anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Sandy Hernandez

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“Mother Nature binds us all. Nature belongs to everyone.”

-Sandy Hernandez

Who gets to enjoy the outdoors? Who gets to participate in outdoor activities? Everyone. But unfortunately, the outdoor industry suffers from the same systemic racism and inequities that underpin much of our society, people of color often told that they don’t belong. There are many people working hard to change this and make the outdoors more inclusive, from encouraging companies to reconsider hiring policies with the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, to groups like African American Nature & Parks Experience.

There are many voices to highlight and profile in this movement, and Sandy Hernandez is one of them. She works as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park, on the traditional lands of the Ahwahneechee People. Active as both a ranger and activist, she advocates for inclusion and equity within her industry, and is part of the Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion Council in Yosemite, as well as a People of Color Employee Resource Group. She welcomes volunteer groups to the park, and in a traditionally white, male dominated industry, her visibility as a Latina ranger shows other people of color that they have a place in the outdoors. As she says, “nature belongs to everyone.”

In this Women’s Wisdom Project Q&A we learn a little bit more about her work and the importance of diversity and equity in the outdoors.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Wisdom to me means empathy—the ability to share the feelings of another. You gain the ability to listen, understand, accept, connect with others, and live wholeheartedly.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

I will always answer my mom to this question. She is my sheroe. She reminds me to appreciate where I come from and where I can go. She reminds me to stay connected to my Guatemalan roots and never forget those who came before me. She reminds me of just how beautiful immigration is and how hard work pays off. All that I have accomplished is because this amazing woman has always rooted for me.

Another sheroe of mine is Teresa Baker and her can-do attitude. Teresa is the founder of African American National Parks Event and the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge. She reminds me that my voice should be valued at any table I sit in, but to live my life empathetically so others can also join me.

What has your relationship to nature been like throughout your life and how has that evolved?

My ancestors have always been connected to nature. As Teresa Baker says, it’s about reconnecting to outdoor spaces. Growing up in the United States I have always been exposed to the outdoors, but not in the “traditional” way that you see in outdoor magazines. THAT’S OKAY! My love for nature has grown from experiences like visits to local city parks, swimming in lakes and beaches, having outdoor carne asadas con la familia, and seeing a Sequoia for the first time at a national park. Now, Yosemite is my playground and my home. I’ve hiked the longest I have ever hiked, backpacked with strangers who became family, and found beauty in the people who welcome me into their space. I am in love with Yosemite and enjoy sharing with others. It comes with an understanding that everyone experiences the outdoors differently. Mother Nature binds us all. Nature belongs to everyone.

The outdoor industry has struggled, and continues to struggle, with questions of diversity. As a woman of color in the National Park Service, what do you see as important steps in bringing more visibility and inclusivity to marginalized communities? What do we miss out on culturally when we see the outdoors as only available and accessible to one group of people?

We miss out on the feeling of belonging and stewardship over these outdoor spaces. The future of these lands relies on inclusion. Since California is one of five states in the country where “minority” populations are now numerically the majority, these conversations are critical. To keep these public spaces important and sustain them, we need to connect people from all walks of life with National Parks. We need to ask ourselves, how are we working toward having national parks be more accessible to an ever changing and ever-growing constituency? Welcoming ethnic and racial diversity, and accommodating other cultural backgrounds, opens up the opportunity for more people of color to gain experiences to cherish. In nature, there is not a “them” and “us.” It’s just “us.”

Can you tell me a little bit more about Workshop for Ethnic and Racial Minorities in Outdoor Recreation and Education and other initiatives that you and your colleagues at Yosemite are working on to engage in some of these difficult conversations?

In November of 2018, through support from our partners at Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite National Park (YNP) hosted We.R.More: Workshop for Ethnic and Racial Minorities in Outdoor Recreation and Education, an innovative process that aimed to bring together California community members interested in working on improving relevancy, diversity, and inclusion (RDI) in the outdoor community. Two notable outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists, Jose Gonzalez, founder of Latino Outdoor and Teresa Baker facilitated a two-day workshop where participants camped together and shared with each other the barriers they have experienced in the outdoors as people of color. In creating a safe space where participants could empower each other, these members were shaped into We.R.More Stewards of Yosemite.

The We.R.More Stewards then met with various park leaders and hosted a symposium for Yosemite staff that served as a cultural sensitivity training, but also suggested practical solutions to YNP in moving forward with its RDI efforts. During the symposium, Jose challenged Yosemite to think about what the sense of belonging and connection looks like, and what gap between a cultural space and outdoor conservation needs to be bridged? By tackling these two things, a lot of the tangible challenges can be overcome. Stewards presented on the idea that the future of Yosemite not only relies on biological diversity, but also cultural values.

Since then, Yosemite National Park is working on moving forward on the following: hosting implicit bias training for its employees, doing research in order to uncover untold stories in Yosemite’s history and create new interpretive displays, establishing a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Employee Resource Group, hosting bilingual educational programs (Adventura Yosemite), and more!

More on page 18 in this document.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy and vulnerability. These traits do not make you any less stronger than anyone else.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

 

Written by Anna Brones

January 30, 2020 at 08:40

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