Putting the Brown Back in Green

What does this statement even mean?  Mainly it’s talking of how Hispanics, Native-Americans, and African-Americans across the country are getting reacquainted with their roots in the soil.

I’m sure that most people of color are aware of these roots, but they have other issues (getting a good education, finding a good job, surviving in this crazy world) to worry about, than to think about organic farming and working on sustainability and conservation.  Yet what I’m going to be saying by the end of this is that this green thing that many of us have been ignoring is one of the simple answers to help improve our lives and our communities.

My first major act of environmentalism was also an act of survival.

I grew up in rural, southern New Mexico where the land is plenty for growing crops. Unfortunately many also thought the water here was plentiful. My family was brown, large, and poor, setting us up for the obvious act of farming in order to eat well.

Yet despite how I sometimes hated being out in the hot ass weather pulling weeds, watering crops, and doing other hard work — I was also out there kicking it with my family, listening to old school soul music, laughing and enjoying each other’s company while we got dirty.  Most of the time it was pretty righteous.  And we were doing the same thing that families many generations ago had done.

No wonder it felt so damn good!

When I talk to my friends from the city, most of them say they’ve gone camping at least once or twice, but that’s as far as it goes towards being involved with nature.  Yet they also say that they loved being out in the mountains where it’s crazy beautiful and quiet.

Many of them also vocalized how it sometimes feels like the land is calling them, but they are too busy to get “out there”.  I think that stepping out into nature for even a quick second can help you clear your head and get grounded again–something that we all need every now and then.

Recently, I met a dope cat from L.A. named Juan Martinez. He works with the Children and Nature Network, which interacts with inner city kids and takes them out into nature. When I first met Juan, he was looking fresh with some pressed khakis and a green LA Dodgers flat cap. He began to explain to me why he does this work.

“Growing up in South Central L.A. can mess with a Latino’s instinct; tierra/land is in our blood. The word environmentalist doesn’t always ring in a positive way in our community. I grew up among gang members and concrete. So the first time I heard about recycling and global warming I just laughed. Then I got to see more stars than I could count at the age of 15. This was at a crossroad in my life.”

Juan continued on to say, “Being out in nature amplified that instinct that I think every Latina/o carries, to connect with land is to connect with ourselves. Further down the road I started to realize that this so called ‘Environmentalist’ movement is not about saving trees, but it is more about saving our people and our cultura.”

In Burque, La Plazita Institute and South Valley Academy are doing great jobs of working with youth in the Valley, and one of their ways of engaging them is thru education at both the Sanchez Farm and Dragon Farm.  There are many other awesome community gardens in our area, as well as community members who are making bio-diesel, have native-owned sustainability companies, have formed acequia associations, and are working on environmental education.

There’s much more to say about the green happenings in Burque, but I’ll save that for another post. Yet from what little I’ve said, you can see that green is hitting the streets and is bringing the natural back to our city and others across the country!

LaDonna Redmond of Chicago not long ago told me the story of how she had a really hard time in her part of the city finding healthy food for her son who has food allergies.  So she decided to make things happen and started a community garden that not only now feeds her son, but many others in her community.

This initial venture has led her to form the Institute for Community Resource Development, a non-profit that focuses on rebuilding local food systems and has a large reach throughout the city and nation.

There are green corps in both Oakland and Chicago that not only employ young people of color, but also work on the residences in their community in order to help reduce families utility bills.

My homey Temostocles from New Bedford Youthworks also works with youth by doing greenspace restoration in his area and is also using hip hop to get the green message out to youth (check the green anthem out on Youtube below!).

And even in NY, there are people like Sheila Somashekhar from Sustainable South Bronx who are working with people in her community to turn dilapidated areas of the hood into parks, while also training others to put up green, living roofs across the city.

Just think– green gardens on New York City rooftops, rocking green hip-hop, tore up areas of the hood being made into beautiful parks, and making a living in the city by working on renewable energy and locally grown food.  This sounds like some of that ahead of the curve stuff, yet really it’s nothing new.  It’s been in our cultures for as far as our generations go back.

It’s what Tupac was talking about when he wrote about a rose growing from the concrete.

And it’s what I mean when I say “putting the brown back into green”.  You’re not going to become a hippy by coming up in the environmental game — instead you’re making past generations proud by preserving a beautiful piece of our culture.

So instead of worrying what your homeys think of you getting your green on — think instead of the young, inner city kids who will stop having asthma from emissions, think of the people in the hood who could be eating healthy food they grew, think of the jobs we can create with this movement, think of the love we can spread with this green growth, and think of how are you going to help put the brown back into green.


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