Dear Abuelita, I know I haven't been home for a while. You are in our lovely home in Mexico, and I'm here in the US, fighting for our future. You're probably watering the roses, taking care of the peaches and making sure your turtles are well-fed. That's one of the things I miss the most about home — spending time with the flowers while you tell me stories about your childhood.
As you know, we have been living in New York City since 2015. But life has completely changed over the past year. At first, New York City was about museums and parks and school and friends. Now it serves as a web that connects me with all the other people who are organizing to save the planet.
You know how it started for me? It was Dad and his wisdom. Everything you taught him, he went and taught the world. All of his words about the responsibility that we have as humans to live in balance with nature were passed down to me. I noticed the universal disconnect to our planet and remembered what you once told me: "Leave everything better than you found it." I know you were talking about the dishes, but of course, that applies to the planet as well.
I didn't know what to do at first. The world is so big, and it has so many bad habits. I didn't know how a 15-year-old was supposed to change anything, but I had to try.
To put this philosophy into practice, I joined the environmental club at my high school. However, I noticed that my classmates were talking about recycling and watching movies about the ocean. It was a view of environmentalism that was so catered towards an ineffective way of climate activism, one that blames the consumer for the climate crisis and preaches that temperatures are going up because we forgot to bring a reusable bag to the store.
You taught me that taking care of Mother Earth is about every decision that we make as a collective. I am happy to tell you, Abuelita, that I changed everybody's mind in that club. Instead of talking about recycling, we started to write letters to our politicians to ban soft plastic altogether.
And then, the unexpected happened: we started striking from school. I know you've probably seen it on the news, and maybe it's not that special anymore. But at the time, it was a huge deal, Abuelita. Imagine kids not going to school, because we want people to save the world.
(Video) Crowd: Another world is possible! We are unstoppable!
Xiye Bastida: For the first global climate strike, which was called on by Greta Thunberg, I got 600 of my classmates to walk out with me. Greta Thunberg is a teenager who first started striking for climate. Her boldness inspired me, and I was shocked by the realization that youth could turn public opinion on social issues. The movement exploded.
(Video) Crowd: Shut it down!
XB: And I became one of the main organizers for New York, the US and the world.
(Video) XB: What do we want? Crowd: Climate justice! XB: When do we want it? Crowd: Now!
XB: I started speaking up about climate justice and Indigenous rights and intergenerational cooperation. That was only the beginning, though.
The busiest week of my life will forever be the week of September 20, 2019. Me and my friends got 300,000 people to strike for climate in New York. I wish you could have been there. We walked through Wall Street, demanding climate justice.
(Video) Crowd: No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil!
XB: That same month, I went to the United Nations Climate Summit. I spoke on a panel with Al Gore. I met Jay Inslee and Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben and the president of the United Nations. It was the most amazing week of my life, because everyone I knew came together — all my teachers, all my classmates ... And even some of my favorite stores closed down to strike for climate. If you had asked me why I did all of that, my only answer would be, "How could I not?"
It's been one year since it all started for me, and it gets a little tiring at times. But if there is one thing that you taught me, it's resilience. I remember that you went to Mexico City every day for 30 years to get money for the family. And I know that Abuelito has been going out for 20 years to protect sacred land from big companies that want to take it. A year is nothing compared to the struggles that our family has been through. And if our struggles make the world a better place, they will make us better people.
There have been some hardships, Abuelita. Out there in the world, people expect us kids to know everything, or at least they want us to. They ask questions and I give answers, as if I really knew how the world works. They want hope, and we give it. I have organized, written, spoken and read about climate and policy almost every day for the past year. And I'm just a little worried that I won't be able to do enough, Abuelita.
For me, being 18 years old and trying to save the world means being a climate activist. Before, maybe it meant studying to be a doctor or a politician or a researcher. But I can't wait to grow up and become one of those things. The planet is suffering, and we don't have the luxury of time anymore. Saving the world as a teenager means being good with words, understanding the science behind the climate crisis, bringing a unique perspective into the issue to stand out and forgetting about almost everything else. But sometimes, I want to care about other things again. I want to be able to sing and dance and do gymnastics. I truly feel that if all of us took care of the Earth as a practice, as a culture, none of us would have to be full-time climate activists.
When businesses turn sustainable, when the power grid runs on renewable energy, when the school curriculum teaches us that taking care of the Earth is part of our humanity, maybe I can do gymnastics once again. Don't you think so, Abuelita?
We can do this. All I'm trying to do with my work is give that optimistic mindset to other people. But it's been a little hard. There is greed, there's pride, there's money, and there's materialism. People make it so easy for me to talk to them, but they make it so hard for me to teach them. I want them to have the confidence to always do their best. I want them to have the heart and the courage to love the world, just like you taught me.
I wrote this letter to thank you. Thank you for inviting me to love the world since the moment I was born. Thank you for laughing at everything. Thank you for teaching me that hope and optimism are the most powerful tools we have to tackle any problem.
I do this work because you showed me that resilience, love and knowledge are enough to make a difference. I want to go back to Mexico and visit you. I want to show you the pictures of the things that I have done. I want to show you the climate legislation that we've been able to pass. I want to smell the flowers and fight for climate justice alongside you.
Te quiero mucho. I love you. Xiye.
[Te quiero mucho. Xiye.]