by Teresa Baker
My most recent trip to Yosemite was eye opening. I have been on this hunt for diversity and inclusion for years now, visiting parks and reporting on how things remained the same. But this trip was different. As I stepped off the bus and walked into the Yosemite Lodge, the very first couple I saw was African American. They weren’t doing anything exceptional or out of the ordinary; like other visitors to the park, they were asking about the sites and how to get around. As I stepped up to the registration desk, an Indian couple came up beside me and stood in line, then a middle-aged black man in a park uniform walked past me. Now I’m taking notice. During my first five minutes in the park, I laid eyes on five people of color.
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As I started to my room, I was approached by an African American woman, who was doing nothing special other than just walking. I started to wonder if cameras were following me, recording my reaction to seeing people of color. Someone is playing a trick on me, I thought. I started looking around – nope, no cameras. In my room I thought that maybe there was some sort of ”people of color convention” in the park. Yeah, that must be it. I went looking for this convention. I was somewhat peeved that I hadn’t been invited; after all, this is my beloved Yosemite and holding a convention for people of color and not inviting me was unsettling.
At the activity center, I asked if any conventions were being held over the next few days. The woman at the desk said yes and asked which party I was looking for. Not knowing what to say, I suggested that she just point me in the general direction and I would peek in to see if any of the faces looked familiar. She obliged and off I went, searching for this “people of color” gathering. But nothing in and about Yosemite Lodge substantiated my original thought. I continued to make my way around the lodge when, at a distance, I again noticed the African American couple from the registration desk. They must have seen the look of confusion on my face as they greeted me with a big smile and said, “Hey sista, you lost, too?” I smiled and said no, I was just wondering if there was a convention they were here for. They said no, they were just visiting, taking in the sights. I asked if there was anything I could help them with and they asked if I could point them in the direction of the Swinging Bridge, which I did.
By then, I started thinking there was not a convention and I should get over being mad about not being invited. So I switched gears and started to Yosemite Falls, one of my favorite places to visit in the park. The beauty of the falls is beyond description. It is sacred and spiritual and peaceful to hear the falls in active motion. I stood there for a while taking it all in, watching the faces as people stood in awe. As I walked away this overwhelming sense of calmness shadowed me. I get this feeling whenever I visited Yosemite. I feel in my element, among the sacredness of space.
On the way to the meadow just adjacent to Lower Yosemite Falls, there was a frolicking family of deer that had captured the attention of the photographers in the area. As I was walking across the street to get a closer view, out pops a young African American woman, camera in hand. Her two kids yelled from the car, “Mommy, don’t get too close.” For a moment I considered snapping a photo of her, because she was just as much an anomaly to me as they deer were to her.
Throughout my visit I ran into people of color, from visitors to park personnel. As much as this shouldn’t be something to report back on, it actually is. Myself and others have been working towards this goal for ages. For maybe the first time, I got to see a semblance of the vision we are working toward, some measure of progress.
I welcome the day when it feels like sitting at the lunch counter, drinking from the water fountain, living in certain neighborhoods, going to certain schools and voting, but for now I embrace the changes that are occurring and look forward to the day when reporting on such victories are not needed.
Much work remains to be done. As much as I hate the slow pace of change, I appreciate the efforts being made by grassroots organizations, government agencies and outdoor organizations. We have yet to make it to the mountaintop, but if we continue to march forward to address the ever changing needs of a rainbow America, I’m sure our collective efforts will get us there.