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!