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Connecting Communities with Latino Outdoors

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Latino Outdoors group photo
Photo Credit: Veronica Miranda, Latino Outdoors

For Latino Conservation Week, we are featuring our partner, Latino Outdoors. Battle Born Batteries loves working with organizations that build communities to protect public lands and break down the barriers that prevent people from enjoying nature.    

Latino Outdoors is a Latinx-led organization that strives to inspire, connect and engage Latino communities in nature.

The nonprofit encourages people to embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, which is important in ensuring that Latinx history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented. Latino Outdoors (LO) focuses on fostering and facilitating outdoor experiences that families can easily enjoy together, said Luis Villa, LO’s Executive Director.

Latino Outdoors also helps to build inter-community relationships with the goal of uniting people of different backgrounds and contributing to a more diverse constituency that protects public lands for everyone in future generations.

Comienza Outdoors

José González founded Latino Outdoors in 2013. José is an artist and environmental educator who immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. when he was nine years old. As a grad student, José Googled “Latinos and the outdoor,” which didn’t yield many search results. This motivated him to create Latino Outdoors in order to connect with other Latinx community members with a passion for outdoor recreation and nature conservation.

A Latino Outdoors led hike
Photo Credit: Veronica Miranda, Latino Outdoors

“If people see themselves reflected in a particular space, then they are more apt to engage in that space,” Luis said. “So those of us, like Battle Born Batteries, Latino Outdoors, and many others, who want to foster the public’s engagement with the outdoors, we want to make sure everyone in the public sees themselves reflected in the outdoors.”

Luis said the concept of cultura y familia is a big part of LO’s guiding philosophy. According to José González, part of this means “you don’t have to check your culture at the trailhead,” and you can be your whole self while on that trail. That also means embracing all ethnicities and people who are passionate about conserving public lands.

Though LO is a Latinx-led organization that focuses on conversations on the Latinx experience, it isn’t limited to that arena. Luis said the nonprofit is open to working with people of all identities, whether that be race, nationality, language, gender, or anything else.

“Even within Latino communities, there’s diversity, it’s not a monolith, and so we are committed to recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating that diversity,” Luis said. “So that is what cultura y familia means, it means being welcoming of a person’s, of a family’s, of a group’s complete identity or set of identities, because we are all multifaceted individuals.”

Vamos Outdoors

Luis said they not only seek to expand cultural representation of people who are nature conservationists but also the definition of who is considered outdoorsy. LO’s program Vamos Outdoors organizes free nature outings to connect with people and encourage them to enjoy the outdoors.

Two young women on a Latino Outdoors bike ride.
Photo Credit: Latino Outdoors

Luis said about 75% of their programming is day hiking. He said these hikes are simple, low-barrier-to-entry activities for people and their families to get out into nature. Holding gatherings that are easy to participate in, helps plant a seed that can be nurtured, and can take people from nature enthusiasts to nature advocates.

“By encouraging people to engage in these, to put it this way, simpler outdoor activities, we’re planting a seed,” Luis said. “Those who want to grow and evolve their form of engagement with the outdoors can do so because they have gotten an introduction to it here.”

In 2020 and early 2021, Latino Outdoors encouraged more socially distanced activities such as family bike rides and individual outdoor reading. But after pandemic restrictions have eased, they’re also holding events like a Beaver Walk-About in Denver, CO, a Bat Conservation Hike, and Outdoor Yoga in New York City.

Though the nonprofit was responsive in adjusting to the pandemic and created socially distant programs, Luis said he is excited to get back to more community-based events.

Yo Cuento Outdoors

A group of Latino Outdoors members jumping in the waves
Photo Credit: Christian La Mont, Latino Outdoors

Part of that flexible response to COVID was putting more energy into another pillar of Latino Outdoors– its Yo Cuento Outdoors blog and other communications. Yo Cuento has a few meanings in Spanish, translating to “I count,” “I matter,” and “I tell a story.”

It’s a place where LO members can share their stories, experiences, and love of nature with Latino Outdoors’ online community. One project that Luis is proud of is the “Mapping Migraciones” series. It’s a collaboration with Audubon California and the National Audubon Society.

The project connects the migration of people with bird migration patterns. By joining these forms of migration, this collaboration is meant to show how people and birds are connected through geography and culture. It also demonstrates how stories connect all people in the Americas together, both North and South.

Another aspect of LO’s storytelling initiatives is a series of Yo Cuento short documentaries that you can view on the Latino Outdoors’s website.

Crecemos Outdoors

The third program that Latino Outdoors offers is Crecemos Outdoors, or “we grow outdoors.” Luis said it is their outdoor leadership development program. Not only does the program train LO’s volunteers, it also fosters professional and personal development and growth opportunities for those volunteers and the greater LO community.

The program incorporates a job board onto the LO website, called the “jobs+ opportunity board,” where other organizations and companies can post outdoor-related jobs, internships, or fellowships.

Crecemos sponsors wilderness first aid and first responder training, along with naturalist certifications for LO’s volunteers. Though Luis was afraid the pandemic will lead to people disengaging with the nonprofit’s activities, Latino Outdoors onboarded 50 new volunteers in 2020, which was the most of any single year.

Luis credits this bump in volunteers to channeling more energy into LO’s Yo Cuento Outdoors storytelling and communications initiatives during the time when group outings were not possible due to the pandemic, leading to increased awareness of Latino Outdoors’ mission. He said that is what he likes about LO’s three main programs: they all build on each other to help people become more passionate about conservation.

“When we’re talking about taking groups of people outdoors, that helps build memories and positive experiences for them in the outdoors,” Luis said. “Those memories become stories and images that we then share and amplify through Yo Cuento Outdoors. And some of those images and stories resonate with certain people that follow us and become inspired to actually take the next step and become a volunteer with us. So, you see? they all feed into each other.”

Go to latinooutdoors.org to learn more about Latino Outdoors, participate in their outdoor programming, and read the Yo Cuento blog.

The Latino Outdoors flag attached to a tree.
Photo Credit: Christian La Mont, Latino Outdoors
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