Latino Outdoors: connecting conservation with culture
Shortly before his ninth birthday, José González moved with his family to California, a place he noted many had to travel to for a “nature experience” – a concept he had not previously encountered. As a child in rural Mexico, the wilderness was just outside his door. Recognizing that each community brings its own cultural history and understanding of nature to the table, González founded Latino Outdoors, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting Latinos throughout the U.S. to outdoor spaces. When engaging diverse groups, González opens the floor for participants to share the roots of their natural experiences. On a hike with a group of families, the group spotted a turkey vulture; one participant shared three different Spanish names for the bird and recounted a story his grandfather used to tell him about spotting turkey vultures in Mexico, and how it related to lawlessness in post-revolutionary rural Mexican society. González credits SNRE instructors Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee with stimulating his thinking about connecting people with the environment. “They ask, How do you connect people to outdoor resources? How are people integral to conservation?” González said. “I want to build on those questions by asking: How is culture integral to the work of conservation?” To date, more than 5,000 people have participated in Latino Outdoors events including hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and camping, and the program is widely celebrated. In 2016, González was honored with the National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Education Award and the Murie Center Rising Leader Award, named to the Grist 50 list, and featured in Outside magazine. “Climbing every peak is not necessarily the best outdoor experience,” says González, noting that visiting a local trail or urban corridor can be just as valuable. “Ultimately, we want people to feel a sense of ownership and connectedness to their environment, regardless of where they are.” Jose Gonzalez: Founder of Latino Outdoors from Kenny Ballentine on Vimeo.