Spotlight on Audubon: Tania Romero sees death and rebirth in the form of birds

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Death. Recreation. Renewal. This is what the Turkey Vulture symbolizes in Tania Romero’s Mexican culture. It is his favorite bird.

Right after Romero graduated from college in 2016, she traveled to Mexico City to visit family members whom she rarely saw growing up in a mixed immigration status family in south-central Los Angeles. During the trip, she also visited the Museo Nacional de Anthropología, a popular national museum with art and cultural objects, where she saw an exhibition dedicated to birds in ancient cultures. This visit changed everything in the way she viewed herself in relation to her family and her culture.

While Romero was at the museum, she saw exhibits about what birds meant to indigenous communities in Mexico. Two of them particularly stood out: Double-crested cormorants help spirits travel to the underworld, and the role of the vulture is to rejuvenate and recreate life on Earth. The exhibit, with its explicit focus on birds and native culture, really helped connect Romero’s growing interest in birds to the new sides she was discovering about his cultural heritage and family rarely seen in Mexico.

“I started telling my family members that I was a bird lover, and they said your grandmother really loved birds,” Romero says. “My grandmother apparently had 50 birds, a small mini aviary, and I didn’t know. She took care of the birds, she was in love with the birds and spoke to them. It really helped me in the sense of maybe feeling that I’m a part of it [conservation and bird] world.”

Romero last saw his grandmother at the age of 10; cross-border travel is difficult for families with mixed immigration status, and visits to Mexico were very rare for Romero and his family. She later became addicted to birds on a study abroad trip to Costa Rica as a college student, but her grandmother had already passed away. Romero says she wished she could bond with her grandmother because of their shared passion.

Romero received a bachelor’s degree in biology and a double minor in environmental studies and ethnic studies at the University of California at San Diego, arriving in 2018 at the Audubon Center in Debs Park in Los Angeles as an apprentice of Fund 2 focusing on programming and catering for young people. Her career came as a surprise to her parents who, like many immigrant parents, expected her to become a doctor or a lawyer.

“This job is really where my heart is,” says Romero, but at first it was difficult to explain to his parents, who associated working outdoors with hard work in the farm fields. Romero had to reframe that in conversations with them: “I love being there, not out of necessity, but because I’m intrigued by our natural world. “

Romero brings that same energy to her work at Debs Park, where she currently runs programs designed to engage underserved communities. When she thinks back to her post-graduate trip to Mexico and how it illuminates her work now, she realizes how much he has asserted his own identity as a woman of color working in science and conservation. This awareness prompts her to point out to others that immigrants and the children of immigrants, as well as Indigenous peoples and other people of color, do not need to shed their identities to be included in the outdoors and in higher education.

“It was identity recovery and insurance that I deserved to be here, and I deserve to study that,” Romero said. “And, at the end of the day, I belong here.”


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