Latino Outdoors: Bringing Diversity to Climbing

By Julie Ellison ,

Graciela Cabello (standing, far right) and Latino Outdoors in bishop, CA. Photo: Julie Ellison

Latino Outdoors’ national director, outdoorswoman Graciela Cabello, wants to bring more diversity to climbing. The group’s story began in 2013, when after unsuccessfully trying to enter the conservation field, its founder José González realized that Latinos were vastly underrepresented in the outdoor world. So he started a blog to engage the Latino community in outdoor recreation, stewardship, and policy. The first Latino Outdoors group outings happened in California in 2014, and by 2017, there were 40 volunteer leaders in 14 U.S. regions. With more than 55 million Hispanics making up 17 percent of the U.S. population, getting Latinos involved in the outdoor world, and in climbing specifically, is more important than ever, especially in today’s political climate. We spoke to Cabello about Latino Outdoors’ presence in the climbing community.

What do you do for Latino Outdoors?

I work with José on executing the mission and vision of the organization. Together, we support the volunteers with their regional programs and events, like snowshoe or kayak outings, hikes, family campouts, group runs, yoga in the park, and indoor rock climbing. Our work focuses on growing our overall capacity and impact through fundraising, managing grants, establishing partnerships with conservation organizations and outdoor retailers, and everything else it takes to run a nonprofit.

What does Latino Outdoors do specifically?

We’re focused on three key areas. The first is in supporting Latino leadership in the outdoors and conservation by building a strong network of outdoor leaders and providing opportunities for professional development. The second is growing Latino engagement in outdoor spaces and public lands by leading outings. The third is the storytelling component. We want to ensure our community has a voice and a platform to share our cultural and historical connections to nature and the outdoors, so we curate stories and create content for our website (latinooutdoors.org) and social media channels.

Why is getting more Latinos outside important, especially to try a sport like climbing?

Having access to nature is a basic human need and right. From a health perspective, Latinos and people of color tend to have less access to green space while also having the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. It’s important for everyone to understand how our public parks, lands, and open spaces exist to support healthier lifestyles and stronger communities. Climbing tends to have more barriers to entry: It’s expensive, technical, and restricted by location, and a partner or mentor is necessary. Even when you remove the economic barriers, there are still social and cultural barriers. We have a small group of climbers who encourage participation in the sport by attending events like the Women’s Climbing Festival and the Red Rock Rendezvous. It’s important for our community to see themselves reflected in these spaces.

It’s also critical to the conservation and environmental movement. Latinos are the fastest-growing U.S. demographic, and diversity in the outdoors and getting more people of color engaged is the key to creating more advocates, stewards, and champions, and ensuring conservation remains relevant for future generations.

How does Latino Outdoors fit into the larger climbing community?

The climbing community is evolving. I’ve seen the demographics change with gyms opening up all over metropolitan areas. I see Latino Outdoors as a supportive platform to help with resources for those wanting to learn in a gym or transition to outdoor climbing. We have partners who want to support diversity, but it’s not always easy for organizations to do outreach to communities of color. It’s much more direct to reach out to an established group or organization [like Latino Outdoors]. This month, our coordinator, Ana Beatriz-Cholo, is working with Mountain Gear and the American Alpine Institute on a diversity initiative for the Red Rock Rendezvous. Paul Fish, president and CEO of Mountain Gear, and Jason Martin, director of operations at American Alpine Institute, have been working with us to figure out how we can collectively impact such events.

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