I started my career in conservation in 2010, when I was hired as a Biologist Technician in the Youth Intern Program (YIPs) crew by Saguaro National Park’s Biologist Don Swann. The crew I joined that summer was SUPER diverse! We were all shades and came from all over the place! As a young immigrant from Mexico, I felt right at home! Some people were almost experts in conservation while others, like me, were barely starting to learn the basics. Our 8-hour field days in 100+ degree weather, seemed to fly by as we all hiked together and studied the Park’s biodiversity but also learned about each other and our cultures with respect and genuine curiosity.
As an 18-year-old working with this incredibly diverse team at Saguaro National Park I remember thinking “The conservation field is so diverse!”…..
Oh boy was I wrong! I quickly realized that the incredible diversity I experienced in my first job was no coincidence at all. On the contrary, it was a strategic, orchestrated attempt that took years of careful planning to carry out. A diverse crew of biologist technicians from all colors and all ages was not the norm, it was the exception.
The further I got in my career the more I stood out as the only brown person in the room and also often the only woman in the room. My stories seemed irrelevant because they weren’t shared by anyone else. Whereas most of my white colleagues would say they fell in love with the outdoors when they went camping as children, I’d say how the first time I camped was when I was employed at Saguaro National Park. Not only would I be judged for comments like these, but my passion and knowledge would immediately come into question as well. I learned that white stories held more value than mine, not objectively, but in the eyes of fellow environmentalist, simply because these stories were understood and shared by the demographic that dominated the conservation movement.
It took me years to accept my story and share it proudly and loudly. Life taught me that my voice matters and that even if my story isn’t rooted in camping, or hiking, or fishing, or even public lands, my love for natural resources is just as valid as anyone else’s!
I am saddened to admit that it wasn’t until 2016 that I truly found out that Latinx environmentalists have been out there and continue to be out there. If I had known this as that insecure young professional starting my career I would have found my voice sooner. I would’ve had a support network for when I felt excluded or singled out in white spaces, and I would’ve felt validated when others questioned my opinion simply because they did not understand where I was coming from.
That is why representation matters! Because it helps people know they are not alone, that their stories are just as important as anyone else’s, that there are a million correct ways to interact with nature, and that we all have the same right to advance in this career!
Ten years after my first job in the conservation field, I am now thrilled to be part of the team that shaped the Sky Island Alliance Binational Internship Program of 2020, a program aimed at diversifying the conservation field and creating more opportunities for nontraditional audiences.
As a Latinx environmentalist I am personally committed to lifting the voices of all our diverse heroes who champion environmental protection and social justice so that every diverse person knows they are not alone in this!