Editor’s note: José González is an experienced educator and the founder of Latino Outdoors, a Latino-led organization working to create a national community of leaders in conservation and outdoor education. He was featured in Grist’s 50 People You’ll be Talking about in 2016.
How was Latino Outdoors born and what is its purpose?
Around 2012 I began to look in earnest for a community where I could relate to other Latinos working in conservation and specifically in the outdoors.
I remember being asked about such a community, and I did not have a good answer or clear understanding of where to find it. At that time, groups like GreenLatinos were also coming into being and I had begun connecting with colegas (colleagues) like Marce from Azul. The individuals were present but not the community. So I began my blog and started reaching out. The purpose of Latino Outdoors was simple: how could we connect as a community and get more of our familias outdoors as we collectively shared what it meant to hold a Latinx identity? [Editor’s note: “Latinx” is a non-gendered term used to describe someone who is from Latin America.]
What should the environmental movement do better to engage Latino communities?
A good first step is acknowledging that diverse communities already have a deep connection to environmental issues. Prominent Latinx figures who promote respect for the environment include Emilio Zapata, Favianna Rodriguez, Devon Peña, Alfredo Figueroa and the late Berta Cáceres, who was recently assassinated for her fierce opposition to a harmful hydropower project in Central America.
Conservation ideals have been part of Latinx culture before it was cool. Oftentimes the mainstream conservation movement is seen as something that you adopt into your culture, which can alienate diverse communities. An unfortunate consequence of this framing of conservation culture in the United States is its exclusion of diverse communities and their already strong conservation ideologies. As you can imagine, this exclusion stands as a significant barrier when attempting to discuss environmental issues in diverse communities.
What are the key factors that hinder Latino youth from actively engaging outdoors?
Factors on my shortlist include the cost of entry and participation, the lack of awareness of local and available natural spaces along with the “rules of engagement”—the regulations to be followed and norms expected by “regulars” outdoors. Examples of these factors include not being aware of entrance fees to parks, not being able to afford these entrance fees, not knowing how to navigate the process for attaining camping permits and not knowing how to appropriately pack for a camping or hiking trip.
As it stands, the outdoors culture isn’t creating a space where the Latinx community, including the youth, is included as an integral piece rather than a supplemental variable.
Are there specific programs or activities Latino Outdoors promotes?
Yes! A main function of our organization includes producing family friendly activities that get people outdoors.
Examples include our Bay Area Wellness Walks, a “Learn to Climb” partnership event with REI in Seattle, Washington, and a Calaveras Big Trees Family Day event scheduled for the Sacramento/Central Valley region. With ambassadors across the country you can find a long list of activities and outings we host on our website and social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
How do you enjoy nature in an urban environment?
When someone thinks about the word “nature,” most people wouldn’t think of things like cars, pavement, buildings or freeways.
Living in an urban environment definitely makes it trickier to enjoy nature, but there are ways you can enjoy it. I’ve noticed that people have over-generalized assumptions about the nature outlets available, or in this case unavailable, to them in urban environments. I like to think that finding nature in an urban environment can take a bit of un-training of the mind. Most people are conditioned to having tunnel vision when walking down the street, ignoring everything but the sidewalk in front of them. I believe this is a natural adaption our minds have developed to tame the non-stop hectic-ness of urban environments, which has unfortunately also tuned many of us out of the nature present in these urban environments.
If you pay close attention, there is actually quite a bit of non-human life coexisting in our daily lives in places such as your local park, community gardens or your green-thumbed front yard. Activities such as weekly health walks at your local park, climbing trees in your backyard or admiring and cultivating plants around you are all legitimate connections to nature. This recognition provides inclusion in the outdoors community for people who may not have easy access to outdoor spaces such as national and state parks.
Tell me about the partners you work with to advance outdoor access.
Latino Outdoors partnered with Recreation.gov in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
In California we have a partnership with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to promote awareness on the importance of open space to the Latinx community in the greater Silicon Valley and Bay area regions. We also work with REI, Bay Area Wilderness Training, Hispanic Access Foundation, HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hiking, and the Outdoors), GreenLatinos, Hispanic Federation and others to build the community and promote as many opportunities for outdoor access as we can.
2016 has been a major year for Latino Outdoors. Tell me about the progress you’ve made.
By the end of 2016 we will have done a lot of work on our strategic plan, put our voice on the national level around several monument designations and other public land priorities, kicked off the next phase of our organization and established several strong regional communities. To top that off, we will be coming out with a film to showcase snapshots of the diversity and power of this community.
Tell us more about yourself and three things you are most passionate about.
I like to think of myself as a product of the meshing between a few identities—true to the mestizaje (mixture) that is a Latinx identity. Some of those identities include being a teacher, an artist, a conservationist and a Chicano.
One of my passions is promoting access to knowledge, specifically for the Latinx/Chicanx community in regards to the engagement and inclusion between our cultura and the conservation movement.
Another passion of mine is the promotion of conservationist ideals in decision-making spaces such as the local, state and federal government with the goal of improving the ways in which humans can sustainably coexist with our planet.
A third passion of mine is the commitment I’ve made to protect and advocate for the cultura of my Latinx/Chicanx community. An elder once told me, “TXicanos are descendants of guards of Tenochtitlan, they were guards of traditions and practices and thus to be a Chicano is to be a defender of the culture.”
Chicanismo, pride in heritage as a Mexican-American, is a passion in and of itself.
To find out more about Latino Outdoors or to join one of the group’s activities, visit: http://latinooutdoors.org/