Finding My Place in America

Javier GonzalezFYPx
Javier walking out on cliff from afar at Mesa Verde National Park

Growing up in the United States has been quite the journey. Being a first-generation immigrant has come with many hardships. I have always dealt with the struggle of finding my place in America.

Through my experiences during the National Park Foundation’s Find Your Park Expedition, I was able to connect not only with national parks, but also with this country as a whole. I have realized that being American can mean a number of things and that even though we come from different places and with many differences, there is common ground that holds us together.

I’ve always heard of the national parks. Places like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, just to name a few, are frequently mentioned. However, such places always felt alien and out of reach. I would hear camping stories from my school friends. It seemed like it was a thing people did, but camping was never talked about at home. It was simply something that we as a family didn't do nor care for. Now that I have had the opportunity to visit two national parks during the expedition, I’m able to understand the importance of visiting such places. I have realized that national parks are not only for the privileged, but for everyone who lives in this country.

Moving forward, I plan to make it a point to take time to visit state and national parks. I believe that by inviting my family and friends on these trips we’ll be able to strengthen our ties to this beautiful country, finding ourselves closer to this new home of ours and making it ours as well.

As immigrants in this country, I think that it is important to take part in activities that will bring us closer to it and push us out of our comfort zone. My family always stayed close to home and didn’t venture much out of what we deemed necessary.

Javier on top of cliffs close-up

Atop the cliffs at Mesa Verde National Park

Grace Cortez

From my experience, there aren't many people of color at the national parks, and from personal experience, I know that visiting national parks isn't a thing most Mexican-American families do. However, I believe if we plant a seed in the community, whether it is through sharing images on social media platforms or by actively speaking to family and friends, we can encourage others to take interest in finding their park, and ultimately enjoy these national treasures.

I’m beyond grateful to have participated in the Find Your Park Expedition and feel confident that I can inspire others to visit parks, both state and national, by sharing my memories. I truly believe that through such experiences immigrants like myself will feel closer to this country and strengthen their sense of what it is to be American.

Javier Gonzalez participated in the National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. Through the use of mobile photography, he captures the vibrant urban landscapes of Central Texas and shares his perspective and passion with others. He created IGAustinTexas, a community account that aims to bring visual creatives together. You can follow Javier’s adventures and connect with him on Instagram

Photo credits: Javier Gonzalez, Grace Cortez, Whitney Mitchell, and Victor Wei

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