I have often shared that some of my most memorable outdoor experiences have been among the redwoods, from the giants at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, to the intimate community of Muir Woods National Monument. Consistently, the term that came to mind was the magical realism associated with Latin American literature. I would think…these giants exist…they are real—but with a sense of hyper-realism or maybe so unreal that they are so magical. They are living breathing giants, fantasy materialized. They are telling me so much in this silence if I listen attentively—I am not just looking at trees here. Layers of connection happen with all the senses and emotions as I walk around them. I am not just visiting a park to see things on display. I am connecting with myself in mind and spirit—a restorative experience. I learn about the place and myself and these elders have a story—a long life over so many human histories. And all these connections, between nature and culture make me feel welcome and I think of how the outdoors connects with my ideas of home.
Home is where my ancestors and elders greet me.
Home is not just where my immediate family is. My culture is deeply intergenerational and I’ve often lived in a home where my grandparents have raised me, where my aunts and uncles are ever present, but also where my elders from past generations still stop by to give advice or simply are present in the family space. So when I’m outdoors and I look at a family of redwoods, sequoias, or oaks, these are elders and ancestors as well— similar as those of Native American communities, where familiar spirits are present in these outdoors spaces. When I am connected to that in the outdoors, I am home.
Home is where my familia welcomes me.
Although the outdoors is a nurturing and healing space for solitary endeavors—often a place to “get away from it all” and quietly reflect by one self, to me home is also where my familia is present, in many senses of the word. Like many others, I do enjoy some personal space to be and reconnect with myself, but my community has raices in creating family in social spaces and the outdoors is and should be no different. Home is where the parents and the children play together and where families can be together to create a larger family of cultural familiarity and comfort. Home is where the campground feels no different than the plaza of my hometown, the cocina of my abuela, or me sitting with my parents on the front lawn, catching up on how the primos and tias are doing.
Home is where my cultura sings to me.
Beyond my family, home is where culture is blended with the space such that it does not feel like such extremely different spaces. Yes, some of the activities may be different but HOW we do them can still be very familiar. It is where beans are soaking near the campfire stove and where hot chocolate comes in the form of Abuelita or Ibarra tablets. It is where Chespirito, Chapulin Colorado, Cholula, and chanclas are mixed with leave-no-trace principles, proper tent setup, and countless naturalist quotes. It is where the table cover around which we will gather for a meal—in its resplendent array of color—will have come from México or Peru. And yes, it is where the homemade salsa will be on that tabletop or someone will be asking who brought the Tapatio bottle.
Home is Where I am Me.
I am an immigrant from México. I am an English Language Learner. I am a former Migrant student. I am the oldest of all my siblings and the first in my family to go to college. I grew up poor as my parents did their best to provide for us in a new country. My story is like that of many others and what my home was growing up was no different than countless others who followed a similar path. But I grew to love and understand the idea of “the Outdoors” in this new country, and advocate for a multifaceted view and interaction with nature and our public lands. Hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities became as comfortable and familiar as quinceañeras, bautizos, and posadas. This is important because it was powerful to realize I could function competently and comfortably in what could have been two seemingly disparate cultures. I began to explore the idea of being “ambicultural”— not just bicultural — a role in which I could leverage both my “Latino” culture and identity and my growing “outdoors” culture and identity to be me and be of service to my community. This was important because both places mattered to me and I did not want to leave my cultura at the trailhead or have my outdoor adventures be labeled as “another white thing he does”. Now I proudly take my huaraches to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or by the campfire at a local state park as we gather to make s’mores and others have their night cafecito con pan dulce.
Home is where we’ll pitch tent, where we camp, where we hit the trail, where we’ll look up at the countless stars and where we will greet el sol, Tonatiuh. Because we bring home with us, not just packed in our daypack or car trunks, but also packed in our minds and hearts, to be shared with each other. When we say “Vamos Camping” we are creating the space to take home with us. That is a reality and aspiration that should be within reach of anyone that loves and enjoys the outdoors regardless of their background. If home is where the heart is, then we can make home anywhere, and the outdoors should be no exception.
José Gonzalez is the Founder of Latino Outdoors.