For many Latinx and Hispanic individuals in the United States, venturing out into the world can be a daunting task. This proves especially true in national parks and similar areas administered by state governments where many obstacles are exacerbated by the presence of government employees.
Despite this universal struggle, there remains an underlying notion of Latina inferiority in American thought. Machismo culture permeates Latinx societies, serving as a detriment and reminder to many immigrants that pressure to conform exists on multiple fronts.
Thankfully, there are individuals such as Graciela (Chela) Garcia Irlando and Yesica Chavez, volunteers with the national organization Latino Outdoors, who seek to transform the Latinx community. This is achieved through the group’s core values of Familia, Comunidad, Service, Access, and Cultura, the last of which has become a cornerstone of Latina empowerment.
Latino Outdoors focuses on bringing the Latino experience to the outdoors through activities like hiking, canoeing, snowshoeing, and first aid training. These activities encourages women to engage and connect with nature, culture, and each other. Through these experiences, this group also teaches Latinas how to “engage and inspire Latino leadership, empower communities to explore, and share their stories in defining the Latino Outdoors identity.”
Chela and Yesica, along with other members of the non-profit, help to connect Latinx families with one another. This serves to “provide an inspirational platform for sharing cultural connections and narratives to nature that are often overlooked by the traditional outdoor movement,” among other interwoven organizational goals laid out in their 2020 Strategic Plan.
Many individuals who become involved with Latino Outdoors are first-generation Americans or immigrants themselves. Chela, the Program Coordinator for the Mountain States, says that “[i]t was people of the Americas that protected and cultivated and took care of these lands. I find it very important that people who look like me, talk like me and share my identity are the ones building each other up.”
It can be difficult for the group as they are forced to overcome race and gender stereotypes, but Chela goes on to say, “As women – and as women of color – [we] defy the typical image of rugged outdoorspeople.” As such, she and others have helped to cultivate a community that is boundless and sees the world as their playing field. Yesica summarizes the group dynamic by saying, “It’s culture for us.”
This mentality comes amid a time of great strife for Latin Americans. Recent news stories highlight some of the tragedies befalling this group as we see children forcibly separated from parents at the border, an Arizona lawmaker refer to immigrants as an “existential threat to the US,” and ICE raids stepping up in both size and scope. This is doubly concerning considering that 16.7 percent of all people in this country are of Hispanic descent.
But the fear is often lost and the world left behind when this Colorado chapter goes on their trips. Nohemi Mora, one of the group’s members, notes that “part of the goal of [our] group is to make sure Latinos of all backgrounds find a welcoming space outdoors.”
In doing so, this group of remarkable women is taking control of their lives and creating positive, lasting change in an ever-evolving world.
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