Intersections of the Racial and Climate Justice Movements: A Chat with Keyra Espinoza
“It is very important to include Indigenous people in talks when it comes to environmental justice”
— Keyra Espinoza
In the quote above, Keyra highlights the importance of Indigenous and ancestral Black peoples being at the decision-making tables to assure pathways for inclusive and integrative approaches to racial and climate justice. In other words, it is not one, but both! Environmental justice is only possible if Indigenous peoples, who have taken care of vast extensions of the Earth’s most precious natural areas since time immemorial, are respected.
Keyra Espinoza was the second guest speaker of Roots & Routes’ Youth Visionary Collective (YVC) winter season, 2022. She is an Afro-Indigenous activist who grew up between the United States, where she studied, and Ecuador, where all her family is from. In our talk, Keyra expressed feeling deep ties to her roots with her family in Ecuador. Her love for them has inspired a passion that has led her into a life of activism. She contributed to the Spanish-speaking Rights of Nature team on Roots & Routes’YVC for two seasons. Additionally, she works with international coalitions, such as “Polluters Out” and “El Cambio en Ecuador.”
What brought her to Roots & Routes was when Edwin, the YVC Board Representative from March 2021 until now, reached out to her right around the time when she started to amplify climate issues that were happening in Ecuador, especially in regards to the Palm Oil industry, on Instagram. She wanted to draw attention to how the Palm Oil industry is negatively affecting Afro-communities by contaminating food and water sources and compounding violence in the Coastal Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas. Keyra Espinoza has blossomed into a racial and climate advocate and an awesome bridge between Black and Indigenous cultures across the Americas! That’s why we invited her to come in and share her experiences with us.
During our chat with Keyra, she taught us about “intersectionality”. For Keyra intersectionality emphasizes the critical nexuses between racial, socioeconomic, and climate justice as points where worlds collide. Being aware of the link between these concepts creates more possibilities for the participation of marginalized communities, which can lead to more innovative and inclusive solutions being brought to the table.
Keyra spoke to us about the different pathways in her upbringing that led her to become an advocate for the intersections between worlds. Growing up in both the U.S. and Ecuador, she had the opportunity to learn about the ways that both Indigenous peoples and immigrants are marginalized in the U.S. She was also able to witness the ways that Black and Indigenous people are treated as second-class citizens in South American countries. Despite systematic racism throughout the Americas, Keyra was able to embrace all aspects of her Kañari Andean heritage and her Afro-Ecuadorian coastal ancestry. Thanks to her heritage, she was able to experience the beauty and deep cultural roots of the Andes mountains, but also other parts of the U.S. This integration of different cultures and life experiences has allowed Keyra to take a strong stand on racial and climate justice. She has embraced a more pluralistic view of the world rather than a reductive black and white perspective.
Her activism especially resonates with those who reject the either/or approach taken to racial and climate justice movements (like Roots & Routes). Her goal is to help prevent one or the other from slipping between the cracks. Instead, she highlights how both — the Earth, as well as Indigenous and Black peoples — were all subjugated by colonial systems. Colonization has left its mark on the world, but the faces, structures, and strategies of colonization differ in each place and have changed differently through time.
For example, she notes that some social justice movements, like Black Lives Matter, tend to be more prevalent and visible in the Global North versus the Global South. Keyra discussed how racism is mostly ignored in her home country of Ecuador. This makes it harder to have the necessary hemispheric talks to enter into a world where there is a more united Black movement. Additionally, in all places, there is a disjunct between such racial movements and climate justice, even if this is beginning to change.
Keyra shed light on how social media can be used as a tool to advance social justice and promote environmental activism. It is a platform that can help activists reach more people and expand support for their cause. To learn more about using a platform to raise your voice, read the blog about our talk with K. Lee Marks about the power of amplifying your message with passion: (ADD link to K. Lee Blog). In the video below, you can listen to Keyra discuss her view on the role of social media in activism.
Social media also serves as a platform that helps people connect with like-minded individuals across different locations and cultural backgrounds. People connect by sharing stories to learn about each other’s cultures and viewpoints. As an example of this, Keyra discussed how she found a community on Instagram that she did not think she would find. She is learning from other Afro-Ecuadorians and Indigenous people and this has been a positive experience for her. In a world of social injustices and climate breakdown, people can now collectivize and communicate through social media to help them see that they are not alone, and to further understand that this world around them needs them!
In regards to communication, Keyra pointed out to us that the global media tends to focus more on climate activists from the Global North. What we see in the global media, however, is just a fraction of the actual number of forest defenders and river protectors on the ground in the Global South. Here is another case where colonial power relations are perpetuated by continued inequitable access to technology and resources. More clearly: the Global North has more access to resources, and so they also have more access to the media. Likewise, the people and communities struggling to attain climate/racial justice in the Global South, do not have the same access to platforms or exposure. Being aware of how the media controls that to which we have access can help strip away layers so that each and every one of us can know when to speak and know when to make space to amplify voices that have historically been silenced. In the video below, you can hear Keyra talk about the portrayal of the climate movement in the media and of the voices that are left out of the movement.
The fight for Indigenous rights is a universal experience of (de)colonizing the world over. Learning from the specific cultures and experiences of the diverse original peoples on Earth is a must. There is still much to be told between Indigenous and Black diaspora folks of the Americas to learn more about the multiplicity of ways that decolonization and resistance have taken place.
At Roots & Routes, we are working to bridge this gap. In total agreement with Keyra, all individuals and communities of all species and races equally deserve a voice! With Indigenous and Black-led projects on the ground and at the forefront, Roots & Routes opens up and expands the spaces for people to represent and speak for themselves. In this way, ancestral, Indigenous, and place-based peoples can continue to strengthen their cultures by learning from one another about their ancestral sciences and struggles for justice. Additionally, the whole world can re-learn how to better take care of one another and all life on Earth.
During our weekly Sunday meeting in Winter 2022, Keyra, a passionate climate change and racial justice advocate, taught the YVC about the importance of sharing stories between distinct peoples and of restorying the world as we do so.
Thank you for joining us, Keyra! The lessons that you taught us about the intricate relationships within the intersections of racial and climate justice is something we at the YVC will continue to put into practice and share with others.