo credit-Laura Torres

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!

10/8/17

“Yo Cuento Outdoors”~The Stories of Latino Outdoors. Part 3

It’s a wondrous thing how the wild calms the spirit within us. The “feels” we get when we know we are right where we are supposed to be. This then turns into what more can I explore, what more can I do and then how can I share this with others. The “feels” become so much more that it becomes part of your existence. For some it leads to a career in the outdoors and for some just a personal joy to share with others. Latino Outdoors has allowed more opportunities for us to experience and share what we love to do and in the process we have become a family. My pleasure to introduce New Mexico Coordinator~Gabe Vasquez.

What is the story of Gabe and the connection you have to the outdoors?

Well, it actually goes back to the story of when I first experienced the outdoors. When my family and I first got to Caballo Lake in New Mexico we threw our lines in the water and it wasn’t long before a Game & Fish officer came to check on our licenses. Because it was our first time fishing and we were from Mexico, we didn’t realize we needed a license. The officer claimed he couldn’t understand what my Dad was saying, so he called Border Patrol. Border Patrol detained my Dad that afternoon at a county jail in Truth or Consequences. They released him several hours later because he had not done anything wrong. Despite that harrasement, my dad told me to stay strong and that the outdoors were a place for everyone. We got our fishing licenses that afternoon and went back to the river. Since then, I’ve tried to spread the same message … the outdoors are for everyone.

How did this connection to the outdoors connect you more with Nature?

Fishing with my Dad and brother. I grew up in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, an industrialized border city. There weren’t many places to play outdoors and we lived in the inner city, so we were mostly surrounded by concrete. So when my Dad took me and my brother fishing as young kids, it meant a lot. My whole world changed. He took us to southern New Mexico, to a place called Caballo Lake, about two hours north of Juarez. We camped by the Rio Grande, fished for catfish and went to sleep counting the stars. I had never seen the stars that bright in my life.

What is it about the outdoors that make it special for you?

It’s a place of healing, a place of reflection, and also the world’s biggest classroom. The outdoors teaches us that we can’t just take, we have to give, it teaches us about balance and equality. We’re all the same on the trail–nature doesn’t judge–it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what color you are, gender or sexuality, we are all having the same experience outdoors.

How do you celebrate the connection between a Latinx identity and the outdoors and how do you see yourself “counting” afuera?

I helped start a youth outdoor recreation and education program in my community to help Latinx youth and people better understand their history on this land, in southern New Mexico. we celebrate our history here, not just as Latino’s but as Mestizos, as people with mixed indigenous blood, roots and beliefs. We count here because we’ve been on this land for thousands of years, we’re not outsiders here.

How do you see it in others and in the community around you?

In the world of outdoor recreation and environmental advocacy, there is a pretty homogeneous community that dominates both spaces. Much of that has to do with wealth, the people most prone to go outdoors or become advocates for their environment are people who have had the time to have the opportunities to experience recreation outdoors. We’re changing that one person at a time every time we get a new young person of color on the trail, we create more balance in those spaces.

Why does what you do matter to you?

Because it helps me find meaning in life and it connects me spiritually to the creation and his creation. Working and volunteering as an outdoor advocate is what makes me happy, and my parents always said to do what makes me happy. They were right … nothing compares!

Describe your perfect day?

A perfect day outside is sitting in silence at the top of a mountain in Mesilla Valley, watching and listening to the wildlife and seeing the clouds roll in. I think about how many other generations before us have sat on the same spot and observed the same beauty?
What has been your favorite hike?
My favorite hike to date was hiking Tonuco Mountains with my girlfriend. Tonuco Mountains is a sacred site dotted with petroglyphs and full of rich, rare earth minerals. We hiked for about nine miles that day in the middle of the fall, bushwhacking through mesquite, devils thorn and cacti to get to the very top, where an old mine shaft exists. After the sixth mile we looked at each other and wanted to turn back every 10 minutes or so, but we kept going, because getting to the top was just as important for both of us. The views of the Organ Mountains at the very top paid off. We will both never forget that hike.
Do you have any traditions outside?
I try and follow in the footsteps of those who came before us, not just indigenous communities and people, but my own father, grandfather, and ancestors. I remember them when I hike, hunt, and fish. It makes the experience sacred for me. Of course, after every hike a need a cold beer to reflect on the outing!
A huge thank you to Gabe for allowing us to share more about what a genuine and legit soul he is. Gabe is that guy you just want to know more about. His kind heart is evident from the moment you meet him. May your journeys be many my friend and keep being an inspiration to many. How lucky is New mexico and Latino Outdoors : ).
For more info about Las Cruces, New Mexico and what is happening afuera check out … Nuestra Tierra.
Josie Gutierrez ~ Southwest Ambassador
 
09/30/17

“Yo Cuento Outdoors”~The Stories of Latino Outdoors. Part 2

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.

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.

The Family that Ruby built : ).

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