Nature Chola Is Making Space For Indigenous People In The Great Outdoors
From a casual hike on public lands to expert alpine mountaineering, access to people of color, both in real life and in media, is limited. It wasn’t even until the 2014 film adaptation of Wild created a surge in female participation in outdoor adventuring. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2018 report, almost three-quarters of outdoor recreation participants are white.
While enjoying the great outdoors has increased by 1 percent in the last five years among Latinos, @NatureChola wants to get more of us out there and is increasing visibility on Instagram.
Meet @NatureChola, a.k.a. Karen Ramos.
She’s an Oaxaqueña ÑuuSavi/Scu-iia indigenous woman. She’s a 26-year-old full-time student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo University and with a full-time job in architecture. She owns a non-profit to help young children of color experience the outdoors. She is a jefa.
Ramos is here to shed light on environmental inequality and melanize the outdoors.
If you’re interested in seeing yourself in nature, be sure to follow tags like #melaninbasecamp #diversifyoutdoors #fakevanlife and #getoutstayout. So often, it takes just seeing someone like you do the dang thing to make it feel like a possibility. Go wild, friend.
She currently has 12.6k followers on Instagram, her main platform.
She’s going strong. Why? Because you won’t find a photo of Ramos smiling without a caption sharing the moments spent crying in the bathroom for being an indigenous woman in a white-dominated industry. All followed up with empowering words like this: “Your mom did not wake up at 4 a.m., pick strawberries all day, feed a family on less than minimum wage paycheck for you to feel small. YOU awake their insecurities with your simple presence. YOU are powerful.”
“We need to open dialogue about moments like these. The micro-aggressive biases that reveal themselves in the slyest of ways. Dear white woman I am not trying to take your power away, I am not here to dethrone you. I am carrying the hopes of my people so that one day they too can have the opportunities of yours.”
She’s using her platform to shine a light on the far too white industry.
Caption: “What does it mean to be a POC small influencer among a sea of white well paid platforms? There has been a debate lately.. and … for a lack of better words it’s been said that diversity is trending (in reality though that dismisses a lot of the work others have done in the space before).But does that mean it loses it authenticity? Do POC who pick up brand sponsors or sign deals with companies compromise their message?”
“I don’t think either are fully true. I don’t think you can be completely unbiased when it is a company that is paying your rent. Just like I don’t think your message is completely changed.”
“What I do know is..
If Instagram (or any social media) was to disappear tomorrow.. MY WORK WOULD STILL MATTER. MY IMPACT WOULD STILL BE FELT AND I WOULD CONTINUE TO DO DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) advocacy even without social media. I do it now. This message is not a trend I follow— it is my outdoor narrative. It has been said and I’ll keep saying it.. I don’t get to stop being brown or an indigenous woman once the DEI trend is over.”
Like most of us, Ramos didn’t always claim her identity and the experiences that come with it.
According to her own third-person self-description, “At one point a self-proclaimed non-activist, non-radical, white-washed, ‘normal’ person, who didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, offend anyone, or stir the pot….”
“However coming face to face with a community who mirrored and reflected her insecurities and trauma of discrimination as she herself experienced when she was younger, she found the courage with a ton of support from friends to start a non-profit serving the migrant indigenous populations of the Central Coast.”
Get Out, Stay Out / Vamos Afuera is aiming to increase diversity in the outdoor industry by creating memories for young indigenous kids.
There’s so much outdoor access to white Americans, but often plain logistics of travel, cost of equipment, and time off for parents get in the way for POC. Thee Nature Chola takes kids out to help clean up beaches, take kiddos swimming in Big Sur and even to local rock climbing gyms. She’s a shero.
Sometimes, her captions are the poetry we need to be convinced that time outdoors matters. We matter.
Deep breath…. “Karen, Karen,
Ya 15 minutos más y nos vamos.”
I hear my mom’s muffled voice.
I let the water drown out her sound and pretend I can’t hear her.
My eyes squint open,
a clouded frame from water drops clinging onto my eyelashes.
The blue sky,
the bright sun and
my mom’s beautiful brown face.
Little rainbow are forming
as she blocks the sun.
My moms gentle fingers on my back keeping me afloat.
The current rocking me softly.
If love could ever hug you, it would feel like this.
Before the fancy water shoes, the ultra lightweight quick-dry gear, the bathing suits, the over excess of it all.
Before I knew of all the politics and sacrifices she made to get me here.
Just me, my mom, and the river.
This was my safe space.
This is where I wanted to stay forever.”
Why “Nature Chola”?
Caption: “I remember vividly, sitting around the campfire when @goulding_jr (later to become one of my closest friends) asked why my Instagram handle was NatureChola.”
“Being put on the spot was not something I was used to nor was I prepared to answer the question. I stumbled through my answer and was thankful it was dark so none could see my embarrassed face.”
“See at the time I had not yet grown into my new Instagram handle. I had changed my Instagram handle on a whim when curiously one day I checked Instagram and there were no other ‘cholas’ in nature.”
The hashtag #naturechola #climbingchola #outdoorchola had never been used before.
Caption: “And to tell you the truth I didn’t know if I was the most appropriate person to take it.”
“But ultimately I’m so glad I did.”
“I took it because it challenged my own comfort of what an acceptable outdoor narrative was. It was a reclamation of the word and the negative stigma it has historically carried. It was a way to say eff🖕🏾 the outdoors-person box that has been created. But mainly a ‘chola’ who loves ‘nature,’ is a paradox to most people. It carried the same confused looks and explained my own story with the outdoors in two simple words.”
“As the months passed every time someone asked me for my Instagram handle I felt a tiny bit bolder each time.”
Communities of color often don’t live close to public lands, and often have to drive further to get there.
That means they need more resources like gas, time off and energy to get out there. Once you do get on the trail, it’s Patagonia puffies and Osprey packs everywhere you go. Nature Chola is here to validate your Costco flannel and trekking poles. If the Patagonia puffies have their secret code of acknowledgment on the trail, you bet the lower income Costco crew is also going to validate you on the trail.
She’s even bringing her own mami out into the outdoors for the first time.
Caption: “Anyone still take family vacations? If you do then this will resonate with you. Traveling with a parent(s) can be difficult and frustrating. As adults, we do not rely on our parents the way we used to and navigating that new territory can be hard. On the road, with my mom, I had moments where I envied the freedom and carelessness of those traveling with friends. They were able to do things like grab a beer or be careless about our itinerary. @hasanminhaj had a hilarious bit about immigrant parents and some of the things they do. The way they want to show love but in comparison to what we seen in western television it doesn’t match up. Or the fact that they are extremely strict and in my case do not fully understand ‘American culture.'”
“On the road with my mom there were moments of frustration where I converted to a sassy 14yr old teenager self. I had to remind myself how fearless my mom is to want to see more, that this is all uncharted territory to her, and that often she is trying to navigate this world that doesn’t reflect any of her comforts to her.”
“She is brave.”
“And I am so lucky.’
“I’ll look back on this trip hoping to be able to one day do the same for my kids. 💕Now if only we can work on her driving skills, that sh*t is foreal dangerous 😂”
Ramos will only support brands that intentionally diversify their ambassadorship, like Merrell.
She’s connected with the POC influencers in the outdoor industry and is completely transparent about the frustrations in the difference of pay between a white ambassador and an ambassador of color. That said, she does her research and will support brands that are supporting fair wages from production to influencer marketing.
Plus, Nature Chola is here to take us all on little adventures like reducing waste at home.
Given that she’s working full time, in school full time and running a non-profit, it’s pretty dope that Ramos is also taking the time to comfort her Insta story viewers with memes featuring her dad. We stan.
No need to fear, Nature Chola is acutely aware of the obstacles for marginalized communities to participate in #zerowaste.
Caption: “The town I currently live in has, a ban on plastic bags. A ban on plastic straws. And a ban on styrofoam.
Amazing right?!? Yes and no.
– The racial demographic is 85.05%white
– Affordable homes start at $600,000
– Over 60 miles of trails and 37000 acres of open space
– Population of 46,000 people.
There is a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, and sprouts, and twice a week plentiful farmers markets with “local” produce. This town also has a plethora of local shops and is bike friendly.
About 40 miles south is Santa Maria. Hometown.
-Racial demographic 80% non-white (74% ”Hispanic” 6% “Asian”)
– 4 “in town” trails total. (Accumulating to about 18 miles)
– Population of over 110,000
-One Trader Joe’s. One health food store. Many big box stores.
It’s easy for me to sit high and mighty on my sustainability horse when I can afford to live in a place that has all the resources to live a “zero waste” lifestyle and continues to benefit off the labor of POC and poor communities.
While simultaneously looking down on those same communities for not being green enough.”
“Sustainability in the forms that we see it on blogs and Instagram is not meant to be practiced by the masses. Rather we need diverse solutions, for diverse communities, from diverse groups of people.”
On John Muir’s birthday, she’ll be the outdoor influencer who talks about how he treated people of color back in the day.
John Muir may have been the founder of the National Parks system and the Sierra Club, and that is a fabulous legacy. He also decimated indigenous communities that Nature Chola will acknowledge every time she ends up on a trail that was once home to an entire community.
At the end of the day, Nature Chola is a chola like all the rest of us.
Caption: “Traded in my hiking boots for a playbill🎭 tonight and it was magical ✨✨#Hamilton”
“PS. Download the Hamilton App and enter the daily contest for tickets to the show. So worth the extra one minute out of my day.”
She gets insecure in fancy places.
Caption: “I AM VERY INSECURE.. like I get nervous walking into a space that looks too fancy or feeling like I am not wearing the right thing, not just pertaining to the outdoors….for me the worst is seeing the very skinny white girls wear the same huaraches as me but immediately be accepted.”
“*I am bringing race into this because up until recently, thanks to the queen @yalitzaapariciomtz , none of y’all even acknowledged MIGRANT-indigenous brown beauty, and it definitely made an impact on my lived experience being treated like the ugly bottom of the bag crumbs in the LatinX classist/colorist unspoken hierarchy. I don’t know exactly how to fully remediate my insecurities.. but one thing I have tried and that has been working is.. when I feel myself getting nervous, worthless, scared I breathe and try to embody someone who I think deals with these types of situations like I would one day like to.”
She loves her mami.
Caption: “My mom unexpectedly deposited 30$ in my bank account for food yesterday.. and all I can think of is how lucky and privileged we are to have parents who, even though they can’t help us navigate the college system, give everything they can to see us succeed ♥️ if this was also your parents give them an extra big hug or just send them a message tonight to say you love and appreciate them😊”
She, clearly, loves the outdoors.
It goes without saying that spending time in the outdoors is life giving. Studies show that folks who get back to a circadian rhythm afuera for at least three days will experience a significant increase in creativity and productivity afterward. We’re meant to soak up the sun.
Parting advice: “Don’t let anyone ever diminish your experience in nature because you 👏🏾 did 👏🏾it 👏🏾for 👏🏾the 👏🏾picture/gram👏🏾.”
“Get outside, visit that national park, climb that mountain… for the gram.
Your experience is no less valid.”
“And sometimes on days like this …for me visualizing how beautiful the view from the top looks.. and how much I want to share that, can be the most powerful motivator.”
“So shamelessly ask that stranger to take your picture or better yet fearlessly set up your auto timer.. it’s okay.”
“Don’t play down your accomplishments.. your experience in nature .. for the comfort of others.”