On the way to the Beaver Falls, the most remote set of cascading waterfalls in Havasupai, Arizona, Adriana Garcia and Luz Lituma came across something they had never seen before while hiking. Carved into one of the ladders leading to the falls was an arrow and the phrase “Por aquí,” which in Spanish means “This way.” There was no sign in English and the carving appeared as if it had been there for a while, as a signal to other Spanish-speaking hikers. For reasons they didn’t realize at the time, the simple yet personal directions helped the two Latina hikers who had traveled from Atlanta, Georgia, feel welcomed in a space they hadn’t felt welcome in before.
Inclusivity was a topic they had been talking about a lot while hiking and hanging out: how they didn’t really know where they fit in the outdoor industry or as a Latina, and how they wished there was a more welcoming space for the Latinx community to get outside together. A few days into their trip while in Zion National Park, those conversations culminated. At one point, Lituma locked eyes with Garcia, and they knew that creating the Instagram handle “@LatinXHikers” was only the beginning.
But first, they had to claim the name. There’s no service in the canyon, so with a racing heart and a good idea, Lituma ran to the public bus and rode it in search of a connection to check if the handle was available. It was, and since then, LatinXHikers has blossomed as one of many grassroots groups advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. Instagram is their platform to share experiences and stories of other Latinos, as well as moments from their four REI-sponsored pop-up hikes in Atlanta, Georgia; Durham, North Carolina; and most recently, in Chicago.
“At those waterfalls and while walking the Narrows (the narrowest section of Zion Canyon), I didn’t realize why I was so at ease,” Lituma said. “It took me a while to notice that everybody around there looked like me. There were other Latinos, there was an Indian family, and of course, there were the Native people—other brown people.”
Soon after forming, the Atlanta-based pair was included among 28 other groups on Diversify Outdoors’ website. The coalition collectively reaches more than 154,000 followers through Instagram alone. And then, REI initiated a partnership asking LatinXHikers to be part of its summer campaign, which meant being photographed on an 18-day road trip starting in San Diego and ending in Baja California, Mexico. Footage from that trip is featured on REI’s direct mailers, in-store signage, online, and social media channels.
Around the same time, Latino Outdoors Founder José González invited Garcia and Lituma to the organization’s annual leadership summit, where they could meet other likeminded trailblazers. Gonzalez said what he likes about LatinXHikers is firstly, that they represent an underserved part of the country—the South, and secondly, that they propel the conversation about how people of color have been climbing, hiking, camping, and recreating like everyone else—they just need to be listened to and included.
“We still need more visual representation in the outdoors, and frankly, what still needs to happen is having that Latina leadership,” Gonzalez said. “That’s really key and important. The more strong mujeres that are visible out there doing this, the better it is for all because that is a huge segment of what this space is, is going to be, and needs to be—women of color. If we get that, then all the other pieces are just going to be better positioned and situated to address diversity.”
Garcia and Lituma said they have been overwhelmed, humbled, and energized by the support. Participants who have thanked them for creating a much-needed space and introducing them to parts of their city they wouldn’t have explored otherwise reminds Garcia and Lituma of why they formed in the first place.
"The outdoors is part of me"
Born in Queens, New York, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Lituma, 29, is the youngest daughter of Ecuadorian parents. She said when she was growing up, she would watch her two older brothers through the window playing across the street in the church parking lot and she’d cry, wanting to join them and be outside. But her parents wouldn’t let her.
It wasn’t until college that a trip to Spain sparked her curiosity for seeing towering trees, long trails, and cascading waterfalls, like she had seen on social media. Her first “outdoorsy” trip was to the Grand Canyon three years ago, and since then she’s visited more parks and sought out remote trails—East Palisades Trail in Atlanta, Eno River State Park in North Carolina, and LaBagh Woods in Chicago—and 12 of those trips with with her longtime friend Garcia.
Garcia, 31, grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was born to a Mexican father and an American mother. Growing up in a bi-racial, Mormon family in the South caused her to question her identity and where she fit in. She didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. And she witnessed how her dad’s top priority was supporting the family—not playing in the mountains, like he did in those surrounding him in Mexico before he emigrated.
“It took my dad maybe 10 or 20 years of living in the United States to realize, ‘Hey, the outdoors is still a part of me,’” Garcia said. “I think that because of his connection to nature, it was very natural for me to get into the outdoors. But I also think it can be natural for other people of color to begin to see that too, whether it’s because of their ancestors’ connection to the land or because there’s a group they can join that takes them outside.”
The outdoors is their escape, their healing, their inspiration, part of who they are, and is equally theirs as it is everyone else's space. And by Garcia and Lituma reaching the Latinx community through social media, and growing as female leaders of the greater DEI community, they are inviting others who maybe haven't been invited before into the outdoors. REI and their partners have helped, and they're hoping for more momentum.
Who knows. Maybe Garcia and Lituma will be the ones to encourage official signs in Spanish at national parks and other recreation areas.