By Rialin Flores
As our way of celebrating Latino Conservation Week, which highlights the Latino community’s passion for protecting and enjoying public lands and waters, some of our Latinx-identified staff members are taking time to reflect on their own connection to conservation and the outdoors. While we’re taking time to honor the rich tradition many of us grew up with in conserving our land and water, we also want to recognize the barriers that still exist for Latinx communities to get outside, as well as the disproportionate impacts these communities face from air pollution, dirty water, and ongoing health concerns.
My connection to our outdoor spaces happened later in life and when I look back I remember not always feeling so comfortable doing the things that most Idahoans grew up doing. I remember my first ski trip at Bogus Basin. My middle school class from Payette was going to take a field trip to our local ski hill and all the other kids were so excited. They’d been before or their parents went and they just couldn’t wait to take on the slopes with their classmates. She had never been skiing before, but like many parents, my mom wanted to give her children more than what she had.
I had a different feeling. I looked at the cost of renting gear on the permission slip and remember being nervous if that would be too much for my single parent mother to squeeze out of our already tight budget. Then I saw the note about what we needed to wear: snow pants, ski jacket, gloves, goggles – and I knew I didn’t have any of that. I didn’t even know where to go to get those items. I cried when I presented the permission slip to my mother. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want her to be burdened by my school trip, and I asked her if I could call in sick that day instead.
She wasn’t going to have it. She had never been skiing before, but like many parents, my mom wanted to give her children more than what she had. At the time, she was a waitress and she went to the owners of the restaurant, who were known outdoor adventurers, and secured the clothes and gear I would need to say yes to the trip, and she worked an extra shift to make sure the cost of renting equipment wouldn’t be an issue.
In my borrowed gear – cue visions of neon, patchwork, 80’s puffy ski coat – I still didn’t quite fit in, but that didn’t matter after getting up there. I remember clearly this moment, when the clouds lifted from the top of Bogus, and I could see all of the Boise range around me – feeling this awe, a realization how big the outside world was – the very first time I felt swallowed up by a landscape – and how strong and brave and free I felt breathing in the cold air on a sunny day.
…feeling this awe, a realization how big the outside world was – the very first time I felt swallowed up by a landscape – and how strong and brave and free I felt breathing in the cold air on a sunny day.
I wasn’t the fastest, most skilled, most geared up person on the mountain that day– but my world view expanded. It was my first moment of being connected to what outdoor spaces now mean to me today. And, now that I have my own daughter, I can’t help but think about the legacy we will leave future generations, and wanting the exact outdoor experiences for my daughter that my mother wanted for me.
The outdoors haven’t always been accessible to all– and still don’t feel like it can be a welcoming place for many people of color or folks from low income families. As much as we should celebrate our heritage and strong conservation ethics within the Latinx community this week, we need to also work toward breaking down the barriers that exist for many communities to experience the outdoors. We have work to do.
Rialin Flores, CVI Executive Director (she/her), identifies as a mixed-race Latina.