How an indigenous climate-justice advocate, 18, got her start: ‘I was raised with that lens of taking care of Mother Earth’

Kerry Justich
·5-min read
Xiye Bastida, 18, is founder of the Re-Earth Initiative. (Illustration by Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)
Xiye Bastida, 18, is founder of the Re-Earth Initiative. (Illustration by Nathalie Cruz for Yahoo Life)

In honor of Earth Day 2021, Yahoo Life is profiling some of the many advocates leading the charge to save the planet today: young BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) activists fighting for climate justice through an intersectional lens.

Xiye Bastida, 18 

Mexican-Indigenous climate justice advocate and co-founder of Re-Earth Initiative, an international youth-led organization focused on the intersection of social justice and climate justice.

What moment inspired you to become a climate activist?

I was born and raised in Mexico in a small town. My mom's Chilean and my dad is Mexican…and also part of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous community. So I was raised with that lens of taking care of Mother Earth in a more cultural, traditional way. That's how I saw the world growing up, really, through this lens of reciprocity.

In 2015, my hometown suffered from flooding. For me, that was something that showed me the proximity of the crisis. That it wasn't happening in a distant future or a distant space, because we often talked about the crisis happening in 2100 and in the North Pole, but it was in my home and it was already happening. That's when I decided that there was something that we needed to fix, cause we were deteriorating, not only our home, but also communities who are the least responsible for the crisis, including my own. Communities who don't have the sufficient capital to fix any of the damage or the resources or the support.

You moved to New York soon after. How did you take action from there?

There's so many issues and not really a clear starting place, so I decided that I wanted to start in my environmental school club because that's the community that I had an impact in. Coming from Mexico, I saw New York as this beacon of influence — whatever happened in New York, it had this web of influence across the world because it is a global city. And I was seeing the youth in my club and they didn't realize the power that New York had and the power that we had as youth to have an impact in a city that's just so influential. That's when I decided I wanted it to shift away from the "Vegan for a Day" challenges and "don't bring a plastic straw today" challenges to lobby in Albany for the Climate and Leadership Community Protection Act, testify at city hall for climate emergency, organize strikes for the Clean Water Act. All of these things were possible.

So I joined the first ever Global Climate Strike on March 15th… and I got 600 of my peers at my high school to join with me and walk out with me — 600 more people than I thought would walk out. And you realize that people do have this at the back of their minds, but they are not given the opportunity to act and they're not seeing that other people care.

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Can you talk about how your climate-justice efforts focus on other types of justice and inequalities as well?

I firsthand know that the climate crisis affects every single sector, which means that every single sector has solutions to the climate crisis. So highlighting how communities are affected, how indigenous communities face the brunt of the crisis, how there's injustice, not only in the global space — like all of the United States trash and 250 million tons a year go to poor communities in Southeast Asian countries, which pollutes their livelihood and endangers their health — but also in the local stage. For example, in New York city, 17 percent of adults in the Bronx have asthma because they are a Black and brown community. So that's the aspect of, you know, environmental racism. So that's what I focus on the most: highlighting the fact that the climate crisis is unjust.

How do you get people to understand the inequities and why it matters?

I see my role as really being a climate communicator. How do you meet people where they're at? How do you make the climate movement inclusive? Because it's not about who has the money to buy eco-friendly things, it's not about who has the opportunity to skip their job or skip school to strike. It's about recognizing that everyone has their own skills and you can use those skills to be part of the movement. So that's how I see my role as really trying to make the space inviting, but also talking about the climate justice aspect and the intergenerational injustice aspect that comes from the crisis.

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How does Gen Z's approach to climate change activism differ from other generations?

I think the youth movement is the most inclusive and diverse it has been. Re-Earth Initiative, for example, has activists in over 15 times zones, we translate our information to over six different languages. Our board includes people from almost every continent and we operate in a non-hierarchical way that actually listens to the whole body when it comes to what we're going to do, what our plan is going to be. In our own youth organizations, we're modeling the world we want to see.

We celebrate our wins, we make sure that we keep energized and we make sure that we listen to our elders. We're able to criticize what older generations haven't done, but it doesn't mean that we don't need them, because they are the ones who have the power over all the industries and all of government. So we do need that intergenerational conversation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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