If you told me a year ago that I would be working for the National Park Service today, I would have never believed you. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico at a very young age, I grew up in an extremely conservative place that lacked ethnic and racial diversity. While I did grow up close to a lot of nature, my marginalized identity made me feel like I did not belong in these spaces. I felt like there was a threshold of entry. To be a part of this space, it felt like you had to have grown up learning how to do the outdoors by your family, but I was never taught by my family. My ties to nature and my environment had been fractured through my move to a new and unfamiliar place that never quite felt like my own.
I accepted this fellowship because I have recently found that I wanted to grow personally and through my career in conservation; I found myself naturally gravitating towards experiences in the outdoors as an adult. Through this experience as an Outdoor Recreation Fellow, I expected to grow my knowledge about public lands, conservation, and the vast amount of organizations and networks that exist in this world. I have found that to be true during my first two months in this position, but I have also gained something that has impacted me profoundly: community.
I went on a camping trip to Potomac, Maryland with other fellows and alumni for Latino Conservation Week in July. This was my first time camping. I had never pitched a tent before, slept in a sleeping bag, or been outside late enough in the night in a remote place to not be able to see anything without a flashlight. I experienced a new facet of the outdoors and it was thrilling!
Yet, the people on the trip are what truly made it special. Other fellows and alumni on the trip shared stories and feelings around our campfire that night about how we had come to realize and pursue our passions in the outdoors. I came to find that a lot of the others also had felt marginalized growing up and for various reasons they had felt like they could not be a part of the outdoors until very recently in their lives -- just like me. Even though everyone had felt like this, they were determined to be a part of conservation and live out their truths finding their own connections to the environment -- just like me.
Being in community with these individuals motivated me so much in how I view myself in these outdoor spaces, but also in my work as a fellow. I work in the Office of Outdoor Recreation, which focuses not only on expanding the range of recreation opportunities available to visitors, but also works to expand the population who recreate outdoors. The stories I heard on the camping trip proved how important it was to address the widespread barriers to access for our under-resourced communities to be able to participate in the outdoors. During my fellowship, I want to help identify these barriers in our own systems and to find innovative, sustainable solutions to these problems, so that hopefully we can build Latinx communities in the coming generations that will look at the outdoors and believe that nature is for them too.
Agency: National Park Service
Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)
Location: Washington Office Region 1