Why I Started #Cuauhtemocing in Parks

Earlier this year, Michelle Piñon, a passionate and powerful force in our park community, recounted how stargazing in a national park changed her life forever. Ever since then, we’ve been eager to hear more from her, inspired by all the ways she’s sharing “the awe and mystery of wilderness” with her community and people across the country. Take a look at our Q&A with her, read what she has to say about being recognized as one of the outdoor industry’s brightest young minds, and think about the people who have paved the way for your unique experience in this world. Perhaps her story will move you to create your own personal tradition in our national parks.

What’s a unique way that you express yourself in a park/connect with parks?

Group of Latino Outdoors participants at the Grand Tetons

If ya have a second – swing over to a blog I wrote a while ago about my #Cuauhtémocing summit celebration. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Cuauhtemoc Blanco is a very well-known Mexican soccer player who has a knack for defying physics on the soccer field. The #Cuauhtemocing pose is for those rare moments when I’m trekkin’ like a fearless mountain goat. It’s when I’m too busy conquering mountains to feel insecure. It’s a homage to the physical transformation and self-confidence that comes with hitting the trails.

Also, I have a little bison trail bud that my co-conspirator in outdoor recreation (Alfonso Orozco) aptly named Bisonte Fernandez.* Bisonte diligently carries my wilderness permits.

How does it feel to be selected as one of the Outdoor 30 Under 30?

Hmm. That’s a tricky question for me. Although I feel incredibly honored and humbled by the selection, I don’t believe I’m doing anything nearly as revolutionary as the title suggests. The work I do for Latino Outdoors is immensely personal to me – I host outings because it makes sense to me. And here’s the other thing – so many lideres in my community needed to first lay down the groundwork for my work to even be possible. (And some just happen to be over 30).

Group of 3 canoeing on a river.

I am, however, excited to share the many stories of latinos who’ve been conquering mountains and traversing deserts for decades. As an outdoor community, we haven’t seen them - we haven’t celebrated their success publicly. But they’re there. There’s folks like Raquel Rangel and Juan Telles in the Central Valley who’ve been connecting low-income familias to their local parks. There’s Eduardo Gonzalez who has singlehandedly introduced dozens of young latinas to the glory of backpacking. There are humble leaders like David Garcia who’s been sharing the magic of Northwest birds con nuestra comunidad for years. Busquenlos – estan ahi.

What is your favorite part about working with Latino Outdoors?

Honestly - that my colleagues respect me. I met José, the founder of Latino Outdoors (LO), at a conference about a year ago. When I met him, he didn't ask me about my affiliations or accomplishments - he asked me how I felt in that moment. That changed everything for me. Prior to that meeting, I often felt tokenized and diminished within the environmental movement. I was being seen but not heard. José made me feel heard - he understood that I come from a low-income background and that my path to the outdoors was filled with economic obstacles. He heard me fully and invested time in me. He sincerely believed that I could build a bridge for others like myself into wild places. This is true of everyone else on our team and has allowed me to feel at home in LO - ellos ya son mi familia.

If you had two sentences to entice somebody who’s never been to a national park to visit, what would you say?
No lo pienses dos veces. These mountains, these deserts, these rivers, these valleys - they’re your heritage too.

Last updated September 19, 2016.

Michelle Piñon is Latino Outdoors’ Regional Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest. Outside of Latino Outdoors, Michelle is also the Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator for Puget Soundkeeper and a Natural Leader. Michelle spends the vast majority of her time either outside or plotting how to be outside. She also loves Justin Bieber in a non-ironic way. Be sure to follow along with Michelle’s adventures by keeping up with her on the Latino Outdoors blog.

*Bisonte is the Spanish name for bison. Vicente Fernandez is a famous Mexican singer. The pronunciation is very similar.

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