Mountainfilm: Jose Gonzalez On Latino Americans In The Outdoors

The line-up for the 41st annual gathering of the tribe features guest director Cheryl Strayed, plus Sir Chris Bonington, Hilaree Nelson, Erin Parisi and top Obama aide Ben Rhodes. (For more on Rhodes, go here.)

Passes/tickets to the 41st annual Mountainfilm are on selling out.

And the full schedule is here.

Please scroll down to learn more about Mountainfilm guest Jose Gonzalez through his story and podcast.

“Ahimsa (non-harming) begins with yourself. The planet is your extended body: the air is your breath; the trees and oceans are your lungs; and the earth recycles your flesh and bones…,” Deepak Chopra, MD.

To understand the contributions the world’s indigenous groups can provide to the modern world, in 2007, the UN launched the Traditional Knowledge Initiative, studying the practices and traditional knowledge of modern and ancient indigenous communities. As part of that initiative, the UN produced an analysis of sustainability practices of the Aztecs  or Mexita, with some very interesting findings. How did the Mexita manage to maintain a clean and ordered city with such a large population for the standards of the era? According to online sources, it came down to sustainable agriculture, recycling practices, and a strong organizational system based on education, strict penalties (like the death penalty for cutting down a tree without permission), and communal benefits.

Fast forward in time, prominent Latinx figures with obvious respect for the environment include Emilio Zapata, Favianna Rodriguez, Devon Peña, Alfredo Figueroa and the late Berta Cáceres, relatively recently assassinated for her fierce opposition to a harmful hydropower project in Central America.

In that historical context, given that Latino interest in the outdoors in not new (though often portrayed as such), self-described conservationist, educator, illustrator, and Chicano/Latino José González, founder/director emeritus of Latino Outdoors, is working today to ensure everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, has access to outdoor adventures so that the demographics of the outdoor recreation community wind up reflecting the demographics that make up a shifting American population, to whit, on or around 2042, most of the population of the US will be non-white.

So then why today do our national parks, “America’s Best Idea” (per Ken Burns), remain so darn Wonder Bread white?

Short (and ok, perhaps oversimplified) answer: our national parks have racist origins.

“Looking over the National Park Service’s first 100 years, we find a federal agency that, like many U.S. institutions, got off to a severely rocky start in terms of racial inclusion. These national parks were carved out, in large part, as sanctuaries for people to retreat to from what they considered the growing scourge of urbanization. Native Americans were fought off of their sacred tribal lands so that white men could recreate, hike, hunt, and fish in these places at their own leisure. This probably isn’t the most glowing piece of trivia to share on the park service’s 100th birthday, but you really can’t discuss the system’s birth without this context.

“More recently, the NPS has been reaching for some semblance of racial reconciliation. As an agency, it acknowledges it has problems with diversity and inclusion to solve, but it seems uncertain about how to do that. For example, it doesn’t quite know what to do with a guy like Madison Grant, a white man who quite literally wrote the book on 20th-century white supremacy—and who helped launch the national parks movement.

“As Jedediah Purdy wrote in an article a year ago for The New Yorker, Grant “spent his career at the center of the same energetic conservationist circle” as his buddy President Theodore Roosevelt. With Roosevelt, he helped found the New York Zoological Society, now known as the Wildlife Conservation Society. He also helped create the Boone and Crockett Club, which is responsible for developing Yellowstone National Park.

“However, Grant’s 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race, which Adolph Hitler claimed as his bible, provides a detailed accounting of Grant’s virulently xenophobic views on immigrants, Native Americans, and black people. Racism was not a mere side hustle for Grant, or some hobby he indulged when not building parks. Rather, white supremacy was part and parcel of his worldview on nature conservation and parks creation…, “ wrote The New Yorker in 2016.

So how do we get to a better place from there?

With people like González leading the way into a wilderness of possibilities.

González’ goal extends way beyond the national park system into any and all kinds of outdoor experiences with the hope of nurturing a lifelong love of nature in Latino children, their families, and their communities.

José González is a speaker at the 41st annual Mountainfilm, which takes place in Telluride over Memorial Weekend, May 24 – May 27, 2019.

González is part of panel on pathways toward inclusion and access in outdoor recreation, to be moderated by James Edward Mills, an African-American journalist who has worked in the outdoor industry for 30 years.

Other speakers include: Teresa Baker, founder of the CEO Diversity Pledge; Jenny Bruso, creator of the blog and Instagram account Unlikely Hikers, dedicated to the underrepresented outdoorsperson; Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors and Parisi, an accomplished alpinist who founded TranSending, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing transgender rights.

“Those with a strong Latino identity — which is diverse and encompasses, for example, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans — tend to value tradition and their roots, heritage, and practices. So, when you go out on the trail as a Latino, you might feel like you must leave your culture at the trailhead because you’re transitioning to a different exclusive culture…

“What we are striving to do is point out the overlap between someone’s heritage and the outdoor narrative — that regardless of who you are, there is already an appreciation for and connection with nature, and everyone can be out on a trail. As my friend Juan Martínez says, ‘Trees don’t care what’s in your bank account, and mosquitoes don’t care what skin color you are. They will go after you just the same,” Gonzalez explained in a 2017 interview with Experience Life.

González’s calling stems from his own roots.

Born José Guadalupe Adonis González Rosales he grew up in the mountain town of Amatlan de Cañas in the southwestern Mexican state of Nayarit, where spending time in nature was woven into the fabric of his daily life: he played by the river, walked to school along a hillside trail, and helped his grandparents tend the crops. However, Gonzalez’s dad did migrant cannery work in the U.S., and so he and his mother and siblings moved frequently between Mexico and the U.S. before permanently relocating to Turlock, California when he was 9. There, his outdoor play got transplanted to city parks.

González’s twin passions for nature and education merged at the University of California–Davis, where he was employed by a teacher-training program titled California Mini-Corps in which most of his fellow students were migrants. That was when Gonzalez took on the handle the still uses today of “Green Chicano.”

During the summers, González joined California Mini-Corps’s outdoor-education initiative, instructing migrant students during multi-week outings. It was then and there he came to realized the importance grafting culture onto nature activities.

After earning a master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, González received a grant to take a group on an outing to Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California. The concept of Latino Outdoors was born.

In 2013, González founded Latino Outdoors as a way to focus the Latinx identity in the outdoors, ultimately creating a network of conservation leaders dedicated to magnifying and expanding the Latino experience in the great outdoors.

Latino Outdoors now operates in about 14 states, providing outdoor and conservation groups with a road map for engaging diverse populations and educating the next generation of explorers.

González’s timing has proven to be spot on. Within the outdoor and environmental communities there is a growing understanding that, without the support and leadership of the soon-to-be non-white majority in the US, public lands –– where much of the nation’s outdoor recreating takes place –– will become more vulnerable to privatization and development and so addressing existential issues such as climate change will become even more difficult, then, well, game over.

“Estamos aquí” is the message and González’s mantra. That phrase is a declaration Latinos are making, more and more, while stepping off yellow buses and other modes of transport onto slopes, beaches and peaks across the country: “We are here.”

And that is a very good thing.

An evolving science – nature neuroscience to be exact – focuses on the impact of the nature on our minds and bodies. Studies suggests that regular exposure can now take its rightful place next to kale, aerobic exercise, yoga, and meditation as one of the newest – and oldest – miracle cures, an antidote to the modern malaise of stress and screen addiction and the secret to a longer, happier, healthier, more creative life.

According to the latest research, as little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone and lower blood pressure. Increase exposure to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature to 45 minutes and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance. Researchers in England have shown that access to green spaces reduces income-related mental health disparities. And the awe of being at a place like the Grand Canyon – or Telluride – or staring at the Milky Way affirms the mystery of the unknown and takes us out of ourselves. In awe, we stop staring at our belly buttons, stop ruminating (which contributes to depression), and magically feel connected to the larger world.

And that larger world includes a rainbow coalition in which Latinos like González should be playing a major role.

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