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Telling the Latino Story in Our National Parks: A Job with Unexpected Rewards

How did you get introduced to the outdoors? For many inner-city Latinos, it doesn’t happen as children. Or ever. Today’s guest blogger, Midy Aponte, Executive Director of the American Latino Heritage Fund of the National Park Foundation, shares her story of a late-blooming love for the outdoors thanks to her job:

Hello, I’m Midy. As the executive director of the American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) of the National Park Foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C., my role is to work with the National Park Service to help identify sites and places that tell the stories of American Latino history.

Midy Aponte of the ALHF

Never heard of ALHF? You’re not alone. It was created in 2011 by Secretary of Interior and chairman of the National Park Foundation, Ken Salazar. Among our goals is to introduce new audiences to public lands, national parks and historic places that celebrate the contributions of Latinos throughout U.S. history.

For instance, we were proud to provide the funding necessary to establish California’s  César E. Chávez National Monument as the 398th unit in the national park system. Work like this fulfills a critical component of the ALHF mission—to preserve the full spectrum of American Latino history by telling a more inclusive story within the national park system.

ALHF also seeks to engage future generations of Latinos in park stewardship and outdoor recreation. For a girl who grew up in the urban jungle of Miami, Florida, my role in discovering our shared history while exploring our country’s national parks is one that, admittedly, presented some challenges. For me, being outdoors was like exploring unchartered territory—a common experience among my peers and members of the Latino community.

ALHF logo

I’m not much of a hiker or an outdoorsy kind of gal. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., in 2004, “trekking” to me was an imaginary exercise in discovering the far-off places and remote areas of my parent’s backyard.

In fact, I remember several years ago one November when my outdoorsy ex-boyfriend asked if I’d join him on a hike along the Appalachian Trail. He had set out for an overnight hike the day before, and I was to join him at a spot near Harper’s Ferry.

My wardrobe? Capris, sneakers, a polo and a hoodie. Him? Hiking boots, wool socks, utility pants, dri-fit shirt, rain jacket and Camelbak. Show off. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and invested in some gear thereafter.

Midi Aponte at Yosemite

Earlier this summer, ALHF hosted a panel discussion at the National Council of La Raza’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas. The discussion centered on engaging Latinos in civic participation by celebrating Latinos’ economic, civic and cultural contributions to the U.S. Concurrent to the session, ALHF hosted a booth where conference-goers could “picture themselves in a park” with National Park Service rangers. The booth was a great hit, with more than 2,000 people stopping by during the event.

While talking about history and heritage and encouraging audience goers to visit national parks was a fantastic experience, I decided I had to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. So I took the opportunity and extended my business trip to visit a friend in Sacramento, California, with a key target in mind: Yosemite National Park.

Midi Aponte at Glacier Point, Yosemite

My friend Alma, her niece, Jennifer, and I packed the car with all sorts of goodies (beef jerky!?) and set out for the park. It was my first time visiting Yosemite, though Alma and Jennifer had been there countless times before. Once there, Jennifer and I became the best of friends. Meaning, I immediately turned into an eight year old!

Our trip was a short one. I couldn’t stay too long. But the experience was richly rewarding. I was mesmerized by the magnitude of the park. The granite cliffs. Deep canyon valleys. Waterfalls.

But what I remember most from my visit was this intense sense of wonderment. Our nation’s national parks not only provide us with beautiful landscapes and vistas as far as the eye can see, but an enormous sense of pride and appreciation for this land. America being home; our parks being the nation’s back yard.

Our national parks tell the story of our country’s founding, the spirit which embodies Americans and provides us with respite from our daily lives.  As the American Latino Heritage Fund continues to preserve the full spectrum of American history and engage new audiences in park stewardship, I am fortunate to have this tiny role in ensuring our treasured parks remain relevant for future generations of Americans.

I’m already itching for the next opportunity to step out back.

Posted on at 12:15 AM

Tagged: American Latino Heritage Fund, Yosemite National Park, diversity and national parks

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Vwatson313 Staff Member

Thank you Midy for sharing your story with us. There are wonderful outdoor places in the DC area. Connect to them through your local REI store. By the way are you a member of REI? Any way we are here for you and the work you do. Education is half the battle.

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I have no doubt this blog post is intended to "raise consciousness" and encourage Latinos to get outdoors. But this old-timer has to say, I cry that this is what my country has become -- we can't even talk about hiking anymore without attaching an ethno-political identity. We are the new Balkans.

As for Latino outreach, my personal experience is that the Latinos are the overwhelming users of the local, free, outdoor venues in the Salt Lake City areas. Take a drive up any of the canyons after dinner; stop by any state stocked fishing hole, and more than half of the users are Latinos.


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