Malcolm X Park, Washington DC Malcolm X Park, Washington DC Amir G, Tumblr
06 August 2020

The Latina Geographer as a Leader: The Superpower of the Geographic Lens x Lived Experience

Written by: Ivana Mowry-Mora

Geography’s root words are “geo-” and “-graphy,” and in an academic and workplace environment that can intimidate me at times, knowing that I’m here “writing the Earth” is something that reminds me that I do belong in these spaces, that the tradition of storytelling is truly at the root of this field.

When I approach geography, I approach it as if I were unraveling a story, writing a new story, or adding a new chapter to a story through research. The idea that each person contains innumerable stories, the stories of the communities they were raised in, the migrations their family has made over generations, the complicated, extensive history of rooted connections between the Earth and humans always leaves me in awe. More than anything, the interconnectedness of everything is what inspires me in this field. 

In the Latinx community I was raised in back in Cincinnati, Ohio, storytelling is a life line in a country that doesn’t contain many Latinx histories in textbooks, where much of the history has been erased, or remains unnamed, or hidden away; where so much silencing and constant dehumanization has led to limited awareness of the general public of the great humanity, diversity, beauty, profound depths and complexity of Latin America - of the Americas as an interconnected web of history. I strive to heal what Gloria Anzaldua aptly titled the “open wound” of the US-Mexico border in her pioneering book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza with my own work, and honor the fundamental interconnectedness of the American continent, to understand the complex continuities that tie us as a hemisphere, to elevate and uplift the stories that have gone untold and that have been silenced institutionally for generations. There are whole worlds of history and geography contained within even the most unassuming textiles, the artesanias (handicrafts), the traditions, the storytelling, the unofficial, informal ways that creativity has been expressed, and that stories have been told under the radar. 

Reclaiming and elevating the interconnectedness of the Americas, especially when Latinx people are constantly dehumanized by the highest institutions in the United States, is a deep passion and driving force as to why I’m in geography. Understanding the deep history and value of a Mayan Guatemalan huipil textile is just as important as reading something in a history textbook. Geography is a powerful tool to flip our current hegemonic historical narrative and humanize communities that have been generalized in larger discourse. Geography provides complexity, which can flip generalized and often damaging narratives of marginalized communities. It deepens meanings and allows for humanity to exist within imposed labels. 

As a Latina leader, the geographic lens combined with lived experience is powerful in dispelling stereotypes through qualitative and quantitative geographic data, ensuring more relevant, genuine and effective community outreach and interpretation education programming. From hosting a film discussion with a young filmmaker on her documentary about Anacostia River and the rich history of the communities next to it, to fostering dialogue with a panel of diverse Latinas in the conservation field, to participating in Latino Conservation Week events in the region, geography at the parks means honoring the complexity of the community through representation in interpretive and workplace content and in public-facing event planning and implementation, fostering spaces of constructive and active dialogue centered around complexity, and ensuring Latinxs are in leadership roles and positions of power with regard to parks, and outdoor recreation, to naturally provide more complexity to the range of life experiences represented at NPS.


Image credit: Amir G on Flickr

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: National Capital Region

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