Growing up in Ecuador, the way we celebrated Earth Day was by doing what we did every day: going outdoors. I spent my childhood surrounded by mountains, running and playing outdoors. Collecting rainwater, farming sustainably, taking care of the land, hiking — these were just part of a way of life passed down through generations. So much of my life was shaped by those happy years, a childhood spent living in harmony with nature.
When we moved to Maryland, our family was suddenly transplanted to an urban setting where we didn’t see greenery outside of our window and didn’t have the same access to the outdoors. I was 12 years old and felt like I’d lost so much more than just my language.
In high school, I celebrated Earth Day by participating in park clean-ups and tree-plantings. But it wasn’t after grad school, when I joined Chispa Maryland as a community organizer in 2015, that I was able to regain my connection to Mother Earth. Coming from a background in social work and passionate about social justice, I was excited to work for a program that approached conservation in an intersectional way, understanding that immigration, racial and economic justice also play roles in our relationship with the environment.
Organizing with Chispa Maryland, I saw that Latinx and immigrant communities were ready to protect our environment. Community members were worried about air pollution and facing the impacts of environmental racism, and they wanted to take action, whether it was advocating for investing in electric school buses or calling for access to clean water and healthy rivers. For Earth Day in 2017, I was able to bring their voices with me and demand accountability from polluters as a speaker at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C.
When I became the Deputy National Director for Chispa in 2018, I helped our programs across the country advance their work at the local, state and national level as they fought to address the root problems communities of color are facing. So much of the framework for the work I do comes from my time in social work, when a lot of what I studied were questions: Why does someone lack access to health care? Why do families of color have such disproportionate asthma rates? What can we do about it?
For me, Earth Day is about balancing individual practices with the systemic changes needed to protect Mother Earth. Individual contributions are important, but they are not enough. What’s going to create real change, what will change environmental policies and laws, is our communities demanding urgent action and equitable outcomes.
This Earth Day, young people of color are recognizing that they have a voice and that they can have an impact on change. They understand that we must act today, or we won’t be celebrating Earth Day 10 years from now.
The future of the environmental movement lies within us. People of color have always been environmentalists, whether that’s been recognized or not. Taking care of Mother Earth is rooted in our cultures, and reclaiming that narrative is part of Chispa’s work to change the faces of the environmental movement. Taking the reins as Chispa National Director, I envision a future when communities of color are leading the way, setting the Conservation Voters Movement’s priorities for what good environmental policy is and for who we center in our work.
We have a long way to go. But this Earth Day is a reminder that this fight isn’t about building the power of one person or winning one election. It’s about community building long-term power for our families.
How will you #ProtectMadreTierra this earth day? Check out some of our tips to celebrate safely: Celebrating Earth Day while staying safe in 2020