Meet one of HECHO’s newest advisory board members, Sylvia Lovato Huereña, who epitomizes what HECHO is all about – loving and passing along outdoor traditions from generation to generation.
Sylvia Lovato Huereña loves nothing more than to watch a child fish for the first time. She had this experience with her own children, her 10 grandchildren, and countless others. “When a child goes out to the lake and catches their first fish, at first they’re terrified to grab it when it’s jumping all over,” she said. “But then the amount of joy in their eyes is one of the most profound moments.” In addition to teaching them how to hold a fishing pole and pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth, she and her husband Lupe also let them know that whatever they kill they have to eat; and that they should leave the lake in better condition than they found it.
Born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona, Sylvia started fishing from the time she can remember. Every Easter Sunday her family would pack a truck and go to Camp Verde, right before the spawning and hot weather. The entire family would be together including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Sylvia’s family came to Arizona before it was a state. They worked as cement masons and construction workers and lived off the land. Their food staples were wild game and fishing. The men would go out into the woods to harvest deer or elk and the women would skin it and prepare it for the entire family to eat.
Today, fishing and hunting are still a staple in their lives, only there is one difference - both the men and women now participate. “I changed the cycle as far as that goes,” said Sylvia. “My boys hunt and fish, but now my girls do too. My daughter Alexis has shattered that ceiling.” The entire family – Sylvia, Lupe, and their four kids - used to head out on Fridays after school and then wake up at 5am the next morning to fish. “I always taught my daughters and my sons there is nothing a woman cannot accomplish. I definitely do not put limits on any of my children.”
In fact, Alexis recently returned from a bow hunt. But after preparing all summer, the bow malfunctioned when she was 40 yards away from a bull elk on her 9th day out. “She drew back and all of a sudden the string popped right off,” said Sylvia. “She was upset, to say the least.” Now Lupe and Alexis are getting ready for a deer hunt on November 1. “That’s with rifles, so I’m sure she won’t have any trouble.” Their hunts involve waking up before the sun. Sylvia prepares coffee and breakfast burritos before they head out. “You have to have a lot of patience,” says Sylvia. “It’s a real bonding experience for our family.”
Sylvia and Lupe, who have known each other since they were teenagers, also often go out fishing by themselves. “Some couples go for therapy,” she says. “Me and my husband, we go fishing. Even if we annoyed each other that day we’ll forget whatever the problem was because that is our peaceful place to go.” Whatever they catch they’ll take home, put on the grill with butter, onion and seasonings, and eat for dinner. “We always like fresh fish,” she says. “It is the best thing ever and it’s so good for you.” Both of their favorite is rainbow trout. “We’re very competitive when it comes to fishing,” she says.
Sylvia and Lupe now love to hike and camp with their grandchildren, who range in age from 1 to 19 years-old. “The grandkids think we’re a little nutty sometimes, but that’s okay,” she said. “They enjoy the outdoor life with us.”
Sylvia’s favorites place to camp and fish are Dogtown Lake, Ashurst Lake, Lake Mary, and Lake Powell, where she used to go a lot when she was younger. Her daughter’s special spot is Havasupai Falls on the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which takes up to 10 hours to hike down into. They sleep in hammocks in the trees and the water is “blue blue blue.”
What’s her favorite part about fishing? “I’ll take my little chair, I’ll throw my fishing pole in, and I sit and pray and think of people who mean a lot to me, or people I’ve lost. It’s a form of meditation and peacefulness that’s hard to describe – it’s a spiritual thing. Being one with nature is just awesome.”
Now, at 63 years-old, she is concerned about what’s happening with the environment. “People are mining and hurting our land and this is something we need to stop,” she said. “We have to respect the lands that were given to us. Conservation is worth more than dollars. A lot of people still depend on fishing and hunting as staples. We need to raise our voices not only as Hispanics, but as one people who must fight for the right to live on this earth and drink fresh water and breathe fresh air. I don’t think that’s a partisan issue. It should be a part of humanity.”
Sylvia Lovato Huereña was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. She started fishing since the time she could hold a pole, and her family has lived off the local land since before Arizona was a state. She remembers frequent family trips when the men would hunt and the women would prepare the harvest for sustenance. Sylvia is retired from her job as a Special Education Aid for the Flagstaff Unified School District. Today she enjoys spending her time going on camping, hunting and fishing trips with her husband Lupe; her kids Jesse, Angel, Sarah and Alexis; and her 10 grandchildren. She epitomizes what HECHO is all about – enjoying our public lands and passing down traditions of stewardship to the next generations.