Latino Conservation Week (LCW) does more que preguntar, when was the last time you connected with nature? LCW es una invitation-invitacion to some and a reminder para todo el mundo to [re]discover two things 1) your belonging in nature and 2) that la naturaleza es nuestra herencia. Both ideas we need to make certain we pass to the emergent generation. No matter what the environment: rivers, oceans, mountains, deserts, valleys, gardens, ect; LCW is a place to learn and grow, porque eso es la magia—magic that our ancestors want for us…for our children para apprender y dessarollar con las plantas, animals, y las fuerzas elemental. Even in urban areas—la jungle del concreto find those green—blue spaces whether in a park or off pier, be brave and committed to the vision y la idea that nature is for all and not just for those that can afford it.
Como Afro-Latino, first generation estudiante, y combat veteran sigo feeling like a “minority among minorites” Everywhere I go I ask—pregunto, Do I belong? But when I am immerse by the Atlantic waves that hit the beach, beneath the Gulf’s waters as I dive a reef, surrounded by bald-cypress forests while slogging across the Everglade’s wetlands es pregunta never comes across my mind. These environments are some of the places that my mind and heart are able to speak quietly and find balance—equilibrio, even my balcony garden and school food forests are urban spaces which I reclaim for us—nostros for the trees I plant, the flowers they produce, and bees I care for that visit them in order to make the fruit I share with my students, friends, and family. I do this to rebel—revolt—fajarme contra the ecocolonialism that continually distances BIPOC people from our heritage—ancestors and sever our connections to the world around us through socio-economical oppression we see and feel this in many personal and professional spaces we and our loved ones are involved in each and every day.
…Below is an example of the pain, sadness, and rage that twists and multiplies inside me each and every day! Pero just like LCW is an invitation to some, I hold it as a challenge for us, juntos para ser [re]verdes and [re]claim our spaces/places NOT as “owners” of nature but as their allys. Lo siguente son valores, viciones, y ideas that you can consider when learning—growing-healing during LCW and beyond… because LCW is only a week… but what are you going to do the other 51 weeks? Dale… I dare you!
A vision is crucial to any leadership efforts, but what happens when you are not the ‘right’ color, age, ethnicity, gender—si no hablas como ellos or behave like is expected? The discussion of visions/actions in the justice, equity, diversity, inclusion (J.E.D.I.) space hinges on the deep understanding for a human-being’s longing to belong…and as a multi-ethnic, non-traditional student, combat veteran, y hombre apasionado por servicio to his community paired with an insatiable sense of commitment to mentorship of my students and stewardship to the world around us… one would figure that I ‘fit in’ any—everywhere—I go! However, ‘fitting in’’ does not equate to belonging, and there is a process to both ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’ that can and has been known to result in self-deprecation and self-trauma. In academic spaces/places, especially those in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), there is a long-standing history of what Iris Marion Young calls the Five Faces of Oppression which include exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, violence, and cultural imperialism. The last one, also known as cultural colonialism, illustrates that within a culture, there are dominant forces/power dynamics that influence and impact people/communities/the others without inclusion, representation, and/or equity. Furthermore, those phenomena disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) folks in ways we are still exploring today… Let us be honest, the academic environment—as a product and process—were developed by white people on the backs of the racialized, poor, disenfranchised, and uneducated. Whether it was building or cleaning the institutions or serving as human subjects to advance white researcher agendas, the providence of trauma—generational and otherwise—is noticeable, appalling, and disturbing to say the least. While the academic spaces have become more diversified, and there may be a temporary sense of 'fitting in,' belonging still eludes many.
BIPOC folks keep their feet jammed in the doors with the hopefulness that the next generation will get to feel that genuine sense of belonging which they all have fought for and, in some cases, died for. My own mentors have all committed to being stewards in the academic environment by cultivating seeds that will grow into trees from which they will never be able to enjoy the shade or fruits. Knowing that I may not find that belonging in the academic environment, I nevertheless continue to actively/fervently cultivate those seeds/trees for my students and community—because a vision for a brighter tomorrow starts by being brave and opening your eyes (as in Les Brown’s concept of ‘mindsight’) today!
My daily J.E.D.I. efforts as a student, scientist, teacher, and advocate in our academic spaces are grounded in Bryan Stevenson’s four pillars for sustained change 1) embracing uncomfortably, 2) remaining proximate, 3) changing the narrative, and 4) remaining hopeful… Hope, as Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption said, is a “dangerous thing.” I have always thought to myself: dangerous to whom? The danger comes from the zero game—that is the current culture of the academy, where ‘if you have it, then I can’t have it’ prevails…?! This attitude drives a notion that folks need to ‘fit in,’ but ‘fitting in’ means being surrounded by those above-mentioned five faces of oppression by yourself—where you feel more like a fixture in a room, part of show and tell, an exotic display—in a room full of white people. Challenging the notions and reality here is not found within our willingness to participate in the game (to ‘fit in’) but in our wanting/longing to change the game (to belong). Belonging means sitting inside the square made from Stevenson’s aforementioned pillars. I serve as the minotaur in the middle of that maze, acting as a guardian and a critical caretaker of this space…where belonging is possible. In my conclusive and lived experiences, J.E.D.I. work is a [R]Evolution! It is not acceptable to only ‘be seen.’ The need for human connections, comunidad, y pertenencia (belonging) must occur today if we are all to enjoy the same sunrise tomorrow… together—juntos!
Written by David Riera, Oceans Advisory Council member and MANO Project Alum.
David Riera is an Afro-Latino, first generation college graduate, Marine Corp combat veteran, bee caretaker and is currently engaged in his work as a Doctoral Fellow at Florida International University in the department of Teaching and Learning, he is a Hispanic Access Foundation MANO Alumni, and a 3rd year HAF Ocean Advocacy Committee member. David organized and led his first LCW event in 2019 and has continued to lead and teach his student how to organize LCW events. This year he will be working with a cohort of public-school teachers to introduce them to the Art of Bonsai and mindfulness meditation through a co-created bonsai workshop—salon at a local nursery. David is also working with Miami Gifted Children to provide access and experiential-learning opportunity to learners who are twice gifted and homeschooled to connect with over 100 species at our local Zoological Wildlife Foundation (ZWF) which is a five-acre plant and animal sanctuary. He will further work with parents and ZWF staff to co-create resources (both in English y Espanol) that will potentially help connect this LCW experience with home lessons. David believes in a kindship que es mas que a relationship with the natural world one that had been hidden in the urban jungle but has revealed itself to him in more ways than one. LCW is just one more way…one more reminder que esa conneciones were always there waiting for him…for us…para la comunidad to find again. David does NOT just invite you to participate in Latino Conservation Week, but he challenges you to DO IT… to write about on social media… to tell your families…your communities… your congregaciones… to tell—show him your story on Instagram @305steam.ed as an environmental educator—gladiator he thrives on knowing who he is fighting for and with.