Written by Simon Ruel, Altitude Sports writer.
Translation: Jodi Mandelcorn
Building an Outdoor Community: Natural Connections in Texas with Latino Outdoors and Osprey
Marie-Pierre Paradis-Claes, Content Manager at Altitude Sports, travelled to Austin, Texas to meet with José González, founder of Latino Outdoors. She joined him on a hike with the local branch of the organization, which works to promote inclusivity in the outdoors among the Latino community.
Day 1: Austin, Texas, baby!
We walk along the banks of the Colorado River. José González is charismatic, constantly smiling, listening, and asking thoughtful questions. Since he founded Latino Outdoors in 2013, the organization has seen incredible growth to the extent that he now travels the country to meet his various teams, give seminars, and, of course, participate in outdoor activities. Even if this frenetic pace is exhausting, when asked if there’s anything else he could see himself doing, his answer is a definitive no. He loves maintaining face-to-face relationships with the local organizers and volunteers that he works with and understanding their reality and that of their community.
José and Latino Outdoors, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, are dedicated to making the outdoors more welcoming and, above all, more inclusive for the Latin American community in the United States. For Latino Outdoors, everything is about connections: with the land, with its challenges, and with the processes by which we access it, but also about those between people.
Away from the city’s bustling crowds, where preparation is underway for the famous annual South by Southwest festival, José explains that tomorrow will be the largest gathering for a Latino Outdoor activity in Texas to date, even attracting participants from San Antonio, which is some 140 kilometres away. Around 30 people of all ages will partake, many just for the chance to meet José, who has become a bit of a celebrity within the community.
Born in Mexico, he has lived in California since he was nine years old. During his childhood, the word “outdoor” wasn’t used very often, and the concept of outdoor activities was foreign. Outside was for working, on the ranch or elsewhere. But when his family settled in Sacramento, he heard nature’s call. He began visiting the region’s lush national parks and realized that the rest of his community was absent from the landscape. From there, the idea of Latino Outdoors was born.
We get in the taxi, and unsurprisingly, our driver is Spanish-speaking. In Austin, the Latin American population has increased by 35% in the last 20 years. The driver’s name is José as well, and that’s how I learnt the concept of tocayo, the term used to describe people with the same name in Spanish. It’s more than just sharing the same name though, it implies something deeper, a sort of connection or similar lived experiences. The impromptu meeting seems fitting, especially during a weekend that turns out to be way more about community than hiking.
- ¿A dónde los llevo?
- Can you take us to about the middle, please?
The sun is setting over the Congress Avenue Bridge when José (the one driving the taxi) drops us off. Dozens of people crowd the banks of the river, in boats on the water, and around the bridge itself, their eyes glued to the underside of its deck. Before I even get the chance to ask a good Samaritan what’s going on, thousands of bats fly out, like something straight out of a horror movie. There are so many it looks like a dancing cloud. Well, as they say, “Keep Austin Weird!”
Day 2: The outdoors as a community space
At 7 a.m., I’m sitting on a park bench in McKinney Falls State Park with José, surrounded by the iconic Texas wildflowers, Bluebonnets, whose arrival officially marks the beginning of spring.
The park is located in the suburbs of Austin, and José explains the importance of outdoor accessibility for the Latinx community. How crucial it is to offer activities that require minimal equipment and that can be done near central locations. The outdoors is a space for people in the community to connect with one another and the land. Each activity includes a somewhat spiritual aspect, where focus is placed on the location, its history and the people that have lived there. Often, the participants tell a story originating in their cultural heritage, and that’s what sets the tone for today.
We begin our hike by crossing the Colorado River. When the water levels rise in the national park, you can fish, but today it is low enough for us to cross without getting wet. Behind me, 12-year-old Maddie talks nonstop.
- What do you enjoy doing most outside, Maddie?
- Walking with my grandmother!
The abuela in question, who accompanies her granddaughter, smiles. There are plenty of families in the group and people of all ages. Bianca, who has been involved in Latino Outdoors activities since 2017 and helped start the Austin chapter just nine months ago, describes the connection she sees at these events as organic: people always start conversing naturally, and find all kinds of similarities that lead to strong and lasting bonds.
I have a long chat with John, who tells me about his Mexican and Indigenous roots. Xicano-Apache is the term he uses. Xicano/Xicana, or Xicanx for the gender-neutral version, refers to a person born in the United States to Mexican parents. He tells me about a ceremony he participated in the day before with his tribe. Since returning home, I saw that John posted a photo of the hike on social media, with the text “estamos plantando semillas de esperanza, cambio y reconexión para las generaciones futuras,” which means “we are planting seeds of hope, change and reconnection for future generations.” Well said, John.
Latino Outdoors is more than an organization - it's a tightly-knit community. The group I met has a special connection, a sense of belonging that gives it its undeniable strength. Together, its members discuss issues that affect them and find solutions together. Latino Outdoors provides a safe and inviting environment for anyone who wishes to join. It creates a collective support system, with benefits that are more than just physical, but emotional as well. Where does the outdoors fit in all of this? As you can imagine, nature provides the perfect backdrop to experience this thoughtfulness and growth.
Questions for Marie-Pierre
1. What stuck with you the most from your conversations with the people of LO?
La cultura is such an integral part of the community. My biggest takeaway isn’t just the stories shared over Jarritos sodas, but the way everyone so proudly contributed their own unique roots to the conversation.
2. A must-have piece of equipment?
The Hydraulics reservoir that I slipped into my backpack to easily stay hydrated and keep my hands free - so I could take pictures!
3. With Austin being a self-proclaimed capital of country music, we must ask : what’s your favourite country song?
Jolene, from the queen of country herself, Dolly Parton.