Latinx Climate Activists Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month

India Howeth

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October 5, 2020

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Latinx Heritage Month has been celebrated from September 15-October 15 every year since 1968. The celebratory 30-day period begins on September 15 because it commemorates the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Additionally, independence day for Mexico falls on September 16 and for Chile, September 18th. It is meant to celebrate the many Latinx histories, cultures and identities of Latinx Americans.

As youth climate activists, Julian Arenas, Sofía Hernández, Alejandro Matehuala, Jennifer Cantero, Jason Naylor, Edelma Saenz, Karin Watson and Selene Lopez share what their Latinx identity, heritage and this month means to them.

1. Julian Arenas, Wisconsin

ACE has really allowed me to learn about things like environmental racism and voter suppression which impact Latinx communities. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with other Latinx individuals working for climate justice. This has greatly influenced my perspective on the climate movement and made the work I do more meaningful. As someone who comes from a mixed family and passes as white, it can be difficult for me to fully embrace my Latinx heritage. I’m still learning how to not erase my identity in my work, and that’s a process that takes a while.

2. Sofía Hernández, Costa Rica

My relationship with climate and human rights activism does not have a relationship because I am Latina, specifically. I live in Costa Rica, in a quite privileged position, although my country is in one of the most vulnerable regions in terms of the climate crisis and human rights violations. However, what influences my activism are the several human rights injustices in Latin America, a region with a past and in some countries, until now days, very violent, from dictatorships to wars, a region that is extremely racist towards indigenous and black populations, with a culture of extractivism and a vision of environmentalism that excludes the most marginalized communities. Being Latina specifically didn’t had an impact on becoming an activist but it did help me to have a more intersectional vision of how climate justice should be.

3. Alejandro Matehuala, North Carolina

I definitely think that in my culture there are many problems, especially within the Latinx community in the United States. I’m not speaking for everyone, but I know that amongst the teens and older adults [that I know], issues like climate change aren’t really talked about. I think having youth that are a part of the Latinx community advocating for climate change action could help shed some light on the subject and inspire other Latinx people to do the same. While I’ve previously worked around the topics of immigration, racism and xenophobia, I’m still working to ensure my identity is represented in my climate work. I try to share information with my fellow Latinos who don’t know much about it.

4. Jennifer Cantero, Florida

My identity plays a big role in why I’m so invested in climate change advocacy work. My family that lives in Paraguay is at a big risk when it comes to climate change. The country is heavily dependent on agriculture and livestock, so as the temperature rises, the greater the effects will be on their economic output. My people are in danger, so I use my identity to connect with others with similar backgrounds and help people understand how important the work that we’re doing is.

5. Jason Naylor, North Carolina

It means a ton that I have the chance to continue the legacy of my ancestors and to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month. My grandparents risked a bunch to come to America from Cuba so the future of their family could live a good life – I wish to make them proud. The Latinx community has gone through an exceeding amount of pain and heartache just to have the same freedoms and liberties as white people, and the community must keep fighting to make sure we’re heard. I’m honestly still learning how to ensure that my representation is present in my work! I try my best to continuously spread the word about inequalities that are constantly going on in society against Latinx people and also try to educate others on the topic of the community’s history, heritage and how the community is treated unequally. However I absolutely still have more to learn on these topics and am genuinely grateful to have the opportunity to make my identity present in my activism work!

Edelma Saenz, Florida

Latinx communities — much like other underrepresented communities — are more likely to be affected by the disastrous effects of climate change. That’s an idea that constantly pushes me forward, seeking to assure that my community doesn’t get left behind in the climate fight. I use to try to shy away from who I was in a bad attempt of assimilating. Now in every possible opportunity, I try to show up as authentically as I can. Almost like “this is me, 100% unapologetically me.

Karin Watson, Chile

I define myself as a human rights activist working for climate action. And both of these are really influenced by my identity and the history of my people. Also, in working internationally, I always try to bring that point of view, that of a woman and a girl from the global south, who grew up seeing the north take away the rights and wealth of our territory. And in that sense, I want to occupy spaces to bring those perspectives, but also to fight (and I try not to be in a way that appropriates, but that respects and amplifies other struggles) to open them up to other people who have not had the privilege that I have had, as a white person in the city. My work is deeply driven by all this, by my own experience, by the recognition of my privileges, and by the constant learning of other people and experiences.

Selene Lopez, North Carolina

As an indigenous girl from Hidalgo, MX, I’ve realized that issues such as climate change or defense work are all rooted in the BIPOC communities that have continued to endure oppression by the systems that we live in. Understanding and acknowledging my indigenous ancestors from the region of Hidalgo has allowed me to become more empathetic and conscious of the struggles of the oppressed. Celebrating Latinx heritage month is something new to me because this celebration has not been vocalized in past years. It was something that I recently learned about 2 years ago. I celebrate by understanding what Latinx means, by discovering Latinx artists, by amplifying the voices of other compas, by learning about social movements in Latino America, or by simply connecting more with my ancestors. Estamos aquí because of them. 

India Howeth

India Howeth

Social Media Intern

India joins ACE as a Social Media Intern based in Washington, D.C.  She is currently studying at American University for a B.A. in an Interdisciplinary Studies major of Communications, Legal Studies, Economics and Government with a minor in Arabic: her third language after English and Spanish.  

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