A New Notion of Nature
How Latino Outdoors is rethinking the ways their community gets outside
José González appreciates the ability to get away. The 37-year-old founder of Latino Outdoors, an organization that’s building a national community of like-minded Latinos and Latinas who enjoy and advocate for being outside, loves to leave his office and the congestion of San Francisco Bay Area, where he’s based, and head out to the mountains and desert to relax, think, and plan.
That was the case recently as González traveled to Tucson, Arizona where he and other members of Latino Outdoors grabbed a 30-foot RV and headed to Saguaro National Park for a weekend of camping.
Parked under the stars but with all the amenities of home right inside the RV, González, along with Xitlaly Reyes, the Tucson program coordinator for Latino Outdoors, Lupe Sotelo, an intern at Saguaro National Park and outings leader for González’s organization, and Claudio Rodriguez, a Tucson local and organizer for Tierra y Libertad, huddled and shared ideas for how they might all expand the reach and effectiveness of their organizations. “Sitting in the RV; it’s like a campfire,” González says. “The night grows colder, and that draws people closer. That closeness, in turn, starts to generate dialogue among everyone.”
González, who migrated to the U.S. from Mexico when he was nine years old, has always been drawn to nature. In 2014, he launched Latino Outdoors. “Our basic premise is ‘Estamos aquí’, ‘We are here.’ And by that we mean that the Latinx community has been here in the Western United States for hundreds of years, and the landscape belongs to us as a culture as much as it belongs to anyone,” he says. “That’s the message that we’re trying to get out to the people. That this national park, where we are right now, is ‘our’ park as well, and with that comes a sense of opportunity and also responsibility.”
Latino Outdoors also understands that the concepts of “nature” and “outdoors” might be different for many Latinos. Instead of nature being something they would travel to, many Latinos grew up in nature, either in rural North American communities, or rural communities throughout Central and South America. So, while the organization’s immediate programming is to draw more people to public lands, it also advocates for creating more urban green spaces closer to underserved Latinx communities where access can be a barrier. To that end, the group now has chapters up and down the West Coast, in the Southwest, and even in New York City and Washington, D.C.
For González, having the RV was a perfect middle ground for everything his organization advocates. It allowed him and his colleagues to push out beyond their communities, but it also made things easy. No one had to worry about driving five separate cars, or about tents or erratic weather, and instead they could just travel together, get up in the morning, go for a hike, come back, make lunch, get ready to take in one of Arizona’s spectacular sunsets, and spend the evening inside, warm and comfortable.
With the RV, González says, “You’ve got beds for everyone, a bathroom, a kitchen, all your stuff, yet whenever you want to teleport yourself into nature, all you have to do is step out the door.”