News Column

Team Naturaleza Connects Hispanics With Nature

July 11, 2013

Adriana Maciel stepped carefully along the rugged trail that goes up behind the chapel at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort. She wore an attractive, flowing black and white dress and matching high heels. She wanted to look beautiful for the very important event later that afternoon, the naturalization ceremony at which she would become a U.S. citizen.

But her dress was hardly appropriate for the bird sighting hike she wanted to take a few hours before the ceremony. The hike was arranged by Team Naturaleza, an organization created to get Hispanics involved in the outdoors.

"It's hard to do this in those shoes," said Heather Murphy, the retired wildlife biologist who was leading the hike and is one of Team Naturaleza's organizers. She said it with a laugh, fully knowing why Maciel and her family were dressed to the nines.

Maciel responded with a quick two thumbs up gesture and a bright smile.

Maciel's daughter, Jennifer Guevara, 10, said this was the first time the Mattawa family had trekked out in the woods to watch birds. Their efforts were paid off by sightings of yellow warblers, robins and a mature osprey sitting on its nest.

"It's so pretty!" exclaimed Guevara.

"Es bonita!" echoed her 6-year-old sister, Luz Zavala, as the family took turns looking through a spotting scope at the nesting bird.

Team Naturaleza held three nature hikes during Fiesta Bicultural, a bicultural event to bring various cultures together. It was held at Icicle Creek Center for the Arts on Friday. The event included a naturalization ceremony at which 38 people from six countries became new U.S. citizens. It also included music, ethnic foods, guest speakers and book readings, and booths set up by many agencies and groups offering help to immigrants. About 650 people attended the festival.

Team Naturaleza was created in 2012 to get Hispanic residents out into nature. In addition to special big events like the Bicultural Fest, the group meets the first Saturday of every month for basic natural science classes, hikes, birdwatching, boating trips and other outdoor activities. The group organized a pontoon-boat birdwatching tour of Fish Lake for about 30 people earlier this month. Last April, about 75 people went snowshoeing at Mission Ridge. Most had never been on snowshoes before.

The rugged, beautiful outdoors is what attracts many people to the Cascade foothills. But it's still very foreign to most Hispanics who have originally come up here to find work.

"Some people have been here for 30 years and have never been to Mission Ridge or Fish Lake or Sleeping Lady," said Lupe Juarez, a naturalization class teacher who volunteers for Team Naturaleza. "A lot of kids, they don't know anything about nature. They don't know that this is all free," she said, waving her arm to the mountain scenery of Icicle Canyon. "This group helps Latinos come out of their houses and out from the mall."

"Getting people outdoors is a challenge," said Norma Gallegos, team leader and Latino community liaison. "There are a lot of barriers." Birdwatching and going out for hikes are activities Hispanics don't usually think to do. It's an omission that is part cultural. Many are too busy working outdoors in orchards to want to be outdoors in their spare time. They think it will cost them too much money. Others don't go out because they think it's dangerous to stray from their own communities.

Naturalization -- as in becoming a U.S. citizen -- is as important to Gallegos as the other naturalization -- getting outdoors and enjoying nature. The Wenatchee resident has been involved in 16 naturalization ceremonies. She hopes there will be many more.

"There's 160,000 people in this area that are elibile to be naturalized who are not," she said.

Getting outdoors is a way of getting Hispanics more involved in the local community, of creating a community across ethnic boundaries, said Alexandra Lewis-Lorentz, Team Naturaleza's social science and administrative coodinator. The group partnered with 18 different agencies to host 53 different events last year. More than 1,800 people took part, about half of whom were Hispanic. This year the group has collaborated with 26 groups for more than 30 events involving more than 1,500 people. Lewis-Lorentz said the group has become a model for similar groups trying to get started in other states.

The organization received national recognition for its work last year from Environment for the Americas, an international organization to protect migratory bird species. It receives funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and several local nonprofit organizations.


(c)2013 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.)

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Source: Copyright Wenatchee World, The (WA) 2013

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