Inside Green Careers
Conversation with Graciela Cabello, Wilderness Youth Project Board Member & Los Padres Forest Director of Youth & Community Engagement
Author: Dr. Xochitl Clare, Wilderness Youth Project
As an early career Afro-Latina marine biologist simultaneously entering and mentoring BIPOC individuals in green careers, I find it essential to look to our community leaders on how to ensure green careers are viable options for my community.
While working with the Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) this Summer, I had the opportunity to reconnect with WYP Board Member, Graciela Cabello, one of our prominent community leaders in Santa Barbara, CA. In this interview, we delved deeper into the complexities of navigating a green career in outdoor access. We also discussed our passions on increasing LatinX community access to outdoor spaces. In this interview, Graciela shares her history with organizing for Latino Conservation Week (LCW) and many pivotal moments along her journey. Read more for our conversation below!
Graciela Cabello is a board member for Wilderness Youth Project and Director of Youth and Community Engagement with Los Padres ForestWatch where she runs the Outdoor Connections program. Graciela was born and raised on the Central Coast of California where she currently lives and supports LatinX communities via her work.
This is the transcript of segments of a conversation held on August 2, 2023 between Dr. Xochitl Clare and Graciela Cabello. Portions of this transcript have been edited for clarity and accuracy.
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “Tell me about your current job”
Graciela Cabello: “I wear many hats at [ForestWatch]. My role is constantly changing and I'm constantly doing different things. Aside from our core work of advocating to protect the forest, the one thing that is consistent is that I help connect youth and families to the forest and public lands. What that translates to, is doing outings: like hikes, walks, even rock climbing, you know, a lot of different outdoors things. But that also means I get to use many different mediums to connect people. And so that can be like: doing presentations at schools or hosting webinars. It also means that I get to be really involved in some of the communications, and film that support this movement."
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “It’s Latino Outdoors' 10-year anniversary celebration and birthday! How did you initially become involved with Latino Outdoors (LO) and in bringing Latino Conservation Week (LCW) to your community?”
Graciela Cabello: “It was Latino Conservation Week that led me to where I am right now in the outdoor access space. In the summer of 2014, I was looking for organizations to volunteer for, and I saw a flier for Latino Outdoors’ outing for Latino Conservation Week (LCW) [in the Bay Area]. I reached out to the founder, Jose Gonzalez, and was quickly connected with the work after that.
After volunteering for almost a year during the Latino Outdoors startup phase, the founder offered me a position as the national director (and first official employee). I got to be part of the building of LCW events during the first years. So, when I started doing work in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, it was, just, already part of me. I had been inspired by all the community leaders across the country, and I kept seeing the incredible momentum that goes into [LCW].
July became Latino Conservation Conservation Week month for me. And during the COVID-19 shutdown, we were limited in what we could do. So we did presentations, Instagram live sessions, webinars. [When] we were allowed to go back outside, we did a huge camp out for people and that was super amazing. So it just changes every year.”
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “Has this work been healing in any way? How so?”
Graciela Cabello: “Absolutely! I just feel so much closer to my ancestors when I do this type of work. I come from a long lineage of people that were really connected to the land. So when I am able to reconnect my community to nature, and to land, it sort of makes me feel closer to my ancestors and then to my own parents. Supporting youth experiences in nature is a really healing thing and it makes me feel really, really, aligned with who I am and where I'm going. So, I mean, I've had tons of moments where, you know, like, these healing moments where [I’ve felt] messages of ‘this is where you're supposed to be.
Recently, we hosted a campout where a family from Oaxaca, Mexico joined us. This region of Mexico is known for having one of the highest indigenous populations. Coincidentally some of my family is from Oaxaca, and so, in some ways, I saw my family in them. It was beautiful to see how the grandmother, who was approximately seventy years old, and had just flown in from Mexico the night before, was also able to attend. I was worried that some of the walking on trails and the river bed would be hard for her, but it turns out the opposite was true. Being in that environment was very natural to her. She ended up ahead of the group moving very comfortably because she’s used to that type of environment back home. What made the occasion extra special was that this was the first time she was seeing her daughter and family since before the pandemic. So for them to connect as a family out in the natural world as they would back home, and for me to be able to help provide this bonding experience for them by the river–was a really healing experience. I thought of my own grandmother and all the similarities we share with that family.”
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “For those trying to carve their paths in the outdoor non-profit space: What's it like to serve on a board for a non-profit organization? How can early-career folks support non-profits in this way?”
Graciela Cabello: “Every [non-profit] board is different and [has] different stages. Some of them are in a startup phase or in like a working phase, and some of them are already pretty established. They all have sort of different roles for board members. [As a Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) board member], we meet once a month for about nine months out of the year, we have very specific board duties.
I would just encourage you to figure out what's important to you and your community. What are some of the changes you want to see, and what are some ways you can get involved with nonprofits that interest you before joining their board? [While] volunteering isn't always an option for [getting involved with] every organization, serving on a board is a different type of “volunteer work”. I really enjoy it because [WYP] aligns with my values and I'm supporting my community in a way that works towards the hope I have for the future – which is envisioning a world where all children have access to nature. And when you’re ready to join a board, familiarizing yourself with some of the main duties of a board can be helpful.”
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “Are green jobs viable for BIPOC persons with financial challenges or concerns? Did you have fears about this when you started out? How did you overcome them?”
Graciela Cabello: “I absolutely had fears. I [worked] for a big, like, major corporation for a while and when I switched careers, I had to take a huge pay cut. I realized that a lot of the folks that go into green careers come from a background that has afforded them to work in this space. Many had incredible, [but low-paying or no-pay], internships during the Summer because [they] could afford to do that. Or they could afford to take a low paying job in their first years out of college and then grow into a better paying position. But I feel like there's a lot of people that can't do that. [In my past work in business marketing], I had made it into a certain pay range. So when I did not see [that same] pay range for an environmental education job, it was really concerning.
Having been in this field for some time now, what I’ve learned is that many folks carve out their own path. Which is not something you see in other sectors. I’m amazed by the number of folks who are self-employed and doing pretty well. So [it’s important to find] a way to monetize your skills and your knowledge so it doesn't have to come from an organization. You can basically create and build anything and get paid for it as long as you know how to communicate the importance of your idea[s]. Find the right place or funder or organization that's going to pay you for it. Even if that means like on a contract basis or like, you know, being self-employed in some way.”
Dr. Xochitl Clare: “How does your work help you fulfill your goals and dreams?”
Graciela Cabello: “I mean, it's so many different things. I don't know that I can summarize it, but I mean, at the core it’s social justice, environmental justice, community building, movement building, and policy all in one. It allows me to give back to my community in a way that feels meaningful to me.
You know, I didn't major in environmental studies. I didn't set out to have a nature based career. I actually majored in business. When I was a young girl, I knew that I cared about protecting the environment. I just didn't really know how to explore that interest. I didn't have any mentors or any guidance into how I could nurture that curiosity. For me, as a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I didn't know. I just knew I needed to have a job that provided a living wage and one where I wasn’t burdened by the financial stress I had grown up with. And so business seemed like the thing to do.
At some point, I realized after I had a job in media for almost ten years and I had the privilege of going out and exploring all these really beautiful places, I noticed that oftentimes I was the only person of color in these spaces. I started to ask these questions: ‘Why is this the case, why is there this disparity?’And that's how I sort of shifted careers into doing outdoor access and being part of the movement for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the environment.”
“When I got to come back to the Central Coast and work with BIPOC identifying and Latine families in the place that I grew up in, in the forest that I grew up going to— it felt like this full circle moment. It felt like this is where I was meant to be.”
About the author: Dra. Xochitl Clare (she/ella)
Summer 2023 Interim Family & Community Engagement Coordinator
I am an Afro-Latina African American Marine Biologist & Performing Artist with Central American and Caribbean heritage. Growing up, financial hardship made trips to the ocean infrequent. However, my single mother kept my aquatic dreams afloat through bright books and media. Today, with determination and a passion for adventure, I explore our underwater world using the combined power of science, performing arts, and education. My experiences have fueled my desire to ensure individuals of all backgrounds have access to the marine and natural world. My artistic lens also provides me opportunities to amplify narratives in nature across many voices and spaces. In conserving our oceans, I am proud to work with educators, scientists, artists–and most importantly communities to protect our blue backyards
Next Steps: After concluding my time with WYP in Summer 2023, I will use both marine science and environmental storytelling to combat pollution and ocean warming in Placencia, Belize as a Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. My postdoctoral work will be in collaboration with educators and NGOs that have advocated for conservation of nature in Belize while ensuring local community members are participants in this effort.