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Reconnecting With My Green Roots

Navigating the question of “Where are you from?” has never been a simple one for me to answer. It brings into question which of the following identity markers speaks the most to who we are; is it nationality, ethnicity, racial identity or residency. Under the laws of the settler colonial nation of the United States, I am a U.S citizen. I consider myself a resident, a visitor and in many ways a settler on Coast Salish territory, primarily living in the ancestral lands of the Snoqualmie and Duwamish peoples, also known as the greater Seattle area. Although, I have been living on Coast Salish territory for almost my entire life, responding to the question of “Where are you from?” with “Seattle, Washington” will never be satisfying enough for me or for those asking the question. Because when they see my brown skin and thick dark hair, the question then becomes “but where are you REALLY from?”. Something that White settlers fail to understand is that from an Indigenous framework, relationships are at the core of how we understand our place in this world. And for those of us with displaced experiences, it becomes more complicated to navigate a sense of place when we feel disconnected from our communities.

So where am I really from? I am part of Michoacan diaspora, with ties to the lakes and tierra caliente regions of Michoacán, Mexico which is P’urhepecha territory. Both of my parents, and our ancestors as far as we know have been living in this territory. So although nationality or residency is seen as the default indicator of origin in the United States, I choose instead to identify by the territory that has a relationship with me.

What are Green Roots?

When I was about 5 years-old we moved from the United States to my parent’s community in Michoacán. My core childhood memories and the first time I can remember experiencing a sense of belonging and relationship with the land occurred during the 4 years I lived in Michoacán. I didn’t just keep time in months, I also learned how to tell time by looking at what the land was doing around me. Around the time of my birthday we can find juicy jicamas on the ground. The start of the rainy season meant school was almost out on summer break. But most importantly, living in Michoacán nurtured my strong connection to water. Our community comes from a P’urhepecha phrase referencing the abundance we have in water. My favorite childhood pastime while living in Michoacán was to go swimming in bodies of spring water scattered across our region. Spending time outdoors when I was living in Michoacán wasn’t something I thought about or my parents talked about directly, because it wasn’t something that needed to be explained. So many of our daily tasks, celebrations and economic foundation are based on having a relationship with the land that spending time outdoors was simply a way of life. This is how I would describe someone’s “green roots”. Just as we all have familial ancestors to tell us where we come from, we also have our “green roots”, which I define as our connections to the environment based on what the field calls traditional ecological knowledge(Se abre en una ventana nueva). Although, I believe every human on this Earth has “green roots”, due to the ongoing colonial violence inflicted on people of the global majority(Se abre en una ventana nueva) (PGM), marginalized peoples across the world are the most disconnected from their “green roots”.

Two young girls wearing scarves and smiling Samara and her sister as children, celebrating el Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe in their community in Mexico.

My green roots are rooted in the P’urhepecha territory where my family has been living for multiple generations. However, my parents’ generation was the first to migrate to the United States and raise their children outside of their ancestral lands. As a child I had to quickly transition from living in a small, tight knit community that centered our relationships to the land, to living in low income multifamily housing in a foreign land. Although my parents still encouraged my sister and I to have a relationship with the outdoors in our new home, as an adult I am able to reflect on how much more difficult this was given the car-centric and redlined neighborhoods I lived in. I am fortunate enough that as I settled into my life in the U.S I was still able to visit our home in Michoacán and maintain a relationship with the land even if it was from a place of displacement. I believe it was this opportunity to stay connected to my green roots that led me to pursuing a higher education in the environmental field.

Looking back, there was a moment leading up to my first day as a college student where I thought I would finally find my community within an environmental institution. But of course, given the historical marginalization of PGM in the environmental education field, I quickly realized my presence as a woman of color (WOC) was uncommon. Although I found community through the school’s Ethnic Student Center as I became involved with the campu’s MEChA chapter, I felt like I had to choose between showing up as a WOC concerned about racial equity or as an “environmentalist”. It wasn’t until I became part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program(Se abre en una ventana nueva) (DDCSP) my junior year of undergrad that I felt like I could connect  these aspects of my life. From connecting with other students of color through DDCSP the idea of Raices Verdes as a podcast was born, and I started documenting the green roots of some of my peers in the program. Once I began understanding my role in the environmental justice movement as a storyteller, the process of reconnecting to my green roots continues to deepen as I follow my calling.

A woman with a camera on a tripod interviewing another individual sitting on a chair behind the camera Samara interviewing Chiyokten from the Saanich nation for an Environmental Justice storytelling project.

Environmental Justice Storytelling

At the core of Raices Verdes as a multimedia platform is the belief that the documentation of our green roots is crucial to the environmental justice movement. Frontline communities experiencing the climate crisis at a disproportionate level deserve their stories documented through a self-determination process. A self-determination storytelling process allows for frontline communities to tell their stories from their own frameworks of knowledge, preserve traditional ecological knowledge, and to use these stories to empower their own communities and the generations to come. My goal is to support the documentation of these stories and provide a platform for environmental justice storytelling to be celebrated and shared. What makes me the most excited about this work is that more often than not stories about our green roots are best told when we spend time outside reconnecting with those green roots. Because for centuries Indigenous communities across the world have told stories around fires, during ceremonies, in lodges, during specific seasons of the year, and so forth. In addition, a storytelling process that centers self-determination isn’t a process that can always follow a traditional production schedule. Building trust is crucial when working with such sensitive knowledge, especially if you are working with stories that are not from your community. My goal for Raices Verdes is to continue fostering trust and community with Black and Indigenous people, with the belief that those relationships will place me in the right situations to share my skills and gifts with the world. I am grateful for the powerful organizations and collectives such as Golden Bricks Events(Se abre en una ventana nueva), Trail Mixed Collective(Se abre en una ventana nueva), EDGE Outdoors(Se abre en una ventana nueva), Sustainable Seattle(Se abre en una ventana nueva), The Bronze Chapter(Se abre en una ventana nueva), The Herons Nest(Se abre en una ventana nueva), and Braided Seeds (Se abre en una ventana nueva)to name a few that have create spaces for me to cultivate community and reconnect with my green roots.

A woman dressed in traditional P'urhepecha regalia standing in a grassy field, with bare trees behind her Samara dressed in traditional P'urhepecha regalia attending the Kurhikuaeri K’uinchikua ceremony, or the P'urhepecha New Year/New Fire ceremony in Puyallup, WA.

In a time when those in power want us to accept a climate crisis and believe in a scarcity mindset, we must counter this narrative with the power of our environmental justice stories that believe a different world is possible. A world that centers equitable and reciprocal relationships with the Earth and each other. We must share our stories of building spaces where people of all gender identities and disabilities are uplifted and cared for. Most of these stories are happening on a smaller scale, because community building is slow and difficult work that can’t be replicated the same way capitalism exponentially grows. However, by sharing these stories with each other we can inspire a large consciousness to work together towards a more just and sustainable future.