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. —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? 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.
OM: Your work as a consultant is no doubt challenging; to hold space for deep and emotional conversations can be draining. What personal practices (we could also say rituals or exercises) guide and ground you? What keeps your spirit healthy, happy, and in tune for this intense work?
JG: This work is indeed draining. Caring for self is ongoing work, and sometimes all it takes is a slip, and I fall out of alignment. I have thought about the power and need for rituals, ceremony, and practices.
First, nature is a restorative environment, so taking moments to just sit with it can help a lot. Second, developing a meditative practice for yourself can help bring awareness to your space, along with providing a space and outlet for the reactive mind. Third, there are reasons we may say “la cultura cura”—paying attention to what restorative elements from our culture can help.
There are certainly things we’ve inherited that no longer serve us (aspects of toxic masculinity, for example), though there may be some that can point to restorative practices. These may be use of sage and palo santo, while paying attention as to how they are acquired and the reasons for using them. It may be finding things like “tres milagros” tea, which is a combination of chamomile, spearmint, and anise. Spearmint is for the stomach, chamomile for the heart, and the anise for the mind. Mind you, people can still question all of the medical benefits of it, but even the practice of making tea, really sitting with it, can bring you into the present and orient you to a state needed for the emotionally draining work we undertake. Much like when people state how valuable it is to develop a ritual of reviewing at least five things you appreciate each day, and being really descriptive with it. It is a state of gratitude and appreciation that does not just feel good, but can help with how you are engaging your neural wiring.
OM: The theme of this issue is “luz”—which we're extending to mean all types of light, illumination, and even joy. What brings you joy?
JG: I think about how when we are in states of seeding, much like when a seed is planted and begins to root, it may feel like we’re stuck in the dark. Yet, there is still a strong orientation to the light. Thinking of light as joy, I think of my framework for it, and how that manifests in both the practical mundane and the philosophical.
I had read about an evolutionary case for happiness, but I thought, “Joy is different. What state does it put us in?” And that connected to work in “DEI” as well. When we “other” in the extreme, we find [a range from] difference to antithetical to us, and that can lead to extreme harm such as genocide. On another side of the spectrum, when we are in play with each other, we fully embrace the other in a state where those evolutionary triggers of “danger” and “danger of the other” are muted or shut down.
So I think of how joy can be a state of disconnecting from the triggers and stressors of survival, and connecting to openness and the affective state of thriving. It FEELS good and we express accordingly, through laughter, smiling, a range of body language.
For me, that can be relationships with people I feel safe with; it can be being out on a ridge trail or sitting with redwoods. It can be admiring beautiful art, and feeling connected to culture. It can also be puns—I do appreciate witty wordplay.
OM: I recently read an article about a Buddhist concept—mudita—which loosely means delighting in the joy of others. The author, Daisy Hernández, who is a writer and justice worker, was lamenting that we don’t have a word for this concept in English (or Spanish) and claimed that we would all be better off if we “relished in the good fortunes” of others. So I'm wondering: What forms of joy experienced by others bring you the most joy?
JG: This is an important point. I think about what it means to practice “liberated joy.” We talk about co-liberation in our work, and how “your liberation is bound in mine,” so we cannot be truly free if we are still oppressing others. So one of the agreements I have to push myself to consider is how to “practice liberated joy.” We can definitely be good at practicing oppressive joy, feeling some sense of joy in the misfortune or harm of others. And so much of humor is sometimes framed in that way too, be it in movies, online, or other cultural platforms. So for liberated joy, what can that look like as pieces of what we need in the future we’re building? Sometimes it can help to look at kids when they are having fun and putting yourself in that space.
Joy I see in others that brings me joy can be when someone revels in self-acceptance. When they are jamming to a favorite song. When they are laughing at a silly joke. When they have surrendered to a moment and there is more to be had in being joyful in the futility of it, or in the radical acceptance of it.
Top image: Self-portrait by José González. Image courtesy of the author.
Top image: Self-portrait by José González. Image courtesy of the author.
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Thank you. Gracias. Tlazocamati.