I decided to interview my partner, Carolina, because of her background with Environmental Justice. While she was still in High School she started volunteering at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) as part of the youth group called Young Activists Organizing as Today’s Leaders (YAOTL). It is through them that she began getting more involved with environmental justice (EJ) as a movement and what that means, especially for people of color.
Her education now includes community gardening, native species restoration, and bioremediation through the use of certain plants like sunflowers. Carolina has done small scale gardening but she tells me she also enjoys landscape gardening. Some of those experiences were through a certification program through the Chicago Botanic Garden and now she works at Green Beginnings trying to incorporate that knowledge for the curriculum of much younger youth.
For her identifying as Latina, Mexico-Americana, and belonging to the Mexicoyotl community which tries to revive and reeducate the traditions of ancient Mexico, specifically the Mexica traditions, adds to how she works with youth and the concepts she incorporates in the curriculum. For example, when thinking about Environmental Justice we also have to look at immigration. One of the things we have in common is that we both think and feel that younger generations carry the responsibility of fulfilling the dreams of getting up north. While doing this, we must not forget to be intentional about making connections with food, plants, animals but also different kinds of people and the things we all share.
One of the things we have in common is that our moms are our inspiration. From an earlier age, they have inspired us by telling stories of their childhood and the freedom they had and felt while venturing out into and with nature. Even though her mother tried to distance herself from their practices, out of resentment because it reminded her of her family’s poverty back in Mexico, she still kept certain traditions after coming to the United States. She passed down some knowledge like food sustainability. Caro’s amma taught her some values of food justice which include not wasting food and creating alternative, healthier methods of cooking. She also remembers that her family used cobijas instead of buying plastic to cover the windows during the winter to weatherize their apartment. Carolina says that for her family sustainability used to be out of necessity sometimes, but through her involvement they see the value in it too.
Her tía used to make blue-corn sweet bread to sell to sustain the family. She shares that when she was five years old she would sleep over at their house and whenever she woke up in the middle of the night the room was full of the blue-corn aroma. Carolina confesses that though that’s one of her favorite memories growing up, she finally realized what blue corn looked like when she had the opportunity to travel to New Mexico and experienced cultivating it. At that time she had traveled for a Four Directions gathering of many young environmental justice organizers. They had come together to share skills in agriculture.
During that time she was becoming a passionate agriculturalist and that’s when she found her favorite plant, el romero (rosemary). It had come to her in several dreams while she was in a five day fasting for a Mexica ceremony. Carolina shares that this plant carries a special meaning to her because it has healing properties. Rosemary can relieve cramps and be used in different ways like shampoo, to treat skin, for tea or cooking recipes which she hopes to try one day.