I am a first generation Peruvian American and I am a young person.
These two parts of my identity have made me intensely aware of the climate emergency we are experiencing.
Coming from an immigrant family, I understand there to be a wide breadth of reasons why people immigrate, from experiencing the violence of U.S. militarism, extractivism, capitalism, and imperialism. My mom will tell me it’s for a better life than what we could have had there. A better life here as her home suffers to recover from failed attempts by the U.S. for neoliberal reform, plunging Peru into a violent Maoist movement. A better life here, in the country that has caused her home so much pain. My mom chose to move here because of the violence that resulted from U.S. imperialism, so was it really her choice?
Growing up I remember trips to Peru, I remember the smell of trash burning on the side of the highway— the smell burning my nostrils, asking my abuelito what that smell was. I remember hearing the stories of Quechua resistance to oil companies extraction in the Amazon. I remember my mom’s best friend who’s family contemplated selling their family dairy farm to a mining company because they were unable to compete with big agriculture.
So what does it mean to be an immigrant during the climate crisis?
What does it mean to see the suffering and destruction of a place your family once called home at the hands of the place you now call home?
What does it mean to have been fortunate enough that my mom was able to “choose” to come here and not wait until we were forced out by the climate crisis?
What does it mean to be connected to a land you can no longer stand on?
Being a young person is another salient identity for me during this climate crisis. Youth-hood is a political identity.
I find myself frustrated with the hypocrisy of climate groups who claim to be fighting for a future where young people get to have childhoods yet require the sacrifice of young people right now. I find myself frustrated with the way young people, their ideas, and organizing are dismissed. I find myself frustrated with the way young people, specifically Indigenous young people are excluded from the conversation.
I am lucky that I get to be trusted by folks that are younger than me, that I get to experience and support their organizing, that I get to see them be whole humans outside of the work they do for climate justice or anti-racism. I am so honored that I get to experience co-mentorship with the students in YEA!, that we get to learn with each other, dream with each other, and experience joy with each other. I am privileged to get to experience this through Monday night meetings and one-on-one conversations with students.
Growing up I remember learning about climate change as an abstract idea, I remember finding comfort in the fact that we wouldn’t see the effects of climate change for several generations. I remember hurricane Katrina and not being able to sleep after hearing the stories on the news. I remember the first time I was able to smell forest fires from Canada, a smell that reminded me of roasting marshmallows over a campfire with my family. Now a smell that warns me not to spend too much time outside.
So what does it mean to be a young person during the climate crisis?
What does it mean to see fellow young people sacrifice their youth-hoods to fight pipelines, deforestation, and extraction?
What does it mean to have your youth-hood disrupted by climate crisis after climate crisis?
What does it mean to be a young person when you don’t know that you will have a livable future?
I think of the young people across the world who are resisting the climate crisis that has disproportionately affected Indigenous communities in the Global South. I think about the young people in Bolivia who led the resistance against the privatization of their water during the Cochabamba water wars. I think of the young Palestinians leading two intifadas against the settler colonial project of Israel. I think of the young people who are a part of the fight against Line 3. Young people who have suffered from the climate crisis, police brutality, criminalization, and loss of childhood.
I think of the young peoples who won’t get to choose to immigrate. The young people who will be forced out of their homes because of climate change. I think of the young people who won’t be seen as refugees because the United Nations definition of a refugee does not include climate refugees. I think of the young people on the frontlines facing the trauma of police brutality.
So if we are brave enough to face these realities and still dare to dream of a better future, you are called to also join us. Will you care for us? Will you fight alongside us? This work and resistance must be led by love and a radical love for the future of our children. What can you do to join the young people in this movement? What are you willing to sacrifice for our children? For our future? For our earth?