The Nature Conservancy’s employee resource group focusing on individuals that identify as multicultural asked me to share my personal story on how I came to care about environmental issues. This was written at the end of July 2015.
Quisieron enterrarnos sin saber que éramos semillas.
They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.
– Latin American Proverb
Much of my growing up process has come in series of awakenings. These “awakenings” as I’ve come to call them, are really just realizations—some good and some bad—of my place in the world, through a growing awareness as I experience more of it, live longer within it, and understand the nuances of a globalized society and economic system.
As a child, my parents were—as far as I know— unintentionally neutral to the fact that I am female, even though I was born in Ecuador, a typical Latin American country with patriarchal structures and deep machismo. My family never made me feel less than any boy—with good reason, as we are overrun by strong Amazon-like women. This should be a given, but too often in these societies, it is not. In my memory, I was just a person, and that’s how it should have stayed. It wasn’t until school that I realized that, generally, I wasn’t considered equal to my male peers and that they had capabilities and an authority that I supposedly lacked: my first social awakening.
My second social awakening came from school as well, as I learned about colonialism, slavery, and the suppression and mistreatment of those considered “less than”; all of those people who had been cheated, abused, oppressed, tortured and killed just because of different skin tone or creed. I realized how this still continues, in varying degrees, and I began to see myself as a piece of a social web that I didn’t help create, but are subject to anyway. To this day, this enrages me; at times, even more intensely than it was then. I began appreciating the privilege I was born into merely through luck alone, and the socio-economic class my parents worked hard to reach.
After high school, I moved to the United States to start college in New Orleans, and although I had lived in the U.S. before—in Texas and California as a young child and pre-teen—I had never truly grasped that being Latin mattered, mainly in a negative way. I felt that it set me apart from other Americans, even though I hold an American passport, too. In living in the city that Hurricane Katrina ravished, I had my third, major social awakening: I learned what it means to be a minority, and saw what it’s like to be treated like one. I identified with the groups that garner so many stereotypes—especially in the current political climate of the United States—and equality rose to become my personal concern and pursuit. This, coupled with the environmentalism I have long been interested in, compounded into an interest in environmental justice; the fueling force that has brought me to an organization like TNC.
My first memory of my exposure to environmental concerns occurred while driving through the bad roads of the lush Ecuadorian mountains. I was a young child in the early 90s with my mother, father and brother. Queen was playing on the radio. I wanted to throw some waste out the window because it was inconveniencing me and my father—a civil engineer working at an environmental consultancy—took the opportunity to school me. It was not long after that I became enamored by the environment around me, now that I was actually made aware of its importance and value. Sadly, it’s not innate knowledge when you grow up in a city, and your food comes from a grocery store, your water from a faucet, and your trash disappears.
Then, there was the iconic panda of the WWF branding and stories in National Geographic magazines that made me believe that environmental conservation was about saving species I had never seen, but mattered anyways. It was a simplistic view of environmentalism, but nevertheless, it was the seed planted within me that has continued to grow.
Now, it has moved beyond animals—though it includes them— and I am here because I can’t sit around and read about those who lack access to the most basic components for life: land to live on or grow food, water, clean air. I can’t stand by and do nothing. And this drive is inflamed by the injustices I am exposed to everyday: people lacking aid in the face of natural disasters; indigenous people affected by industrial waste, oil spills and land misappropriation; populations suffering from unjust water, land and agricultural policies; entire nations losing from the unfair distribution of, and limited access to, vital natural resources—many which have been disappropriated from entire communities for the unimaginable gains of too few.
But most personally—and selfishly—I know what it’s like to lose something you can’t replace; I fear we are rapidly heading in that direction. And because of all of this, I feel a need to help restore what has been broken, contributing my life and work to achieving sustainability, justice and peace.