Despite feeling like I was not educated or experienced enough to engage in advocacy spaces, I found that was precisely why it was essential I immersed myself to begin with. The movement belongs to us all.
Growing up in Phoenix, I spent much of my childhood at my nana’s house, a humble abode surrounded by an abundance of “naturaleza'' she protected, cared for, and tended to daily. Her love of gardening meant planting vibrant sunflowers and watering the lemon tree in the backyard that grew an abundance of lemons, more than she knew what to do with. The tree provided an essential cover of shade from the sun when the dry heat became unbearable in the summer, for the little cousins in the family who played outside. Freshly cut lemons sat on the table, waiting to be squeezed into her homemade traditional pozole.
She was divinely connected to her land, a way of living she learned in her hometown in Mexico. She brought with her an innate love for the natural environment, and that love flourished along her journey through California to Arizona. In the early morning and at sunset she would tend to the garden, and I began to witness how one could love and preserve their environment, take care of the land, and protect the earth in the small ways we each uniquely have the power to do.
Divine Familial + Ancestral Wisdom
Preserving our earth in the spaces we inhabit became a recurring theme as I noticed the ways my parents engaged with their surrounding environment, too. It appeared to be second nature to them—my mother’s love of plants and the various elements of nature in our community were always present.
Though she experienced frustrations as a result of the daily challenges an underserved woman of color like herself had to endure, her love for the natural earth was constant. By regularly tending to, showing love for, and appreciating the natural elements of this earth that we had access to—from the public park to home plants—she could practice self-preservation. This was her outlet in a society that did not tend to her own needs for survival in the same way.
For my dad, brought up in rural Guatemala, his connection to the earth and the land he grew up on was immediate, as it served as a source of nourishment, a resource for survival, and as a place to work. He possessed a particular love for the flourishing process of fruits. His abuelo instilled within him the knowledge of these fruits that are native to their land, and showed him how the flourishing of fruit was essential to their community’s ability to flourish, too. His adolescent years were spent picking cantaloupes in the fields with his brothers, and he too eventually flourished into a father with an expertise in the ripeness of fruits, knowing how to knock precisely on a watermelon and hear if it’s hollow enough and ready for us to enjoy.
He remained rooted in his divine connection to the nature of life, guided by the land itself, both in his homeland and in the US. On Sundays, he would wake up before the sun to trim the trees, pull the weeds, and nourish the environment, and he repeated this cycle regularly, revealing not only his commitment to preserving a clean green space, but ultimately preserving the naturaleza of the land we inhabited. He embraced his love for the earth and for self-preservation even as the labor intensive work week became overbearing.
We constantly had to move across the valley as a result of housing insecurity and low socio-economic status. But seeing my parents use their individual power to positively tend to the earth we were inhabiting, even if temporarily, was powerful; they obtained a sense of personal agency in preserving our temporary environment in the small ways they could. Overall, we had limited access, privilege, wealth, and opportunity in an American society that sought to exclude us and diminish our deeply-rooted values in family, community, and our shared human experience on Earth. However, we maintained power in how we engaged with and gave to the land and the people within it, and how it gave back to us.
Advocacy Arose from Connection To the Land
Despite their divine connection to the earth, they needed to survive in a country that prioritizes profits over people, so they worked in jobs that inevitably further perpetuated harm to the earth, not by choice, but for survival.
My mother worked as an employee for one of the largest gas station companies in the region, and my father worked as a semi-truck trailer driver constantly making deliveries from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Systems of oppression had forced upon them an undesirable means of survival. For survival, they worked in a capitalist colonial culture that sought to not only generate profits on the backs of oppressed people but inevitably forced them to unknowingly perpetuate harm.
American capitalist society thrives on the oppression of people of color and the destruction of the earth we are actually intended to preserve, and by watching them I realized how their inability to be in control of our lives—and the nature of the land we were divinely connected to—was rooted in the injustice and collective oppression people of color have historically faced.
There is no way for historically oppressed communities of color to achieve true liberation, nor to free the earth from its own oppression, while it is all captive by corporations and capitalist greed—the direct perpetuators of this environmental harm. Realizing this, I became relentless in my pursuit of justice. Though I have no family legacy of activism, I sought to find ways to engage in the fight for justice, to be their voice in a world that never gave them the chance to speak up or be heard.
I am for obtaining liberation for the people by abolishing the institutions, systems, and ideologies that further perpetuate oppression. I am for divine connection to the land and this Earth. By returning to our ancestral traditions, rooted in our inner and community wellbeing, we are grounded in the empowerment and advancement of all oppressed people. This is what guides me.
The Power of Community
Growing up in Phoenix presented various challenges as an underserved youth with limited access to resources, knowledge, or understanding of what activism against the oppression of a population was all about. I eventually found my power by recognizing my potential as an individual and remaining grounded by the intrinsic earth wisdom my family instilled within me.
I had felt powerlessness for the majority of my upbringing, but the weight of oppression was far too heavy to
bear alone; I found community and reconnected with the land and the people who inhabit it. By remaining rooted
in community, with compassion and love for the people who persevered despite the oppression imposed upon them—in
the same way I witnessed with my parents—I was inspired by the strong sense of community I found in those
already leading movements for change in my Arizona hometown.
We deserve to live and ultimately have control over our lives, and the power of community allows us to flourish together by claiming our power.
The Movement Belongs to Us All
My parents’ wisdom in their connection to the land, as former immigrants, as working-class, hard-working Latinx people, provided me with the foundational wisdom of what it means to care for one’s environment, family, community, and how to support an inherent commitment to doing good. In many ways, they provided me with the knowledge and a holistic understanding of what it meant to be an activist, before I ever even knew I’d dedicate my life to advocating for oppressed people.
As a collective humanity, we are instinctively connected to one another, our communities, and the Earth. Protecting our environments and preserving our Earth is foundational to our shared experience and essential to our advancement in the movements for change. When we recognize our individual and collective power, we can learn to advocate for ourselves and our communities, while remaining rooted in our ancestral familial teachings, in order to flourish.
Even though our multifaceted experiences as oppressed people may vary, our connection to the Earth remains the same and our shared commitment to activism becomes an opportunity to make our voices heard, be in control of our own lived experiences, and create a world where self-preservation, protecting the Earth, and community care become central to the world of radical acceptance we hope to create.
I found a community where people of color recognize their power, and I sought to develop this strength within myself, in hopes of empowering everyday people who would not otherwise have the access to obtain it. Despite feeling like I was not educated or experienced enough to engage in advocacy spaces, I found that was precisely why it was essential I immersed myself to begin with.
I overcame my own internalized judgements and found that people were actually quite welcoming and receptive to my engagement. I claimed my space in a movement that does not belong to any particular person, group, or ideology but rather one that is radically accepting, inclusive, and rightfully belongs to us all.
Written by Irene Franco Rubio for Youth To The People