A few years ago, Jose Gonzalez
asked himself: Where are
the Latino-led conservation
organizations? Specifically, where is a hub
to connect Latinos and nature?
“It was difficult for me to find,” he says.
When he learned that Internet domain
names for “Latino” and “outdoors”
were widely available, he thought:
Wow, something is missing here!
Not long afterward, a Latino student
contemplating a conservation career
asked him: Who should I talk to? Where
should I apply? What organization could
“I didn’t have a really good answer,”
says the 33-year-old Gonzalez, a former
public school teacher who was born in
the Mexican state of Nayarit, migrated
to the Unites States when he was 9,
and grew up in California’s Central
Valley. So, in 2013, he founded Latino
Outdoors. The online community —
http://latinooutdoors.org/ and https://
launched in earnest last year.
Latino Outdoors is developing a Latinoled
community with conservation and
the environment as a primary focus. It
is using its members to “tell stories and
connect the different Latino communities
throughout the U.S. to more outdoor
spaces,” says Gonzalez.
“We exist in two ways,” he says. One way
is via 10 leaders who support about 180
members and represent Latino Outdoors
in eight locales: the San Francisco
Bay area; Los Angeles; Sacramento;
Modesto, CA; Humboldt County, CA;
Texas; Wyoming; and Massachusetts.
The second way is via social media,
where Latino Outdoors has 1,800
followers and growing.
The goal is to create a community that
removes the “isolation factor” among
Latinos and Latinas in the conservation
field, Gonzalez says. Latino Outdoors
also seeks to show how traditional Latino
values like family and respect can help
connect everyday people to nature. “In a lot of cases,” he says, “it’s not new.
Communities are bringing their outdoor
experiences from home countries.”
Latino Outdoors stresses “the power
of personal connection,” Gonzalez says.
“People are saying, ‘I want to be able to
meet with other people like myself who
are doing this.’ ”
Jose Gonzalez, a former teacher with a master’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Natural
Resources and Environment, founded the online community Latino Outdoors in 2013. He launched it in
earnest last year. (Analisa Freitas/Latino Outdoors)
Latino Outdoors initiates family outings
in partnership with existing community
organizations and government agencies.
It has orchestrated family outings to
Muir Woods National Monument and
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic
Trail; the National Park Service helped
defray travel expenses. The nonprofit
Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods
provided camping equipment for an
overnight outing. Latino Outdoors has
led casual day hikes at Don Edwards San
Francisco Bay and San Joaquin River
national wildlife refuges.
Latino Outdoors encourages personal
storytelling on its blog. One poignant
entry is titled, “How I overcame my
fear of ‘El Cucuy’ — or how I gained my
independence without losing my family”
(http://bit.ly/1A7WILR). El cucuy is
Spanish for boogie man.
Latino Outdoors is starting a mentoring
program for aspiring conservationists
and outdoorspeople. The program will
allow mentors “to showcase how they are
using their culture and their background
as an asset in this work,” Gonzalez says.
Half of Latino Outdoors’ members are
bilingual; half are Spanish-speaking
only. Its members are not exclusively
Latino. “It isn’t as though if you’re not
Latino, you’re not welcome,” Gonzalez
says. “We’ve had participants of all
backgrounds.” Its leaders are mostly
millennials and mostly volunteer. It
receives administrative support from the
California-based nonprofit Children Are
Our Future, but “funding is a big need.”
Latino Outdoors seeks to give support to
and receive support from conservation
agencies. Mostly, it wants a place at the
table, Gonzalez says:
“I get the privilege and opportunity to
attend conferences or focus groups, and I
look around the room and I ask myself, ‘If
I’m not here, who [from the Latino
community] could be here in my place?’
When it’s hard for me to answer that
question, I think about the need for me to
push this forward.”