Chicana in Nature
Every summer when she was growing up in Dallas, Susana Cruz’s parents would take the family on a trip to Mexico. They spent most of their time there visiting family who lived in a remote desert town between two mountain ranges in the state of Zacatecas. Cruz loved being out in nature, close to the plants and animals (her family there raises goats), and experiencing the wide-open expanses of the desert.
But back in Texas, Cruz began to notice something — when she spent time in outdoor spaces here, she was often the only person of color, and that didn’t feel right. That feeling was the motivation behind Chicana in Nature, a group that creates opportunities for people of color to learn about and enjoy the outdoors.
Through Chicana in Nature, Cruz hosts monthly guided hikes, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as quarterly excursions farther afield. This year, members of Chicana in Nature went on a women’s retreat to Taos, New Mexico.
Her welcoming personality draws in even the most reluctant of participants, and she’s created a community of outdoor enthusiasts and friends. “Everyone who hikes with me gets the title ‘Homies who Hike,’” she says.
Cruz adapts her hikes to the circumstances and participants, so even when she visits the same trails the experience is different each time. “It’s all based on the people that are going,” she says. “A lot of times when people go on hikes, they’re hiking for miles and miles, and I’m like, that’s not what I do at all… I feel like the whole point of being outside is to look at all the cool stuff along the way.”
Cruz has a soft spot for the underappreciated parts of nature — think bugs, snakes and other creepy-crawlies — and works hard to show fellow outdoorspeople why they matter.
“I address the fear of [these creatures] by giving that knowledge of why something is important for our place,” Cruz says. “They’re so misunderstood.”
Cruz also works at Cedar Hill State Park as a community relations specialist. In her role, she helps create relationships with people and organizations in the Dallas area. Through her work for Texas Parks and Wildlife and Chicana in Nature, Cruz shows that the outdoors is for everyone.
“I don’t know everything out here in nature, but I can be human in these spaces and show people, ‘I look like you,’” she says. “This representation does matter.”
Chase Fountain | TPWD
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