Embracing Cultura y Familia with Latino Outdoors Leaders Josie Gutierrez and Bianca Guevara
A conversation with Josie Gutierrez and Bianca Guevara will make you believe anything is possible—especially when the following are in play: 1) a passion for the outdoors, 2) a love of community, and 3) the hard work of dedicated volunteers. Both Gutierrez and Guevara are leaders in Latino Outdoors (LO) Texas, an organization that inspires, connects, and engages Latino communities in the outdoors and envisions a world where all Latino communities enjoy nature as a safe, inclusive, and welcoming place.
Both native San Antonians with a lifelong love of being outside, these volunteers each found a different path to LO Texas. For Gutierrez, who grew up on film sets with her father—a prominent and pioneering Chicano filmmaker—impassioned advocacy for the Latino community was as commonplace as making cameos in her dad’s movies or traveling the film circuit, though Gutierrez says she didn’t recognize the significance of it until later. “I loved his passion,” she says of her dad. “I’m fearless because of him.” But it was only until after her two daughters were grown that she had time to consider her own “leap.” She started blogging to share her enthusiasm for outdoor fitness with a wider audience and grew a substantial, global following. Gutierrez and LO found each other online, and LO asked her to be an ambassador—now she’s been involved for five years. Three years ago, she became Program Coordinator and began to recruit her own volunteers.
One of those volunteers is Guevara, who grew up exploring San Antonio green spaces with her siblings—bike-riding and building tree forts. “Whenever I experience the outdoors,” she says, “it’s that recall back to my childhood. My brother and sister and I would ride bikes for hours or spend time at Brackenridge Park. We didn’t take a lot of trips. City parks were where I experienced my freedom.” That exploration, she says, is crucial for the mental health and well-being of kids. “As a child, you’re learning to develop your own sense of protection outdoors.” Concern for the lack of access for these experiences was partly what led her to LO, but it also began as simply a way to indulge that passion for the outdoors. Her boyfriend (now a fellow LO leader) had never been camping before, and they were both excited to gain new skills. She laughs. “We were so excited—we’re going to learn how to pitch a tent!” Her leadership has since evolved into cultural connection and community activism. Unlike Gutierrez, Guevara felt discouraged from exploring her heritage growing up. “For my parents at least, it was frowned upon to speak Spanish.” Her work with LO has been a chance to reconnect to the culture she’d felt separate from for years. A highpoint was meeting LO founder José González on a campout with the San Antonio branch. “Being with a group of people who are so unafraid of their culture, who love where they’re from,” she says, “it lit a fire in me.”
As an Outings Leader for LO Texas, Guevara has the opportunity for “wide-reaching advocacy.” Recently she has been working four different voter registration sites located in parks as well as sharing information on San Antonio’s Share the Street initiative, which reduces traffic to make some streets safer for cycling and pedestrians.
While the pandemic has presented a real challenge to connecting in the outdoors—LO was recently forced to cancel their very first all-women’s campout—the opportunities for outreach are ever-evolving. “We’re challenged to take what we’ve traditionally done outside and put it onscreen,” says Guevara. “We usually max out capacity for our hiking events, but virtual events will grow.”
Most importantly, says Gutierrez, they need to keep up messaging that encourages the Latino community to get outside in local and state parks and to feel included and safe in these spaces. Gutierrez makes a point of highlighting her hikes, taking pictures, and offering tips, encouraging the thinking that “If Josie went, I can do it, too!”
Fresh off the success of Latino Conservation Week, LO has big plans for future partnering. For Hispanic Heritage Month, Gutierrez wants to schedule virtual walk-and-talks with Texas State Parks guides and to film read-alouds with nature-based picture books. A big dream in the works is to secure funding to guide twelve families through a year of learning about the park system. This socially distanced and safe training would conclude in gifting these families the equipment they need to sustain these experiences to keep that outdoor heritage alive.
Passing down the knowledge and tradition of outdoor experience and witnessing that intergenerational learning on LO campouts has been a delightful discovery for Gutierrez. She says that older generations are more closely connected to nature. “This is all they knew growing up,” she says. “Go outside, go outside! Afuera, afuera!” The eldest campers on LO excursions have been in their eighties; the youngest were grandchildren less than a year old. “Everyone puts their phones away and bonds,” says Gutierrez. Social media makes way for oral storytelling and listening for the sounds of local wildlife.
“The group is about so much more than spending time outdoors,” says Guevara. “It’s really ignited a sense of who I am.”
“It’s the power of the outdoors,” says Gutierrez. “It just keeps giving back.”