First and foremost, stand out.

   The National Park Foundation chose eight different individuals out of four hundred applicants for the Find Your Park Expedition across the country. All of us were unique in our own way and at the same time shared similar qualities seeking the truth to our purposes. Not only were we allowed to make moments happen by capturing the essence that is the National Parks, we also created a collaboration of ideas and actions. Our main similarity, we are all culturally diverse and speak to an enormous group of people throughout social media. Being culturally diverse means to be a variety of ethnic groups within a society. Our society can either be exclusive or inclusive to the idea of being diverse. In the case of our country, diversity exists because of the different factors that allowed it to flourish across several areas throughout time. There have been times of both anguish and prosperity for all diverse communities, but there will always be room for improvement; which is why I’m grateful for the National Park Foundation for choosing us to speak up and stand out in front of all the people who like us, look up to us.

   Coming from a first generation Mexican-American family things initially were never easy. I was born in Mexico and came to the states illegally when I three years old and it wasn’t until I was nine that I became a resident. I didn’t realize the struggle we faced until the moment I saw my parents faces lift with joy when told by our lawyers that we were finally visible as people in this country. Fast forward to 2015 to the wintery night I graduated from Texas State University, I also became the first in my family to earn a degree from a four year university. In that moment I realized that what I had just done was huge for many like myself, and not just for the little immigrant kids with big dreams, but for their families too. But I’m not just a first generation, Mexican-American college graduate, I’m also gay and proud of it. With so much that defines me I also have to acknowledge that these qualities are not seen with the same eyes my friends and family see them with. I’ve come to understand my own struggles and their harsh history, which is why today I consider myself a big advocate for all the struggles people like me face on a daily basis and even more after the Find Your Park Expedition.

A candid shot of the team on a break from our bike ride with REI through the Presidio of San Francisco. 

   Taking part in the Expedition made me realize that people like me don’t get to enjoy beautiful places like Yosemite National Park or learn the real history as to why Rosie the Riveter is so significant. I learned that in order to feel American, we all need the opportunity to experience these places and moments, and by doing so we will feel more free and united.

   I wasn’t the only one who felt a certain type of way, Juan Flores, a participant from Indianapolis, Indiana also sensed a change of view as a multicultural person.

A shot of Juan Flores documenting our bike ride with REI through the Presidio of San Francisco

My thoughts, my views, and my actions will be influenced by this expedition… It allows me to format my experiences into actions that can be beneficial to my communities.”

   Victoria Ramos, another participant from Roma-Los Saenz, Texas had this to say,

Victoria Ramos looking out through the valley at Yosemite National Park. 

“Growing up, I never experienced national parks, so to have gotten a chance to visit such a beautiful place was completely overwhelming... As a Mexican- American and growing up so close to the border, you don't hear of other people like you visiting these places... Being a minority to me always felt like you couldn't move forward because others would simply put you down, but as I grew older I realized I had it wrong... you're more than a lable.”

   Diversity is a big part of this country and it is one of the main bases it’s founded on. Brown, black, multicultural, gay, questioning, first or third generation, like it or not, we are all American. With everything that is going on today, I believe it’s also one of the most important times to stand out and speak up on behalf of everyone we represent. It’s a lesson I took from the National Park Foundation Find Your Park Expedition and something I will forever be grateful for. With time and more experiences like this one, my voice will only grow louder.