Episode 155: Letting Go of Perfection

Interview with Rocío Villalobos

Sponsored by Danner, Oregon State University, and Peak Scents

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Whether running an ultramarathon, talking about recovery from her eating disorder, fighting for racial equity, or mentoring youth at Explore Austin, Rocío Villalobos practices patience, not perfection, as she achieves progress.

In this special episode, we meet up with Rocío at Westcave Preserve in Texas and hike down to a beautiful grotto. We also get to hear the trailer for the new Ravel Media podcast, “Underneath it All” at the start of the show.

Full transcript available after the photos and resources.

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Featured in this episode: Rocío Villalobos

Hosted by Gale Straub

Ad music in this episode is by  Swelling & Lee Rosevere using a Creative Commons attribution license.

Resources

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Rocío Villalobos

Rocio Villalobos at Westcave Preserve; Photo by Gale Straub
The makings of a tree cookie
The tapestry of the forest
Julie Hotz, who co-produced this episode!

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TRANSCRIPT

Rocío Villalobos:

It’s not just about representation. Ultimately, some of this work around, I like the framing of it. As, as Jedi work, the justice equity, diversity and inclusion. I’m like, yes, I am a Jedi warrior

Gale:

In the past several weeks conversations regarding racial equity have been surfacing at a faster rate than ever before. But these conversations aren’t new. They are familiar territory for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It’s an ongoing issue, and will continue to be so until things change––until there is a shift in power. And even then there will be more work to do. It’s not solely about making everyone feel welcome outside, it’s also about starting with the makeup within organizations, businesses, and government. Last fall, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Rocío Villalobos while visiting Austin, TX. Rocío is an environmentalist, teacher, and runner who lives and was raised in Austin. You may recognize her from our episode featuring RANGE magazine founder Jeanine Pesce. Rocío is also an advocate for racial equity. And while we’ll get to that part in her story, let’s let this following statement from Rocío guide us through the conversation.

Rocío Villalobos:

It’s ultimately about power struggles and wanting to correct a power imbalance that has happened for so long. And it’s meant that a lot of groups, especially people of color, haven’t been a part of decision making in the past. They haven’t had a say. I think as much as people like to believe that they’re interested in diversity and inclusion in a very safe way, what is ultimately being asked of them is to reimagine the power structures that exist and do something different. But I think giving up that power causes a lot of fear in people that have been used to having that power. And once you start talking about changing power structures and having others being seen in a position of authority, that’s when you get pushback and silencing and more erasure.

Gale:

This statement is powerful on it’s own. But it’s even more powerful when you get to know Rocío. To get to know Rocío is to see intersectional environmentalism, healing, and action firsthand through her own story of home, identity, community, and running. Rocío and I actually spoke twice for this podcast. The first time we met up at Westcave Preserve, which is found east of Austin on the ancestral lands of the Tonkawa and Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche) tribes. My good friend Julie Hotz, who you might remember from a few episodes of this podcast, joined us as well. We all went on a hike before sitting down for an interview.

Rocío Villalobos:

Should we head down?

Gale:

Beautiful colors and texture? Like there’s so much texture down here. Like I live in a forest, kind of looks like, um, like a tapestry.

Gale:

We descended down a slippery trail, through the fall leaves. The further we walked, the more lush the foliage became. Rocío pointed out native plants and told us about tree cookies, or the cookie-shaped cross section of a tree. She shared the time she had one in her car––for work.

Rocío Villalobos:

They’re having it in the car on a warm day that, uh, they apparently leave a company now. Oh no. It’s like the mix between, uh, what I think smelled like pickled juice and like sweaty gym socks.

Gale:

Wow. That’s not usually what I think of when I think of like trees, I think like Pine Sol.

Rocío Villalobos:

Okay. This is a nice surprise.

Gale:

It sounds like it’d be good for your gut.

Rocío Villalobos:

*Laughter*

Rocío Villalobos:

Beauty berries. American beauty Berry is what it’s called American beauty Berry. Yeah.

Julie Hotz:

My favorite color.

Rocío Villalobos:

Yeah, mine too.

Gale:

I pointed out a couple of rocks that had grown over with Moss. I love the idea of thinking about what happens when we leave things untouched when we don’t interfere.

Rocío Villalobos:

And so these two rocks that say fragile, stay off are covered in plants in life. And then the others where people can kind of step on them. They don’t have those things. So I think having it as a, as a visual reminder of the impact that we can have on the environment, um, even when we don’t think that we are.

Gale:

As an airplane flew overhead, we reached our destination, a beautiful grotto. It looked magical like something out of a fairy tale.

Gale:

People say this all the time, but like, this isn’t what I picture. You know, when I picture like certain areas of Texas,

Rocío Villalobos:

Yeah.

Gale:

It’s really special.

Gale – Narration:

This special place in Texas is less than an hour from where Rocío grew up. When we sat down for an interview later, I asked Rocío about that. You’ll notice that you don’t hear a lot from me – my mic wasn’t working for our interview. But honestly, I prefer Rocío’s voice leading the way.

Rocío Villalobos:

So I grew up in Austin and East Austin in particular. And growing up in the East side of town came with a lot of negative connotations. It meant that you were poor. You’re a person of color. Um, you didn’t fit in in many different ways. It was seen as a very undesirable and dangerous part of town where even pizza companies didn’t want to deliver, kind of had that reputation. And I think that was a message. It was a story that I internalized and believed in some ways over time as a kid, I didn’t realize that my community looked the way that it did and people were going through the things that they were because of decisions that other people made about, whether there was value in investing in those communities and in those people there, whether it was through infrastructure, whether it was through the schools and education, whether it was through job opportunities, but the reputation for East Austin was that it was not a place that you wanted to be flash forward a few decades.

Rocío Villalobos:

And now there is a lot of growth and gentrification in the East side of town, a lot of people, a lot of white folks that are moving in and wealthier people take pride in saying that they live on the East side. You know, they live in this trendy place. It’s a desirable part of town for businesses too, for developers, it’s seen as a good investment to buy property there and, you know, to either build and develop or to hold onto that land, to eventually sell it for even more money. So there are parts of East Austin that I have a hard time visiting now because I’ve just seen what it’s turned into. And I know what was there and the reputation that used to exist about the people in the community. And now it’s essentially a playground for wealthier people that don’t really care about the people that used to live there and the difficulties that people faced and the kind of trauma that people experienced once they started being displaced. There’s just this overarching feeling of not being wanted and a feeling like this place isn’t for you anymore.

Gale – Narration:

Go to any major US city and you’ll likely encounter a neighborhood like East Austin. Maybe it’s 5 Points in Denver, Over-The-Rhine in Cinnicinati, or Bywater in New Orleans. There are new businesses, yes, but there’s a sameness too – modern condos and craft coffee and breweries. But we’ve jumped ahead in time. Let’s go back to pre-gentrified East Austin, back to Rocío’s childhood home.

Rocío Villalobos:

I was an indoor kid. And part of that was connected to being overweight as a, as a kid and kind of growing up. And I think feeling embarrassed or not wanting to get picked on by other kids and having some of that self-imposed isolation as a result. But in other ways, my both of my parents worked a lot, especially as my siblings and I got older and they didn’t feel safe with letting their kids and have run outside on the streets. They wanted their kids to be safe and protected. And that led to a lot of sheltering. My dad worked two jobs when I was growing up for the most part. So he was only around in the evenings, but he started his day really early and ended it really late.

Rocío Villalobos:

So I spent a lot of time with my mom, for her being an immigrant who understood more English than she could speak over time. And, you know, she, she can speak a lot more English, but it was still really hard for her to navigate getting around the city because she also didn’t drive. So, you know, we went places that we could get to by bus. So even thinking about movement in that way, where I went was a lot more limited as a result. It was kind of just where we can get to by bus, but in thinking about the connections that I was able to make with nature, one that I started to reflect a lot more about was the trips that we would take as a family, to Mexico to visit family. We would go on these, what felt like Epic road trips and looking at on Google maps now, how long it takes to drive from our house to, to my grandmother’s house.

Rocío Villalobos:

I’m thinking, you know, Oh, I’ve actually done that amount of road trip now in a day. So I thought, you know, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but when you’re a kid, it just feels like it goes on forever, but we would go on these road trips to Mexico to visit family maybe every seven years or so, just because it took a while to save money and for my parents to take that time off from work. And one of the pieces that I remember about those trips was that there was a mountain, there was a, a formation that’s called Cerro de la Silla that you see as you get closer to my dad’s side of the family. And so when we started to see that in the distance, it was a marker. We knew that we were getting closer to home and that when we arrived, we would be greeted by family members that we hadn’t seen in awhile.

Rocío Villalobos:

And they would have canilla and pan dulce waiting for us and would stay up late that night and spend the night there and then head out the next day to continue on to the next leg of the journey to visit my mom’s family. And I started thinking about that because I was thinking to myself, well, when was the first time that I saw a mountain and I think my instinct was to think of other places and other States, but it was on the trips to Mexico actually, where I did see my first mountains, but I didn’t, I didn’t think about that at the time, because I wasn’t there to see nature. It was to see family then in those trips to Mexico, the time that I got to spend with cousins staying out late at night, it was also some of the first times that I realized that you could see so many stars with the naked eye.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I don’t think I had that experience again until many years later in Tennessee that, you know, my mind was blown yet again, because I had forgotten what that looked like and felt like, I think kind of years after that, the other piece that I was just reflecting on, I hadn’t really thought about in awhile was that my mom would clean houses on the weekends when I was a kid to supplement income. And some of the people whose houses she cleaned, lived in the West side of Austin and kind of in the Bee Caves area, not too far from here, they were in more remote areas. And when we went with my mom, you know, we would hang out and entertain ourselves. But for some of the properties, they had these beautiful landscapes in their backyard and we would go out there. It was the first time that I learned what a deer poop looked like and saw deer out there and saw all of the Ash Juniper and just walked around and felt like I was transported somewhere else because that wasn’t something that I had in East Austin. It was a completely different world.

Gale – Narration:

So Rocío looks back on herself as an indoor kid, but has these beautiful grounding memories of moments in nature. In school, Rocío worked hard and applied herself, but didn’t see her or her family represented in her studies.

Rocío Villalobos:

I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well academically in part, because I saw all the sacrifices and kind of struggles that my parents went through and not through any kind of pushing or pressure from them, but I felt like I had a responsibility in some way to do well in school. But through that process, I was just consuming a lot of information that was separate from, from me as an individual. And I don’t think that school for me then, or many schools now are reaching children in a way that’s holistic. That is looking at who they are as people that is acknowledging that they’re coming to school already with history and knowledge. None of that is really incorporated into the curriculum, the curriculum and the stories that we learn center, the achievements of, of whiteness and white supremacy in many different ways.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I think that that ultimately does a lot of damage to kids because you don’t see yourself reflected in the things that you’re learning, or if you do, you’re portrayed negatively, you’re portrayed as, as savages you’re relegated to a month of the year. You don’t really get to know anything about yourself for exploring kind of who you are and where your families might come from. I don’t think that I realized at the time how much of what I was learning in school was so disconnected from me as a person. I don’t think that I also recognized or believed at the time that it was having an impact on me. I was just going to school and learning the things that I was told that I needed to learn. You know, this is what’s going to be on the test. This is what you’re going to be tested on.

Gale – Narration:

Over time, Rocío became more curious about her indigenous roots.

Rocío Villalobos:

In conversations that I’ve had with my mom is I’ve gotten older. It’s something that she was curious about and learning about from her side of the family, because both she and my father, their grandparents were indigenous peoples, but it wasn’t something that was believed to be valuable in Mexico or here, or, I mean, globally. So it was, it was something that was seen as worth losing in some ways, losing the language, losing practices, losing customs and beliefs. My family became Mexicans who spoke Spanish instead of indigenous peoples that belong to a specific group and spoke a specific indigenous language. Was that hard for your mom? I’m not sure. I don’t, I don’t know if she experienced the loss in the same way, or if she felt like it was something that just happened that was unavoidable. I think there were a lot of other things happening for both of my parents and trauma and, and violence that I think overshadowed any other piece.

Gale – Narration:

Rocío shared with us that in many ways, white supremacy has erased and minimize the history and experience of her family as an indigenous Mexican-American. And it had a cumulative effect that not only made her feel small and not wanted as a teenager. In part, it manifested as an eating disorder.

Rocío Villalobos:

It’s still hard to talk about, but I think it’s important. Yeah. I think especially because, you know, when I was at a point where I was looking for help and I was trying to figure out, you know, how do I, how do I get out of this? Um, I also still didn’t see kind of my story reflected within that. A lot of the stories that I saw online and the approaches, even to care talked about anorexia as a disease affecting an of wealthy middle class white girls. And that wasn’t me. So kind of felt like even within that, I couldn’t find a source of support because part of the struggle within that was developing really poor self esteem over time, because I did it, I didn’t think of myself as intelligent or valuable. I didn’t really, I think that I was capable of contributing positively and it just felt like it was going through the motions of, of life, but really halfheartedly without a vision of what I could be or who I wanted to be.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I know that it put a lot of strain on my family too, because my parents didn’t understand what was happening, both my mom and my, and my sister tried to kind of intervene the most, but it was hard when I got to a point when summer that I, it was probably the worst, the worst summer. I don’t remember a lot about that summer, other than kind of sleeping a lot and crying a lot and not really doing a whole lot outside of that. I just felt like there was a part of me that finally believe that something could be different and something could change. And it was after I kind of reached that turning point that I decided that I was going to find a way to get better. I didn’t know what that could look like, but I was going to try a family friend offered to pay for counseling.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I went to one session, but you know, it was in a facility where I didn’t feel like I could get the care that I needed, the person that I was speaking to. I knew that she wasn’t going to understand the path that brought me here. You know, I know that she had experience working with girls, trying to recover from, from eating disorders, but it was, it was different, you know, we couldn’t afford going to a special treatment facility. So I think my recovery has just been about finding things that have helped me gradually over time. And maybe it’s meant that it’s it’s taken longer, but I kind of had to figure out and piece together. My own recovery for myself.

Gale – Narration:

Part of Rocío’s recovery was being outside, which led to her running.

Rocío Villalobos:

I started running about five years ago. I started actually by going on, walks around. It was Town Lake at the time, but now it’s Lady Bird Lake early on when I was in recovery from my eating disorder. One thing that I just started seeking out almost by instinct was to be by the water and to just walk and to have that time.

Rocío Villalobos:

*Water sounds at the Grotto*

Rocío Villalobos:

To think. Yeah, just thinking about like the sound, the, the water is the one of the best sound

Rocío Villalobos:

And one day I just decided, okay, I’m going to see how far I can go. Um, before I need to stop and take a walking break. And I just started doing that gradually over time. And one day I had an idea of maybe joining a group and trying to run a half marathon. I didn’t think a whole lot about it at the time, but I knew that I felt really free when I ran that maybe I wasn’t running as fast as other people on the trail, but that I felt really good when I finished and that I wanted to do more of it because when I ran in kind of got a little bit further, I felt like I was stronger in some ways. And I joined my first running group with just a goal of running a half marathon. But when I finished that piece of training, I thought, okay, well maybe, maybe I’ll do a marathon.

Rocío Villalobos:

And so I joined a different group that offered a free first-time program for marathon runners and ran my first marathon last October. And I’m getting ready to run my first ultra marathon in December in a couple of weeks. And you ran a marathon on Sunday. I did my second marathon on, on Sunday. It’s been such a beautiful and powerful part of my life. Now, like I said, I didn’t really have a set goal when I started to run other than to get a little bit stronger each time I love how meditative running is for me. I can block other things out and just kind of think and process and reflect. I’ve always been more of an internal processor. I have people in my life that need to think out loud and kind of talk to other people to process. But I do a lot of that internally. And so running is that time where I just get to think about everything and anything, sometimes nothing. Sometimes I’ll go, I’ll run distances. And I haven’t even realized how much time or miles have gone by. I can get into that state. It’s been such a wonderful addition to my life.

Gale:

We’ll hear more from Rocío about running, recovery, and more – after this.

 

AD BREAK:

 

Gale – Narration:

We’re back. Just about a month after our conversation, Rocío ran her first ultra marathon and into the new year and throughout the pandemic, she’s continued running, hiking and cycling. All of it connects her to her body.

Rocío Villalobos:

I’m still learning. And I think my body has done a good job of reminding me when I’ve pushed too much and kind of that’s where some of the running injuries have, have cropped up, but I’m trying to find, I guess, a pace of running and kind of looking at it as ebbs and flows in my running and understanding that I’m not going to be pushing for a big race necessarily every year. Like I, I don’t want for running to be another thing that I hyperfocus on or that I, I begin to lose some of the magic of why I started running in the first place. One of the things that I think has been really helpful for me is shifting my mindset and focusing on the fun of it and kind of looking at places where I can run, where I am more connected to nature. And it is a kind of a trail aspect of it. I think, slowing down and not forgetting why I started running in the first place, which was to heal.

Gale – Narration:

Another big piece of her life and her healing process has been volunteering as a mentor with Explore Austin.

Rocío Villalobos:

I got involved at the beginning of 2017. That’s when I first joined as a mentor. And it’s a program that pairs a group of 15 girls with the group of five adult mentors. And the goal is to support them from sixth grade through their high school graduation. So the group of girls that I’ve been working with just started high school. So they’re in their first year of high school. And the way that the program is set up, you focus on a different outdoor skill each year. And then at the end of the year, you go on a summer wilderness trip. So the most recent one we did was a rock climbing trip to Colorado. It’s been a powerful experience for me individually. I feel like I get so much on a personal level from the different volunteer activities that I, that I do. And this one in particular, being able to work with other young girls of color and beginning to hear conversations that they’re having in comments that they’re making about themselves and their bodies and other girls bodies they’ll make comments about, um, some of them talking about wanting to be skinny or, um, some of the girls teasing other girls in the group about being larger than the other girls and kind of looking a certain way when you run.

Rocío Villalobos:

And that’s something that we want to make clear is, is not okay. That there’s a recognition that we’re already facing pressures from the outside world as a whole to fit into a certain box. And that’s not something that we’re going to do with each other in the group. Like we’re here to challenge ourselves and to redefine what we think are the boxes on one of the summer wilderness trips that we did. No, I’m not this most recent summer, but the last summer I shared for the first time with people outside of my family, kind of my struggle with an eating disorder, because we had started hearing that make comments about themselves. And it was really hard because it was the first time that I did it publicly. But since then, I’ve, I’ve shared more publicly because I think it’s important to lose some of the fear to not let that story.

Rocío Villalobos:

That part of myself have as much control as it has on my life. And recognizing that maybe it can be of help to them at some point, if either they’re struggling with it or they see somebody else that is going through a hard time and they know that they’ll have somebody that they can relate to, but trying to remind them that they’re ultimately not alone, that myself and the other mentors in our group, you know, we’re there to support them and want to help them grow and help each other grow and get stronger along the way. Cause they think that’s been a really beautiful piece of it. You know, none of the mentors going in are experts in the skills that we’re working on. We’re kind of learning with the girls as we go throughout the years. So it’s been a beautiful exercise in parallel learning and growth.

Gale – Narration:

Another part of her recovery came in the form of community activism.

Rocío Villalobos:

I think one of the major pieces and turning points, not just in my recovery, but also in the way that I started to understand my environment and the role that I did want to play. And the purpose that I felt like I was finally finding was related to getting involved with PODER: people, organized in defense of earth and her resources. They are an environmental justice organization that started in East Austin and community members mobilized around getting oil tank farms out of the community because they learned that the land, the soil, the water was being contaminated and people were getting cancer and dying. People were getting asthma, um, rashes, all sorts of illnesses. And they had amazing success in community organizing and helping to create a safer environment for people of color and poor people in East Austin. My sister was an intern for PODER in college and she’s actually the one that got me involved because there was a young girl that was a part of their summer youth program that needed help with tutoring.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I was good at math and science. And so she asked me to come and help this girl with math and science. But through that, I overheard the conversations that they were having and the way that they were talking about issues and talking about racism. And it was an organization that was being led by two Chicanas, two women of color. It was really the first time that I had, I had seen that my experience had been that people in leadership positions in organizations are white and they’re usually male. It wasn’t women of color that were leading and that was transformative for me. And it allowed to begin questioning what I thought was normal in East Austin. I had walked by those oil tank farms on my way to school as a kid, but I didn’t realize what was there or the history of what had been happening there.

Rocío Villalobos:

And it was well there that helped me begin to understand that there were decisions being made. And the people from that community didn’t have a seat at the table. You know, they didn’t have a say in the choice that was made about placing that industry next to schools. And next to homes that began to shift the way that I also looked at the education that I received. You know, why was it this, something that we learned about in school, why wasn’t this included in our curriculum? You know, why wasn’t it worth knowing that the way that this city was structured had allowed for these oil tank farms to be placed here. But that also that there was incredible power in organizing from the community to remove that from East Austin. And that helped me to begin to be interested in like what education could be and what I think it should be.

Rocío Villalobos:

And it should include components that allow students to bring themselves in fully to the classroom and understand the world around them and to be able to make sense of what’s happening instead of going to school, but still feeling helpless about the things that you’re seeing in your community before that experience with PODDER. You know, I had been really, again, unsure about the value of my voice and I hated public speaking so much. It was, it was the worst thing in the world that you could ask me to do. But after PODER, I started to think about how, if I didn’t speak up for myself than others were going to try and speak for me, and I didn’t want that to happen. And I didn’t want that to happen for people that were more vulnerable, like my parents and other people in my community. So I felt like I had a responsibility to speak up and to encourage others to do the same.

Gale – Narration:

Rocío started her undergrad studying mechanical engineering. But after getting involved in activism she switched to education. In grad school, she refined her focus.

Rocío Villalobos:

And I ended up focusing on education in grad school and in cultural studies and education and the use of an approach that’s called critical pedagogy. That’s focused on incorporating and centering education based on people’s lived experiences and using that as a starting point, instead of bringing in something that feels irrelevant and disconnected from people’s kind of everyday life.

Rocío Villalobos:

My understanding of East Austin and the way that I saw things being done to people done to communities, even with nonprofits that were going in with this savior mentality and people don’t want to be saved. People want to have the power to decide what’s best for their lives. They want to have that autonomy and that self-direction, but a lot of organizations that approach the work regardless of the field are coming in with this mentality of, I have so much to give you and you’re going to be a better person because of it. And I’m here to save you. I think the best that we can do is make investments in community in a way that allows people to recognize their power, and that allows them to have the resources and the things that they need to live the lives that they want, and to be a part of the community, to be a part of the, of the society, changing institutions, changing nonprofits, and, you know, the whole nonprofit, industrial complex. I think all of that is really hard because again, we’re thinking about these organizations that see themselves as a savior instead of seeing themselves as working shoulder to shoulder with community and playing that kind of support system.

Gale – Narration:

When we talked Rocío was working for an environmental nonprofit she’s since gone on to work at the city of Austin’s equity office, but she emphasized to me that that shouldn’t be the only place where she can show up fully as herself and feel supported as a woman of color. Those conditions should exist in all of our workplaces. She shared her thoughts on the environmental nonprofit world.

Rocío Villalobos:

I think some of the lessons that I’ve learned through working at different institutions and other nonprofits, and even within environmental organizations, they’re overlapping themes. I think a lack of courage around racial equity is a big one. And the fear that people have when it comes to losing fundraising dollars or losing donors, when you start talking about race and racial equity, I think that’s been a recurring theme for me and the kind of frustration that I experienced for myself, but that I also see another people that are working to push these places to be better than they are, but the challenges and the roadblocks that you come up against, because a lot of people still aren’t ready to talk about race or to acknowledge that white supremacy is a thing that has permeated all of our institutions and it’s everywhere around us. But it’s a question of whether or not you’re willing to pay attention and willing to acknowledge that those things are there within the environmental field.

Rocío Villalobos:

You know, a lot of the stories that I see organizations tell about the land begins and ends with colonization with settlers, we forget, no, we erase the stories of the people that stewarded the land, whether it was the first inhabitants of the land or people that were enslaved and forced to work the land, there’s still that eraser that’s happening and that invisibility of, of labor and of violence that happened to produce what we have today, as long as there’s a lack of courage to acknowledge those things, any organization that’s interested in diversity or equity or inclusion, you’re never going to reach your goals because it’s not just about representation. It’s ultimately about power struggles and wanting to correct a power imbalance.

Gale – Narration:

As I mentioned at the start of the episode, Rocío and I chatted in person, and we connected later over Skype to talk more about the changes that could be made on the organizational level to prioritize racial equity.

Rocío Villalobos:

I think that racial equity work has to start from the very beginning and the organization’s strategic planning process. And if it doesn’t quite begin at that stage, it becomes more challenging. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely more challenging. And I’ve seen that in different organizations, if it’s a part of the strategic planning process where it’s going into the mission, vision, the values, and ultimately the budget and, you know, line items for racial equity work, it positions the organization to be more thoughtful, to be more successful, and to be able to both attract and retain staff members of color that are either currently a part of the organization or staff members that they’re interested in hiring. But I think the racial equity piece also needs to be included in who’s on the board, right? Who gets to make those decisions about the direction of organizations who gets to have that seat at the table and decide what becomes a priority for the organization.

Rocío Villalobos:

But then also looking at who are the communities that are serving in our work and is our leadership reflective of the communities. Because if it’s not, you know, that’s where communities are able to determine whether or not there’s authenticity to some from the organizations. If they feel like the, you know, the programming, the services, everything that’s been created and was done in a way that has included their voice in their perspectives and their experiences. Because if, if it wasn’t a part of the process, then people are able to get an idea that it, you know, it doesn’t feel authentic. It doesn’t feel genuine. It just feels like another outreach strategy that’s misguided.

Gale:

So in, in that way, trust, isn’t built between the community that the organization is hoping to serve?

Rocío Villalobos:

Right, there hasn’t been that trust. There hasn’t been that relationship building and community building, and you know, more, more of an intentional approach in doing that work. I think the, I guess the final piece that I would want to add, and it’s very much inspired by Carolyn Finney’s book, black faces, white spaces, part of the way that she closes out that book is acknowledging or stating that perfection isn’t required. You know, and I think that that’s true across many different scenarios, but people also need to have an idea of where they are to be very self aware of the biases that they’re bringing in. Um, the experiences that they’re not including, because they’re not aware. And to recognize that there’s a great level of self awareness that needs to happen in order to not create additional harm. And I think right now, a lot of organizations and people are causing harm. It may not be intentional, but that harm is happening.

Gale:

And the, the perfection piece sometimes comes into play in that people might not want to make changes because they feel like they can’t execute on it perfectly, but it’s not that it has to be perfect, that it has to, the conversations have to start and changes have to happen.

Rocío Villalobos:

Exactly. Yeah.

Gale – Narration:

Rocío mirrors this thought and her running, letting go of perfection in the name of progress,

Rocío Villalobos:

I think over the course of the time that I’ve started running and I, as I’ve become more comfortable as a runner, I’ve let go of some of the, I think hangups that I had around perfection and the need to perform at a certain level, because if I was holding onto those things, I don’t think running would mean the same thing to me. I think running has provided a level of freedom to accept myself as I am, instead of pressure myself into being somebody or something that I feel like I should be or need to be. So for example, with running, I think when I began, I definitely had more hangups about my pace and, you know, being a slower runner and using it as another, another form of comparison in some ways between myself and other runners. But I think over time running and some of the positive words of encouragement that I would tell myself on my runs helped me to shift the way that I saw running as a, a tool of freedom from perfection, so that, you know, I wasn’t paying attention to time.

Rocío Villalobos:

I was thinking about everything that I was taking in around me. If it’s early in the morning before all of the cars are out on the road, and it’s a time when I can hear the birds as they’re waking up, it’s a time when I can see the sun as it’s rising, or if it’s surrendering the middle of the day, kind of paying attention to the sun, to the wind. If I’m running by the water, looking at the water and how the sun is shining off of the water. So it opened a pathway. And just in some ways I think the way that my brain functioned or the way that my brain took in my surroundings and the way that I processed my running experience. So on the days now that I have specific training runs that I have to do or specific workouts for, for running, I just find myself telling myself that I believe in myself, that I can do it that only a little bit more than I’m almost there to not give up all of those little things that can feel trite, but in the moment they feel really important and true, and help me get to the next part of what I want to do.

Gale:

How is time outside, time hiking helped you build confidence in yourself and your abilities?

Rocío Villalobos:

You know, I think running and hiking and getting to do different types of things outside, all of it is added to my own sense of strength and resilience. And it’s, you know, I, I can’t even quite pinpoint how that transformation happened or key moments, I guess, outside of races. But I think it’s all contributed to my growth and feeling like I’m capable of achieving things that maybe felt impossible at one point, or that didn’t even cross my field of thinking as something that I would do or would be interested in doing. Um, so it’s been able to open new doors and new experiences, but I think ultimately the, the other big piece for me is relationships and the people that I’ve been able to meet and learn from along the way and the kind of value and joy that, that has also brought into my life.

Gale:

Yeah, let’s, let’s talk about the joy piece. The time in the outdoors has helped you tap into experiencing joy, which is something that a lot of people take for granted and something that, that you took for granted.

Rocío Villalobos:

It is strange to frame it that way, but when you’re surrounded by a lot of terrible things, because there are a lot of terrible things happening in the world, I think it can be really hard to take time to recognize that there is still joy for all of the terrible things that we see in our communities and in the world, that things that are happening at a global level. I think for someone like me, who’s also deeply involved and invested in being a part of positive change. It can absolutely be easy to stay in this state of despair and hopelessness, but I think creating opportunities and seeking those opportunities to cultivate joy, not just by myself, but with others, I think is important to be able to continue to do the kind of work that I’m interested in doing. And also to spend that time outside and to be a point of connection for somebody else that is maybe also looking for those opportunities, but maybe doesn’t yet see or know what’s available and what can be.

Gale:

Do you find that that joy is magnified when you’re, when you’re volunteering as a mentor with Explore Austin?

Rocío Villalobos:

It is. I think it’s been so incredible to see the way that these young girls are growing and changing and becoming adults and people with their own, um, interests and personalities and, um, how more comfortable I see them being outside and how they’re gradually building skills related to the outdoors, but also that self confidence, that ability to know that something might be challenging at first and might really push them out of their comfort zone, because they’re not used to doing these activities, but once you finish, once we end the year and go on our summer wilderness trips, they feel so proud of themselves. And I, I see that in them. I see that in the way that they approach new activities and challenges the following year, and it’s been a really beautiful thing to be a part of.

Gale – Narration:

All this work takes time. Racial Equity work. Building strong relationships through long term work at a place like Explore Austin. Working up to running a marathon. Let’s go back to the grotto for a moment, where things take time too.

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