As a child, whenever I asked to play outside, the answer was almost always, “No.”
I spent the first four years of my life in a neighborhood of Section 8 housing in South Texas. My mother was chiefly concerned with my safety, of course, and in her eyes, safety and playing outside were mutually exclusive. Even so, her restrictions didn’t curb my urge to explore the outdoors, nor did they assuage my curiosity about birds and nature. Needless to say, I spent plenty of time gazing out the window.
Given my proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and two major migratory-bird flyways, my passion for the outdoors flourished as I grew older. I looked into pursuing a career in meteorology, but during college my path took a turn. Halfway through, my university unveiled a new degree program in environmental science. The course lineup was electrifying, and the classes were held primarily outdoors to facilitate sample collection. I had found my academic home.
An ornithology course, in particular, piqued my interest because it required students to go birding with the professor. I was finally able to fulfill my childhood dream of figuring out where those birds came from. I spotted them all, from the outstanding black-necked stilt and roseate spoonbill to the unforgiving crested caracara and red-shouldered hawk. And then there were the songbirds: the scissor-tailed fly-catcher, the Carolina wren, the great kiskadee.
When I shared the news of my chosen career with my family, their reaction was dishearteningly lackluster. They were not big fans of spending time outside: It was hot, humid, and those pesky mosquitoes dominate in South Texas. Fair enough. I knew I’d need to look elsewhere for outdoor allies. Fortunately, I found them: Latinos and Latinas who love birding, fishing, camping, biking, and hiking. These folks reminded me that much of our community doesn’t know about all of the good stuff the nation’s parks have to offer, from scenic jogging trails to fishing piers to learning centers for children. To help spread the word, I joined the nonprofit organization Latino Outdoors.
When a job in public policy brought me to Washington, D.C., after college, I signed on as the Latino Outdoors ambassador for the D.C. area. In this role, I partner with other environmental nonprofits, designing events that engage my community and introduce them to recreational areas. It’s a great way to continue my mission of raising awareness about the outdoors.
It also lets me pursue my love of birding. In honor of bird migration season, we’re joining more than a dozen organizations from North and Latin America and the Caribbean in hosting International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) celebrations. This year marks a special IMBD for me because I have the honor of leading my first bilingual birding walk. Both Spanish and English speakers will learn about birding, and above all, I’ll get to connect with my community en español. My goal is to bridge the outdoor gap and inspire young Latinos and Latinas to consider a career in conservation—maybe even in ornithology. Because one thing I’d love to see even more than an American woodcock or a rusty blackbird is more youth from all communities engaged in science and the environment.
If you find yourself in the D.C. area on May 21, come join us!
Get details on Nydia’s May 21 bilingual birding walk at latinooutdoors.org then stay tuned for Latino Conservation Week events in July brought to you by Latino Outdoors and AMC.