September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time that we recognize the positive contributions made by Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States and celebrate our heritage and culture. This year’s theme is “Honoring our Heritage. Building our Future.” For HECHO, this theme couldn’t be more fitting. This is the essence of what we do. Today, we’re sharing a guest post by William Contreras that reflects this multi-generational perspective.
By William Contreras
Growing up in Arizona, I was surrounded by family – my four sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. It was a lot of mouths to feed and back then we didn’t have a lot of money, so we relied on nature for our food (not so different from our ancestors). I can remember starting at a very young age, we were almost always outdoors. Me, my father, uncles and grandfather, we’d be out hunting for wild game from rabbits to deer, antelope, and elk -- that’s what we relied on to eat.
I remember fishing a lot, too. We used to go up to Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border. We’d go for the weekend and catch 70 fish a day and it was exciting. A lot of times we saw relatives and we’d go together, have a lot of fun, and have a lot of fish to put in the freezer at the end. That was probably the best fishing I’ve ever done. There were a lot of fish and a lot of good fish.
Through these experiences, I learned to respect the land and waters and appreciate the fact that if we were lucky enough to get something during a hunt or while fishing, nature had provided it to us. Beyond providing for us, it was enjoyable. You felt so free out there. It’s just wide-open spaces and, as a kid, you didn’t have a care in the world other than that moment. It was just fun. I remember my grandfather and uncle would come down to Flagstaff every year as kind of a tradition. I’d be anxiously awaiting for them to arrive. My mom would get up early in the morning and cook a great breakfast and pack lunches. Whether we caught something or not, we’d have fun and camaraderie out there together.
Today, I have 5 children and 4 grandchildren and we still live our heritage by getting out there and enjoying it. I started my kids bow hunting when they were just able to pull a bow back, around 6 years old – not so much hunting, but shooting a target. Now, I hunt with my son, nephew, and brother-in-law and I get such satisfaction that they can do the things that I taught them – to watch your students succeed. As far as being outdoors people, they far exceeded my expectations. These days, I also go camping a lot because it’s so enjoyable. It’s kind of a tradition – not with all family members, but a couple of my sisters and one of my sons. We go out and buy a bag of green chili, go camping out in the woods, and roast them. Then we bring them home and freeze them to have for the rest of the year.
Whatever age, whether it’s siblings, children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren – we get out and enjoy it together and even the little ones have a good time. Being out there in nature is just awesome for kids. They’re free to experience it firsthand and roam around and look at different things and ask questions.
We take the kids to nearby lakes on family excursions and get them to put poles in the water and let them fish away. They use up so much bait we have to forgo our own fishing so the kids can enjoy themselves. We don’t mind; it’s great watching them having fun and when they catch a fish, you share in their excitement. Being in the outdoors is so much fun – the freedom that you experience, the enjoyment – whether you’re alone or with friends or family. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the moments when we stop to appreciate the beautiful places we live in this country.
I’m very grateful I was introduced to the outdoors at a young age and the experiences were so good. I’m thankful that I continued the traditions and passed them down to my children, too. And now I have the pleasure of witnessing my grandchildren enjoying it, as well. Similar to my upbringing, these experiences will teach them to respect the outdoors and foster a spirit of conservation. Hopefully they will pass it on down and hopefully it just keeps on going. Honoring our heritage and building our future.
William Contreras is a fourth generation resident of Arizona and retired employee of the US Postal Service. Six generations of his family have lived in Northern Arizona and were one of the first Hispanic Pioneer families to settle in Flagstaff, Arizona. William's great-grandparents located to Flagstaff in 1906 to work on the railroad and in the sawmill. His grandfather, Delfino Contreras was one of the first Hispanic business owners in Flagstaff. Six generations of the family since 1906 have carried on the proud tradition of hunting, camping, fishing and enjoying the outdoors. Their love for the land runs deep, as well as their conservation ethic and stewardship of the land, so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come. William now lives in Anthem, Arizona and has enjoyed exploring all the outdoor recreational opportunities of the southern part of the State.