The Open Space Council Blog


Be our Guest: Latinos and the Outdoors, Part Three

October 21, 2013

This is the third post in a three-part series looking at Latinos and the challenges and opportunities for conservation organizations and professionals. The focus of this post is to highlight more specific strategies and approaches in engaging Latino communities for conservation. Read the first part and the second part.

What are the strategies you are trying or planning to connect with the Latino community? Looking for ideas? There are some options for conservation organizations and professionals based on the work of Environment for the Americas and their Connecting Cultures Toolkit. Reminder: a crucial first step is to always start a meaningful conversation in order to understand the needs and priorities of the community. Conversation before conservation!

Here are some potential strategies:

Bayer Farm in Santa Rosa

Awareness—Increase Your Knowledge of the Local Community

This first point was the focus of the first article. The key is to familiarize yourself with the demographics of the communities you are serving. The information is important for planning your outreach strategy and program development. Furthermore, find out and validate what outdoor experienced and conservation knowledge already exists in your community. For example, you may be surprise what the community already knows about the flora and fauna in your area.

Collaborate and Connect—Partner with Latino-Serving Organizations

You are likely already familiar with Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations in your community. If you do not have any contacts, this is where to start. Request a meeting and brainstorm ways where you can build a partnership. These organizations may assist you to disseminate information, identify obstacles to participation in your programs, and offer solutions to these obstacles.

Many Latino-serving organizations may focus on the areas of health, education, and immigration services, generally being social service agencies, faith-based organizations, or school-based groups. But there are a variety of local non-profits that focus on other areas as well.

Starting questions to ask:

There are several more, but these would be a helpful start, and once you connect with one, they can point you to others.

Half Moon Bay soccer field

Participate and Connect—Increase Your Presence in the Community and Provide Adapted Services

Partnering with Latino-serving organizations can provide opportunities to explore and take educational programs or other outreach services to places and events that attract Latino families. This can mean a presentation, a listening session, an activity, a booth, and so forth. But key is to pay attention how you may need to adapt your activities—do not just assume this will be the same as putting up a booth at any event.  

There are the “standard” cultural days like “Dia de Los Muertos” and “Cinco de Mayo”, but other relevant events are community health fairs, faith-based carnivals, and music/cultural events hosted by radio stations.

Communicate and Market—Contact Media Outlets and Create Inclusive, Informative Marketing Materials

Find out where Latino families get their news and community information. There may be several cultural and Spanish-language media available that can help with your outreach initiative, especially when offered as a public/community service.  For many Spanish-speaking communities, radio still provides a significant media platform for news and information.  Local Latino supermarkets and churches are other venues that can provide useful platforms to share your information.

If you are translating your materials to Spanish, make sure it is also a “cultural” translation. Some terms do not translate directly and there may be national or regional differences in the Spanish used. Ask community members if the information makes sense before disseminating. Check to see if your messaging makes sense to youth, to recent immigrants, to ambicultural Latinos, etc. Include photos of the community—do your marketing materials reflect the diversity of the community you are trying to work with?

Assess and Persist—Find Out What Works and Keep Trying

Have you tried many of these ideas and is it still challenging? How do you know what is working? How are you getting feedback from the community? Surveys can be helpful, but informal focus groups can yield richer information—sometimes this is as simple as just asking the community where they gather. You can use your connections with schools, faith-based organizations, and other Latino-serving organizations to help you, or to see how they get feedback about their programs.

One should also acknowledge that creating meaningful relationships with Latino communities takes time and patience, just as with any new relationship. One has to keep trying—sometimes a simple modification like the time of day makes all the difference. You may find out that most of the community’s parents work at a certain location/industry and are only available on Wednesday nights or Sundays after church.

Diversify and Invite—Be Inclusive and Create Opportunities

How do you include Latino leadership in this process? Who are the individuals that are knowledgeable about local community issues and connected to the Latino community? But more importantly how does the community feel part of the work that you do? What level of investment do they have in your success? Think of ways of including them in an advisory board, in decision-making, or in tangible ways beyond “just show up to the event”. Are you recruiting a diverse staff, interns, and volunteers? What feedback are you getting as to why your intern and volunteer base is not as diverse? How are you addressing those challenges? Do you have and advisory community board?

One key is to make it personal—make it inviting. Pay attention to how community members relate to each other—and to you. You need to keep a professional relationship, but many Latino communities develop personal connections to the work you do if you open those opportunities. Make invitations personal, have staff or volunteers greet visitors in culturally meaningful ways—after you have found out what works and assessing the types of encounters visitors may regularly have with your program. For example, if you are a ranger and most of your encounters with Latino families are disciplinary, you will not be a welcome face. But if you ask Latino families what you can do together to keep a space safe, clean, and accessible (especially for the children), it builds relationships that help with your objectives. If you have been invited to the dinner table, that is a very good sign.

Most importantly, when in doubt, ask.

Lake Merritt in Oakland

These points are not meant to be strictly prescriptive. Most likely you are already finding out what is working and not working in your community. The important question is what you are doing with that information. If you are stuck, where are you looking for help and how? You cannot just “let it be.” If you are having success, how is that success being shared with others and how are you integrating it into all your programs? How are you making it sustainable so that it is not contingent on just one program or individual?

We have many different approaches bubbling around but it is important to note how programs complement each other and support Latino leadership. Programs like the California Mini-Corps Outdoor Education Program and Camp Moreno highlight Latino leadership, which is needed. This is complimented by the work of organizations like Nature Bridge, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors, and Outward Bound, among many others, which have the resources to get more Latinos outdoors. How are you one of those organizations that is trying these efforts?

It is very important to support Latino leadership on the issue of getting more Latinos outdoors and into open spaces. The people who can bridge the Latino and the conservation communities are not necessarily lacking. “Bridging” individuals, those with the cultural and conservation background such as myself are here, ready to help with the right support. But remember that much like other mestizos, we encounter challenges of identity, especially compared to more “outdoorsy people”.

We need to keep building this leadership infrastructure and keep connecting while identifying and recognizing the value of bridging individuals and giving them a chance to work in this platform. That should serve as a call for mainstream conservation organizations and for Latino organizations looking for expertise on the issue.

Other helpful guides from the Environment for the Americas Connecting Cultures Toolkit can be found here and here. This toolkit by the Audubon Society may also be helpful. Also see this example from the US Forest Service Latino Legacy Program. Closer to home, pay attention to the work being done by LandPaths in their Vamos Afuera program.



José González holds a M.S from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment.  He is the Founder of Latino Outdoors and writer for Green Chicano, which is syndicated on News Taco, the Latino News Daily. He is a Butler-Koshland Fellow and can be reached at josegagonzalez(at)gmail(dot)com, on Twitter @JoseBilingue and @Green_Chicano. He welcomes opportunities to collaborate and increase Latino engagement with conservation issues. 

Photos courtesy of Google Earth.