Growing up in an immigrant Latino household, hiking and exploring the wilderness (much less backpacking) was not part of normal life, or even a thought. Why would anyone want to explore the selva? It is dangerous and not a destination for a family vacation. I do remember one summer we went to see the Redwoods and Yosemite, but it was a very curated packaged excursion with tour buses and hotels. It seemed like all my family vacations were not about exploring, but about someone guiding us through popular sites. The only times we went off the beaten path were when we visited Spanish-speaking countries, I think mainly because my parents felt like they knew the cultures and were comfortable. My parents wanted to be American and experience everything American; these vacations were a way to do that.
This week is Latino Conservation Week, and I ask myself how someone who grew up so sheltered was able to find themselves at home in the selva. One thing was certain with my parents, education was key to success and how you could live the American dream. Of course, their American dream was much different than mine. I was drawn to adventure and exploration; I took college courses that inspired me to be outdoors and not only use it as recreation but make a career outside. This was unheard of for my parents, and I would hear constantly that I wouldn’t make money and there were no careers in the selva. It was a very contentious debate for years. So, I continue to ask myself: how did I get here?
I truly believe education with experience is the key to success. Success to me is not monetary, but the freedom to be yourself. In my early twenties, I took a class through the Sierra Club called the ‘Wilderness Travel Course’. It was an intense 10-week course with 4-6 outings. The course was intended to teach you everything you need to know on how to hike, backpack, and survive the selva. This course was life-changing for me. It gave me the education, experience, and confidence I needed to start exploring how I fit into the selva. I am so grateful for that experience because it sent me on my trajectory to follow my passion for conservation and recreation in my career and personal life. Back then I was one of the few, if not the only Latina, but that did not deter me. I was determined to enjoy the selva like everyone else. Nowadays, I see more people who look like me on the trail and I work with more people who look like me. The diversity I see now is wonderful and comforting. My goal now is to teach my kids and others the importance of the selva and share with them my salvaje heart and soul.