YOU MIGHT KNOW José González from the group he founded, Latino Outdoors, whose mission is to “inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.” I’m also familiar with José’s consulting work through the Avarna Group, which supports those in the environmental sector in their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
What stands out to me about José is how incredibly smart he is: he’s able to hold historical facts, cultural themes, social imperatives, and ecological frameworks in conversation and then braid them together in articulate and insightful commentary. But beyond being smart, he is also wise—and that is why I asked him to share a bit about himself and his work with Ofrenda’s readers. In this brief interview, José shares ideas about his diversity, equity, and inclusion work as well as his take on joy and luz. —M. Carbajal, Ed.
Ofrenda Magazine (OM): Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself (your background and the kind of work you're doing now)?
José González (JG): I am an immigrant from Mexico, with an identity that I see as having evolved from bicultural, to ambicultural, to quantum cultural, which holds my multifaceted nature. I have also said that I’m Mexicano by birth nationality, U.S. citizen through naturalization, and thus Latino by sociocultural identity, Chicano by socio-political identity, and Hispanic by Census count. My work overlaps in the spheres of culture, art, conservation, and education, among others.
At the moment, this has taken me into a facilitator and educator role in “DEI” work, which more generally is the work of “othering and belonging” and more directly is what that means in the context of power. Oppression and liberation, to me, have direct roots with the land.
OM: For those who aren't familiar, what is DEI or JEDI?
JG: Ah, this can be a whole conversation for many. To start, what the acronyms stand for: diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Now whether to use those, some variation of them, or another combination is where people come with varying opinions. To me, it exists as a tool and incomplete model.
What is important to me is the intention, purpose, and orientation of the terms. And that, to me, has to do with the issue of power in relation to “isms,” ideologies we humans have crafted that rank supremacy in relation to each other and the land—for example, “racism,” which is a social construct, not a biological one.
And we can argue that in circles, but the reality is that even as a social construct that we invented, it still comes with direct impact and harm on people and communities. This is also why I approach this work from a lens of “othering” and what the philosophies and framings are for why and how we do that. One thing is to acknowledge the reality and beauty of difference; it’s another to use that difference for reasonings that establish supremacy and impart inferiority.
And then, with a bit of humor but to also stress a point, I think of how “DEI” can also orient me to “Decolonize, Ecologize, and Indigenize.”
OM: You've written about using metaphors from the natural world as models for JEDI work. Could you share your vision? How does (or how could) the natural world guide our understanding of JEDI?
JG: I have been thinking about what it means to have the land mentor us in our evolution, and the ways in which we have disconnected and replaced a life logic with a mechanistic reductionist one. I say this in terms of “modern” society, since, of course, many have retained ancestral traditions in the face of colonization, and those provide some orientations in healing these severed connections.
I think of this at least in two ways. First, Dr. Rupa Marya [a doctor who explores connections between society and illness] once mentioned that she thinks one aspect of colonization was a severing of our earth-connected selves. Second, I think about how the language of ecology pushes me to both think differently from mechanistic reductionist frames of thinking and to see how models from nature can orient me in reference to the land and each other.
Take, for example, how we may commonly say, “that team runs like a well-oiled machine.” What if we said, “that team runs like a well-nurtured meadow”? How does that push us to think about how we value connection and relationship?
Take, for example, how we may commonly say, “that team runs like a well-oiled machine.” What if we said, “that team runs like a well-nurtured meadow”? How does that push us to think about how we value connection and relationship? How do we think about aspects of leadership? This is part of the “ecologize” that I referred to earlier.
Also, so much work around “DEI” is how we’re in relation to each other, both in harm and healing. We’re really good at the harming, we know how to harm each other and show that consistently. What are the models that orient us to needed healing? So I think of something like a wildfire, and how for a generation in the U.S we treated all fire as bad in the forest. So we overtly and myopically suppressed it. Those past practices, compounded by climate change, have caught up with us such that we can now have intense destructive fires. And we know we cannot simply firefight our way out of that.
So we have reconnected with ancestral practices that bring us to prescribed burning. We know that prescribed burning, with skilled fire practitioners, can be healthy for the land, especially fire-adapted landscapes. Otherwise, we set up a tinderbox. So how do we do that with our spaces and relationships with each other? How do we practice prescribed burning in our relationships so that we set up a landscape for healthy succession? For things to grow? Otherwise, we are suppressing any perception of tension, discomfort, and conflict such that if we are not paying attention, we are setting up a social tinderbox, and we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome.