I was that weird kid that was not allowed to go past her front balcony because her parents thought “no es que no confio en ti pero uno nunca sabe que van hacer los otros”. Roughly translated, “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s others I don’t trust.” Minority families have been telling their kids this for years, yet I wanted so badly to go fishing and camping and learn how to pitch a tent all on my own. Instead, I learned about nature from the books my mom would let me pick up on our weekly trips to the library. It was not for lack of trying on my parents’ part; they enrolled me in Girl Scouts and would take me to all the free programs that the local arboretum offered. But at that time in my life, it always felt like my connection with nature was missing.
Fortunately, in middle and high school my mom would sit down with me and help me pick summer activities that would foster my love for travel and the outdoors. I participated in the People to People Young Ambassador Program, Sea World’s Summer Camp, and during my last year of high school joined a summer program sponsored by the National Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC).
Almost 14 years later, I realize that my story is not uncommon for the Latinx community in the United States. So many of us do not get the opportunities to connect with nature at an early age, something that is critical for future wellbeing and emotional balance. In fact, the lack of minorities taking part in nature and taking ownership of what their experiences could be is a closely studied issue and has been on the radar of many agencies. The Center for American Progress recently released an article, The Nature Gap, that “examines ethnic, racial, economic, and other demographic disparities in the current distribution of natural areas in the United States.” Of many findings, they share that BIPOC communities have far less access to natural places. “It does not, however, pretend to offer a satisfactory or comprehensive answer to the questions of how and why these disparities emerged.” But I can relate. For a variety of complex reasons, while other children were growing up nature deprived, I was nature deficient. I had so much green and blue around me but was never able to explore it.
There is the ever famous Last Child in the Woods, a book by Richard Louv that coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” and prompted programs to be created as a way for K-12 teachers to integrate nature back into education. There are specific groups like the NHEC and Latinos Outdoors that look to remedy this deficit, as do Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and their Spanish counterparts. Here in the Coastal Bend of Texas, parents and caregivers can help their kids build a relationship with the natural spaces around them through programs offered by the Coastal Bend Chapter of the Texas Children in Nature organization.
Personally, one of the reasons I wanted to become a field biologist was to fill that gap – that lack of connection with nature – for myself. When I started college, I primarily looked for and selected classes that included a field component. The more time I spent seining, collecting mud samples, and ripping my hands to shreds on gar, the more at peace I became. Now, memories of those outdoor opportunities come to mind every time I am working in the field. They paved the way for my success later in life. I have had the very experiences I used to daydream about when I would open my library books. To all those children staring out from the balconies, I feel you. But most importantly, to all the adults reading this blog, please keep these kids in mind and help them connect with nature.