Bay Nature magazineSpring 2021

Bay Nature Local Heroes

Meet José González, Bay Nature’s 2021 Community Hero

March 30, 2021
Jose Gonzalez
José González. (Photo by Michael A. Estrada)

Ni de aquí, ni de allá. Neither from here nor from there. As a Mexican immigrant to California, José González grew up feeling like he never fully fit in. He was one of only a few kids of color in his AP and honors classes, a first-generation Chicano student at a mostly white university, and an outdoor enthusiast in an environmental movement that has long marginalized Latinx voices. González’s efforts to hold all of these identities at once have shaped his career and made him a leader in the movement for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the environmental movement. 

Remember, they are an exotic species in the Western United States, and are rapidly increasing their geographic range and range of habitats. Are they outcompeting or excluding native species in the process? How would we know? We have done almost nothing to monitor changes in the assemblage of mushroom species in areas before and and after the incursion of death caps.

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González never set out to start a nonprofit—he studied history as an undergraduate and became a teacher. But while earning his MS from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, González started asking such questions as, “Are there others like me? If so, where?” He sought a community centered in both Latinx identity and passion for the outdoors, but at the time, there were no major Latinx organizations working on environmental education and outdoor advocacy. So in 2013, he founded Latino Outdoors.

LO has since grown from its Bay Area roots into a national network with 23 chapters across the country, providing outdoor experiences for Latinx families and communities, supporting the professional development of local leaders, and highlighting stories of community, culture, and connection to nature. Because of the diversity of both Latinx cultural heritage and relationships to nature, González was careful from the beginning to seek to be “a voice for the community, not the voice for the community.” His intention was for LO to offer an invitation to explore what it means to hold a Latinx identity in one’s community and the outdoors, whether you’re snow climbing in Denver, birdwatching in the forests of Pennsylvania, or visiting Yosemite for the first time, as well as a platform for elevating Latinx leadership in the outdoors.

Jose Gonzalez
(Photo courtesy José González)

After leading LO for five years, González stepped down as executive director to focus on putting his ideas out into the wider world. In the Bay Area, he has supported young leaders at Youth Outside’s Outdoor Educators Institute; served as an advisor, facilitator, and trainer for The Lawrence Hall of Science’s BEETLES outdoor science education program; spoken at industry events such as Together Bay Area’s 2020 Fall Forum and One Tam’s 2020 Virtual Summit; and serves on the board of Parks California and the Save the Redwoods League Council. This work draws on his background in education, history, and environmental science to help usher in systemic change. “It allows me to layer a lot of who I am,” he says. “My multicultural, ambi-cultural, quantum-cultural identity.”

About the Author

Hayley Davis is an associate editor at Bay Nature.