Estamos Aquí: New Resolution Celebrates Latino Leadership in the Outdoors

A new California resolution recognizes the role of Latinos in protecting and conserving public lands. The founder of Latino Outdoors explains the significance of this measure and efforts to pass similar ones across the country.

Statements like “The outdoors is for everyone” and “outdoors for all” have become increasingly common in the outdoor and conservation community as we—enthusiasts, conservationists and community leaders—work to make the outdoors more equitable, inclusive and diverse. They are simple statements with good intention. But we need to recognize the work required to achieve the desired impact. It is one thing to say it, it’s another thing to make it happen: Si se puede, pero hazlo.

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Often, this work starts with representation. To me, this specifically means how communities from the nondominant narrative are seen, and even more so, how they see themselves and each other as members of the outdoor community and the outdoor industry as a whole. One clear example of representation is the May 2018 issue of Outside magazine, which focused on “the new faces of adventure.” Just as relevant in other spaces are movies such as Black Panther and Coco. And of course, the growth and leadership of organizations and initiatives like Diversify Outdoors, @BrownGirlsClimb, Unlikely Hikers and Native Women’s Wilderness are helping to increase representation in the outdoors.

But one question some may ask, especially from the dominant narrative, is: “Why does this matter?”

José González on a hike

José González, founder of Latino Outdoors (Photo Credit: Michael A. Estrada)

If we are truly acknowledging, valuing and celebrating our differences, then we should see them and embrace their importance. Most important, for members of those communities, representation sends a powerful message: “I see you. You are just as important, and you being seen does not diminish me—we had not recognized that.”

That’s what makes a new measure in California so significant. Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 137 Latinos: Environmental Protection and Conservation, which the California Assembly and Senate passed earlier this year, recognizes the role Latinos play in protecting and preserving the land, water and wildlife of the United States. In addition, it supports the inclusion of Latinos in those efforts and encourages Latinos to participate in programs and activities that bring awareness to the importance of conservation.

It is one thing to say Latinos care, or should care, about conservation. It is another to recognize and celebrate that in the public record.

California ACR-137 is not a law signed by the governor or a funding requirement. But get this: As far as our policy team at Latino Outdoors can tell, it is the first such public statement relating to the outdoors, nature, and public land and natural resource protection. It’s like being first on an outdoor magazine cover—trailblazing in its own way.

The resolution is modeled after a previous but unsuccessful attempt to pass a measure at the federal level, led by organizations like Hispanic Access Foundation and HECHO. So, Latino Outdoors took this to the California State Legislature and, with the support of conservation leaders including Assemblymember and sponsor Eduardo Garcia, it was passed without dissent.

José González and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia

José González and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (Photo Credit: Michael A. Estrada)

We’re now working to get similar resolutions passed in other states. Our first additional success has been in New Mexico, where Representatives Angelica Rubio, Joanne J. Ferrary, Stephanie Garcia Richard and Patricia Roybal Caballero introduced House Memorial 37 and it passed in the House. This is important because the diversity of Latino identity is not limited to California. For example, House Memorial 37 recognizes the Hispano contributions to conservation in New Mexico.

Although it may seem only like a statement, it is a big one. I have seen my colleagues at Latino Outdoors react to the simplicity of what the resolution says and the meaning behind it: “WHEREAS, Latino conservation initiatives break down barriers, improve access to public land, and encourage outreach to, and new opportunities for, the Latino community to enjoy public land.” That says, “We know you’ve been doing this work and what you do matters.”

California resolution

Photo Credit: Michael A. Estrada

At a recent leadership campout and training in the San Francisco Bay Area, a group of college Latinas from Latinas In Action had invited me to speak. I brought the resolution with me to share and they responded with excitement. They wanted to read it, hold it and take pictures with it. A particular statement stood out to them: “WHEREAS, The largest ethnic group in the state will have a significant role in the future success and preservation of California’s public land, especially as that group continues to grow.”

They saw themselves reflected as participants and leaders in the space—that they mattered to the future success of this work. And here they were, camping out, Latinas outdoors, growing into the community we had often sought when we started Latino Outdoors in 2013.

That is why California ACR-137 is important to me. It is a reminder and recognition of what we have, can and will contribute to the outdoors. It is like having your story, your heritage, included in the history book.

It is another affirmation and statement saying, “Estamos aquí.  (We are here.)”