For starters, Lituma says outdoor recreation is a largely white pastime, particularly in the North Georgia mountains. And that can be intimidating.
“You have to pass a lot of Confederate flags to get where you want to go,” she said.
By embarking on group hikes hosted by LatinXHikers, participants feel more comfortable and build friendships in the process. For Lituma, the establishment of new relationships is a key indicator of LatinXHikers’ success.
“A lot of people come to our events alone and end up leaving with a bunch of new buddies,” she said. “We’ve planted seeds for people to form communities of like-minded folks in their own areas.”
Another enormous barrier: whitewashed marketing has historically pegged outdoorsy types as exclusively white. But organizations like REI are striving to diversify their messaging. In fact, in summer 2018, REI invited Lituma, LatinXHikers co-founder Adriana Garcia, and two of their friends to take a 15-day, 1,600-mile road trip down the Baja Peninsula that the retailer featured on its Uncommon Path blog. The travelogue series, titled “The Long Way South,” includes videos, photography, and a whole lot of inspiration for readers to create their own adventure. Now, LatinXHikers is an official REI inclusivity partner.
“We all got a walkie-talkie and caravanned with five SUVs including a Mexican production crew. It was really freaking cool,” Lituma said. “I used to go to an REI store, get intimidated, and feel like I didn’t belong there. But now REI is trying hard to do the right thing.”
Lituma also spent nearly two years as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) Latinx partnership coordinator. She mainly was charged with recruiting trail maintenance volunteers, through the formation of relationships with other Latinx affinity groups. For example, in July 2019, Lituma established the ATC’s first-ever Latinx Appalachian Trail Crew, a group she led to reroute an eroded quarter-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail’s Woody Gap section. Over the course of a three-day camping trip, the group even used sledgehammers to break up rocks to construct a stone stairway.
“We took a lot of pride in our work,” Lituma said. “We can go back and say, ‘Wow, these are our stairs.’”
It’s worth noting that Lituma only recently became an outdoor enthusiast herself. The daughter of immigrants from the Amazon region of Ecuador, she grew up in Queens, New York, and spent the majority of her childhood indoors. Her brother turned her onto camping and hiking in the first place. In 2016, Lituma joined her brother and friends on a trek up Rainbow Mountain in the Peruvian Andes. Though only eight miles long, the path rises more than 17,000 feet above sea level and therefore requires serious physical exertion.
“We all got altitude sickness, and I didn’t think I was going to make it. The tour guide gave me oxygen shots and grabbed my hand until I made it to the top,” Lituma recalled. “After that, I felt like I could accomplish anything.”