Vámonos Outside: Introducing Bend's Latinx Community To The Outdoors
The taste of fresh air. The scent of trees blowing in the wind. The sun peaking around mountain vistas. There is so much that the human experience gains from being in the outdoors.
But the fact is that many people do not believe the outdoors is truly for them. According to the National Health Foundation, a survey of three federal agencies in 2020 found that while people of color make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population, close to 70% of the visitors to federal lands are white.
Historically, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) populations have had the outdoors closed out to them. Segregationist policies kept many off of state and federal lands well into the 1960s. Organizations such as The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club have been forced to address the racist beliefs of not only some founders of the conversation movement, but the basic tenets of conservation altogether.
And while strides have been made to make outdoor places more accessible to people experiencing physical and mental disabilities, many recreational opportunities remain out of reach.
While the outdoors industry is just beginning to address a lack of diversity, Pacific alumni are already doing their part to try to make the land accessible to all.
When Wesley Heredia ’15 puts together one of his outdoor trips, his goal is to get members of the Latinx population to take that first step out the door. Even if it is just down the street to the neighborhood park.
“We started by taking kids from low-income neighborhoods to the park. We started playing games and giving them access to green spaces,” said Heredia, who coordinates programming for Vámonos Outside, which aims to introduce Latinx people in Deschutes County, Oregon, to the outdoors. “When I came along, we started to develop a much bigger program.”
Today, Vámonos Outside provides multiple programs for all ability levels. The menu of options includes everything from canoeing to indoor rock climbing to ski and snowboard trips at nearby Mount Bachelor.
Born in Los Angeles before moving to Salem, Oregon, for high school, Heredia did not do much in the outdoors before coming to Pacific and becoming involved with the Outdoor Pursuits program. Initially a member of the wrestling program, Heredia quickly realized that being outside fed his soul more than being on the mat.
“I found an amazing community that was far different from the intensity of an athletic team,” Heredia said. “It opened my eyes to the external world. I changed my major because of it. I just wanted to be outside more.”
After earning his degree in environmental studies, Heredia spent a few years journeying the West, working as a field instructor, guiding trips, working with youth, and taking time for his own adventures. He landed in Bend and joined Vámonos Outside in 2019.
The challenge for Latinx people and the outdoors, Heredia believes, is as much a cultural barrier as it is a challenge of resources and access. For immigrants who come to the United States looking for a better life for their family, time and money for outdoor recreation isn’t there.
“The hardest thing for us is convincing people that the outdoors and these activities are for them, that they are safe and fun and they are beneficial to the well-being of their kids, themselves and the community,” Heredia said.
“Yet every community has a connection to nature. I think that everyone has that connection and they resonate somehow with the outdoors. That is what we are trying to foster.”