Field Notes: Strengthening roots through LatinX communities outreach

USDA Forest Service staff from Mt. Hood National Forest, Resource Assistants Leslie Garcia and Kira McConnell, and VIVE Northwest participants pose for a group photo during a stewardship event at Zig Zig Ranger Station April 6, 2019. Courtesy photo VIVE Northwest.

As the Hispanic/LatinX Communications and Community Engagement Specialist for the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Regional Office in Portland, Ore., I’ve been able to connect with many organizations and community leaders that are working to ensure members of LatinX communities feel comfortable and welcomed in outdoor spaces.

It’s important to understand the backgrounds and diverse cultures within the LatinX communities.

The ability to provide bilingual educational and nature-based programs is critical to educating all populations about the importance of public lands.

There is a need for diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural relevance when trying to engage communities in the outdoors, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region has had several opportunities to be part of community engagements led by these organizations.

Their work is not only helping the Forest Service meet a need for outdoor and conservation education in these communities, it’s also helped Forest Service employees recognize the importance of intentional, meaningful and culturally relevant outreach.

VIVE Northwest participants join Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia in clearing ivy on Bear Creek during a stewardship event April 6, 2019 on Mt. Hood National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Resource Assistant Kira McConnell.
VIVE Northwest participants join Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia in clearing ivy on Bear Creek during a stewardship event April 6, 2019 on Mt. Hood National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Resource Assistant Kira McConnell.

Founded in 2016, Vive NW was created to provide a solution to the lack of diversity in the outdoors through powerful and enriching experiences here in the Pacific Northwest.

VIVE connects Latino communities to the outdoors by providing powerful and enriching experiences offered through nature. The end goal, Diversifying the Outdoors.

In early spring, VIVE Northwest partnered with Mt. Hood National Forest for a stewardship day.

Families, children, friends, and LatinX communities members from all parts of Portland met at the Zig Zag Ranger Station to help clear ivy and plant a hundred trees in pouring rain.

Photograph of young VIVE Northwest participant planting a tree with Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia at Bear Creek on Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore. April 6, 2019. Courtesy photo by VIVE Northwest.
Photograph of young VIVE Northwest participant planting a tree with Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia at Bear Creek on Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore. April 6, 2019. Courtesy photo by VIVE Northwest.

This photo is one of my favorites from this event. Besides this being such a great picture, the memories attached to it truly make me smile! I love that it was captured, because of all the moments leading up to the taking of this photo.

While we were all working together to clear the ivy, I had the opportunity to meet this young girl, along with her mother and older sister. I had a very heart-felt conversation with the mom. I was curious to know how they’d heard of the event, and what they thought of it so far.

Her response was one I could immediately relate to, and sparked so many memories from my own life and the lives of my family.

In her hometown of Michoacán, Mexico (which is where my mom is from), she would help her family en el campo de aguacates (avocado fields) as a young kid. She told me how much she missed doing this type of work. She was happy that she could share a similar stewardship experience with her daughters and that organizations like VIVE Northwest were organizing these types of opportunities.

I grew up hearing this same story from my mom. Although I don’t remember much of that time, I know I, also, roamed the campo de aguacates in Michoacan as a child. Now this is shared stewardship!

Not everyone will have the same positive experience or interest in doing field work, but acknowledging the stories behind others experiences in stewardship work allows us to see the roots that connect us all, together, to the land. 

Latino Outdoors is a Latino-led organization that aims to inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors by embracing cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring Latino history and heritage are represented and appreciated alongside those of other communities and cultures.

Members of the Latino Outdoors Seattle Chapter with Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Youth and Community Engagement Resource Assistant Kelsey Chun and Latinx Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia at Snoqualmie Pass March 10, 2019. Courtesy photo by Latino Outdoors.
Members of the Latino Outdoors Seattle Chapter with Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Youth and Community Engagement Resource Assistant Kelsey Chun and Latinx Resource Assistant Leslie Garcia at Snoqualmie Pass March 10, 2019. Courtesy photo by Latino Outdoors.

In March, I joined Kelsy Chun, Youth and Community Engagement Resource Assistant for Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, on a snowshoeing expedition with Latino Outdoors Seattle Chapter at Snoqualmie Pass.

At that time, Latino Outdoors Seattle was the only active Latino Outdoors chapter in the Pacific Northwest.

It was amazing to see such a fun group of people enjoying a day out in the snow. It was my first time snowshoeing, just like several of the participants, but sharing the first time experience even as a facilitator was truly amazing!

I was so inspired, I’m currently serving an Outings Leader for the Latino Outdoors Portland, Oregon Chapter.

Members Latino Outdoors Portland Chapter pose with outings leaders, members, a State Park Ranger a Forest Service employee, and an interns during a conservation education activity at Tryon Creek State Park, Ore. July 21, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.
Members Latino Outdoors Portland Chapter pose with outings leaders, members, a State Park Ranger a Forest Service employee, and an interns during a conservation education activity at Tryon Creek State Park, Ore. July 21, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.

On July 21st, for the last day of Latino Conservation Week, our chapter organized a nature hike at Tyron Creek.

The hike was led by a state park ranger, and Forest Service employees joined us to share Leave No Trace principles and engage with the community members.

Serving communities often means meeting them where they are and where they are interested in being. Local parks can be a place for all nature lovers and conservationists to come together.

The chapter partnered with the Forest Service for an outing at Mt. Hood, their first trip on National Forest, earlier this month.

My position (a short-term Resource Assistant position supporting the USDA Forest Service’s Regional Office, provided through an agency partnership with Northwest Youth Corps), has been an incredible opportunity to connect and work alongside these organizations, and others.

I’ve been able to take part in new activities and see new places, but what I will cherish is the sense of culture and community that was present during those moments.


Source information: Leslie Garcia recently completed a 14-month assignment supporting the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region Office of Communications and Community Engagement and its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion outreach programs through an agency partnership with NW Youth Corps. For more information about education and employment opportunities for young people, including the Youth Conservation Corps, Resource Assistant Program, internships and fellowships, visit https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/opportunities-for-young-people.

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