The Power of Language and Nature

By Stephanie Rosario Gonzalez Gonzalez
Bilingual Environmental Educator

Above: Stephanie Gonzalez leads a public hike conducted in Spanish.

My relationship with the Spanish language has been a complex one. My mother emphasized speaking it at home, but eventually, and despite her efforts, I lost it. Growing up, I didn’t understand the value of knowing another language and the role it could play in my future. By incorporating Spanish into environmental education at Pepperwood, my goal is to help families reclaim their language and show their children that Spanish is a language worth speaking.

When I am doing outreach, I’m constantly told, “My children really need to learn and practice Spanish.” For parents, a Spanish hike is another moment that they have to prevent their children from forgetting a language that is so deeply tied to their identity, tradition, and culture. For me, the purpose of these activities is to show children that it’s not just a language to be used at home, it’s relevant to their scientific learning as well.

I remember the first time I spoke Spanish on a hike. The children’s eyes widened and, somewhat bewildered, they asked, “you speak Spanish?” It was the moment I realized that they might have never had an educator that was like them. For latinx students, seeing others who look like them and speak their same language in positions of leadership affirms the value of their identity. Once they see Spanish as a language that is used by professionals, it becomes an asset to them.

Being able to communicate with educators is useful for parents too. Once a mother told me: ”I like that you speak Spanish, because I go to places with my children and I do not know what is going on. It is really nice to be able to understand and learn.” I hope that by having the opportunity to learn alongside their children, parents will continue exploring nature and encourage their children to do the same.

My Spanish language classes and events are not just about talking to families about the plants and animals living on the reserve. They are opportunities to reaffirm that our language is important in so many ways. To all my Spanish speaking families: you are welcome here.

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