It was made for everyone, even people like me; people who don’t feel that they fit the traditional ‘outdoorsy’ type. I don’t camp in my free time, I’m not planning weekend getaways to go hunting, and I’m not waking up at 5 am to go fishing on a boat. Instead, my experiences in nature have always been about the time I spend with my family and friends.
Spending the days swimming at the beach with my cousins, eating carne asada and elotes at a local lake, and climbing the trees in my backyard; those were my experiences in nature. And it took almost my whole life to realize that those experiences were just as valid.
It’s that realization that made me feel more comfortable trying new things and recommending others to do the same. When I realized that I didn’t need to be an expert to pick up a paddle or that I didn’t have to travel to remote forests to hike, that I could just be present outside – that’s the moment it clicked for me. I can choose what my connection to nature means and I can choose what it looks like. So, what if I can’t tell the difference between bird calls? Or identify plant species? I like going for a walk around the lake with my dog. I like sitting under a tree and listening to music. I may not have the typical “outdoorsy” experience, but they’re my experiences and I want to protect these natural spaces so that others can have their own experiences too.
I would have never considered myself a leader in conservation when there are so many people that are so much more knowledgeable about the natural world than I am. But that’s what Latino Conservation Week has showed me. Not only that we belong in these spaces, but that we all play a major role in conservation – because these places can mean so many different things to so many different people. That we are leaders in our own ways. Latinos are among the modern leaders of conservation and our strong and diverse communities are making our voices heard and our stories told.
Latino Conservation Week is a growing movement that is making an important difference in the Latino community. One that will continue to empower our people to become stewards of our natural lands.
Written by Oscar Hernandez Ledesma, a MANO Project Alum and current Park Ranger at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.