5 Latinas Championing Diversity in the Outdoors
For Latinas in the outdoors, it’s often rare to find a face that looks like theirs or a voice that sounds familiar. Because of the lack of diversity in the outdoors, several Latina hikers have taken it upon themselves to create spaces for them, and other women of color, to feel comfortable, represented, and educated when exploring nature. Here are five inspiring Latina women diversifying the outdoors who are ready to be your guide down any trail.
Running, biking, and swimming come naturally to Anette Padilla, a regular triathlon participant. But after coming across a social media post that encouraged users to have diverse feeds, Padilla began noticing that the outdoorsy accounts she followed were predominately white and male. After a failed online search for Latina hikers and explorers, she decided to start an Instagram presence as Outdoor Latina.
“I think some people feel they’re not ‘outdoorsy’ based on the traditional definition, so by broadening it and making it a little more inclusive, [it] empowers people to call themselves outdoorsy…and continue to do outdoorsy things,” Padilla tells Luz Collective.
Currently traveling the U.S. in an RV with her partner, Padilla documents their trips while providing beginner tips for biking and hiking all in an effort to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. She also welcomes advice from more experienced outdoors people and shares this knowledge with her followers.
“In order to feel welcome, it’s easier if you see someone that looks like you already doing it,” she adds.
Through Hike and Lift, Heather Diaz is bringing representation in the outdoors. Diaz founded the blog to help people understand the fundamentals of hiking, camping, and backpacking. After learning about the Leave No Trace method, which encourages campers to not leave behind food, cans, plastic bags, or other items, she was motivated to teach and inspire others to do the same through online tips and guides, like how to plan a day trip or what to carry in your backpack. The goal is to help set individuals and groups up for camping and hiking success, no matter their level of experience.
“When I see people post a [nature] picture or image with a quote, it does nothing for me. I want [my followers] to feel inspired and empowered, and think ‘yes, I can do that. It makes sense,’” she says.
Growing up a runner, Diaz realized her love for nature could reach deeper levels by slowing down her pace in walking trails and camping overnight. For these trips, Diaz packs bright and bold colors; she’s not a fan of the neutral tones that are popular in mainstream hiking gear. After a friend likened Diaz’s style to tejana icon Selena, she started using her flamboyant prints and colors as a way to also inspire more Latinas in the outdoors.
“You don’t have to conform to a certain look or style just so you can be outdoorsy,” Diaz says.
Moving from Texas to Colorado for a job opportunity, Nez Nuñez was exposed to new landscapes. Living closer to nature, she says, improved her physical and mental health. In 2019, she started The Random Rover to share everything she could about her newfound love for nature.
“We were too poor to travel…but most of these things are free, and I just really want my nieces, nephews, cousins, my future kids, and future generations to know that the outdoor spaces are for all of us,” Nuñez says.
In August, Nuñez extended the invitation to diversify the outdoors to others by creating All Women Outdoors, a digital outdoor community profiling women of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes exploring nature. By widening representation of hikers and explorers, she hopes to encourage more Latinas to adopt these hobbies. Through the page, she also educates and raises awareness about how to preserve the beautiful landscapes that are pictured.
“I’m educating myself on people who [need accessibility] and things that I hadn’t had to keep in mind when I’m outside,” she adds.
After a solo winter trip to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Cindy Rodriguez realized the journal she carried was among the most important items packed. After all, her trip through the national park was inspired by her need to reflect on life and return to the outdoors. Not long after, Reclama, a spiritual wellness community for women of color she founded in 2018, was born.
“You take up space in the woods, you will take up space in other parts of our life,” Rodriguez tells Luz Collective. “…I tell [my groups], ‘we’re going to do a sharing circle at the trailhead. I’m going to smudge you with sage. You might even feel people kind of looking – ignore them. This is about us right now.’”
Diversifying the outdoors as a spiritual hiking guide, Rodriguez leads her groups by asking hikers to make sure they take moments to stop, breathe, meditate, and journal.
“To be with other women that look and sound like me who are taking up space in nature is reclamation, and it’s empowering to me,” she adds.
Growing up watching kids of all racial and ethnic backgrounds enjoying the outdoors during summer camp on the Disney Channel’s reality TV series Bug Juice, Evelynn Escobar-Thomas assumed she’d see similar representation during her first national park trip at 23 years old. She didn’t. To get this representation, Escobar-Thomas formed Hike Clerb, an intersectional hiking community and nonprofit that centers Black and brown women working to dismantle white supremacy, recharge, and focus on collective healing.
“As Black and brown people, we do carry a lot of intergenerational trauma, and nature is this sort of infinite source of healing [that] we can tap into and heal ourselves and our past generations,” Escobar-Thomas says.
The hikes are open to anyone who aligns with the mission and values of the community, including the goal to promote diversity in the outdoors. She tries to ensure that anyone who is interested in attending the trips are able to by securing partnerships that allow her to offer giveaways, like monthly national park passes, to low-income women of color.
“Being Black and being Indigenous, it’s been such a journey to not only reclaim the land but solidifying my own roots,” she says.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 2, 2020.