By: Sirena Dufault
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs with immigrant parents – my dad is from India and my mom from Italy. In the summertime, they’d load my brothers and me into a station wagon and we’d go on the typical American vacation. Sometimes, these vacations included trips to public lands – Smoky Mountains National Park, Lake Superior, and the Ozarks. Yet, I never heard the word hiking until I was in my late teens. As my mom said when I recently asked her, “It just wasn’t something we did.” We’d walk, but never very far; we’d go on scenic drives, and my dad would do photography.
Growing up in India, my dad walked all the time. When I visited the village as a child, it was a necessity to walk because the bus stop was quite far and it was before cars were common. India is where I discovered the outdoors; my family are farmers of mustard and sugar cane. We’d walk along canals with monkeys playing nearby. At night, we slept on cots covered with mosquito nets. It’s where I first saw brilliant stars, so much brighter than at my suburban home.
When my dad immigrated to the U. S. in 1968 at the age of 26, he was shocked to hear about camping. “Are these people crazy? They leave their nice house to go sleep in the woods?” He’s still not a big fan of the idea, and prefers a hotel. My mother was raised strict Italian and had to stay home, clean the house, and was hardly allowed to go anywhere growing up.
Right before I moved to Arizona to attend college (many years ago), I went on my first day hike to Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. When I got to Arizona, it was just something that people did and I heard about hiking all the time. For many reasons, hiking became my lifestyle and has taken me to places I never imagined possible. My dad has since come out from Chicago to be my support crew on several long-distance hikes.
I’ll never forget the time he said to me, incredulous, “If I would have known about hiking, I would have done this when we went to the parks!”
I feel a little envious of those who have grown up hiking, backpacking, and camping. When I was a kid, I always wanted to stay outside, whether it was at the park, the pool, or a picnic at the forest preserve. One of my greatest passions is inspiring new people to try backpacking and hiking who, like me, might not have grown up with it.
That’s why I’m so thrilled about the Diversify Outdoors Coalition: “We are a coalition of social media influencers – bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs – who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where people of color, LGBTQIA, and other diverse identities have historically been underrepresented.”
The coalition members include some of the internet’s most active and vocal advocates for diversity: Danielle Williams of Melanin Basecamp, Ambreen Tariq from @brownpeoplecamping, Jenny Bruso from Unlikely Hikers, Elyse Rylander of OUT There Adventures, Len Necefer of Natives Outdoors, Bethany Lebewitz of Brown Girls Climb, and many more.
These groups are organizing hikes, backpacking trips, skydiving groups, climbing festivals, producing films and creating online groups to advance a sense of community: “We are passionate about promoting equity and access to the outdoors for all, that includes being body positive and celebrating people of all skill levels and abilities.”
Diversify Outdoors is 25 coalition members strong, each with their own sphere of influence, committed to getting people outside and spreading the word about why diversity and representation in media matter. There is also a page on the website for “allyship” with directions on how businesses, organizations, media outlets, and individuals can be more inclusive and promote diversity.
I could go on for pages about the great work that is being done, but I’d recommend exploring the Diversify Outdoors website to learn more—and join the movement by using #DiversifyOutdoors on social media!
Here’s a video produced by Project Diversify Outdoors to highlight Women of Color in adventure sports: