How young is too young to start going after the future? 15-year-old Xiuhtezcatl (shoe-tez-caht) Martinez is a climate activist and hip-hop artist indigenous to the Aztec people of Mexico City. Despite his age, he has spoken to the United Nations, performed at various music festivals and sued the government to prevent oil fracking in Boulder County.
On Thursday, Feb. 18 in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room, Martinez spoke on how disconnected people are from the Earth. He said Americans are some of the most privileged people on the planet and they tend not to see climate change in ways that it affects them. Martinez came to campus to be a part of the lecture series “Cultures of Resistance,” held by the AS Resource and Outreach Programs.
“Each and every one of us is systematically disconnected,” Martinez said to the audience.
Martinez was influenced to become an activist by his parents and the Rocky Mountain wilderness surrounding his home.
“People will fight for what they love,” he said, “Parents will fight for their children, greedy people will fight for money. We fight for what we love and I fell in love with the planet.”
Nicole Lorence, a senior at Fairhaven College told Martinez after his speech how proud she was that he is a voice for her generation.
“It was really empowering to hear a younger person speak on these topics and have so much wisdom and be very comfortable on stage” Lorence said.
During his early, early life, Martinez didn’t grow up with any role models other than his parents. In 1992, his mother, Tamara Rose, aka “Chief Mama”, formed the Earth Guardian Community Resource Center, a “tribe” of artists and activists stepping up to inspire youth to stand up and fight for a better world.
“The earth doesn’t need saving,” Martinez said in a YouTube video. “We do.”
For Martinez it’s not a choice; he wants to save the planet and he’s willing to fight for it. Martinez spoke publicly for the first time when he was six. He had just seen “The 11th Hour,” a documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio that detailed the state of Earth’s environment.
However, Martinez said climate change is not simply reflected by certain areas getting hotter or colder. One of his examples is the pine beetle, which has become even more prosperous than before. In a YouTube video, Martinez explained that climate change has affected temperatures on mountains, enabling the beetles to live longer and migrate to higher elevations. Pine beetles kill off trees, and the logs left behind burn easier.
“I have friends who lost everything in fires,” he said.
The “Fourmile Fire” ripped through Colorado in 2010, taking people’s homes, possessions and pets.
Martinez urged the audience to look out the window at Bellingham Bay, a body of water that is almost entirely “dead.”
Localizing broad problems isn’t the only way of getting people’s attention. Martinez spoke of art and its power to pull communities together. During his talk he performed “Who Am I,” a rap he wrote that details his struggle to find himself in a world of corrupted wants and needs.
He paced around the stage free-styling problems and solutions with youthful enthusiasm and playfulness, using no cue card or script.
Martinez said his age gives him an advantage.
“It’s going to have people on the edge of their seats like, ‘What does this kid have to say?’” Martinez said.
Among those who attended Martinez’ speech was 13-year-old Carter Hagopian, who now wants to be an Earth Guardian with his friends.
“It was very humbling to know that we don’t have infinite time on this planet,” Hagopian said. “It’s really empowering to know that we have to go do something, otherwise we’re all dead.”
Understanding that activism and reaching out isn’t for everyone, Martinez urged attendees to do what we are passionate about, but to do it in a way that benefits the environment. If you’re an artist, if you’re a gamer, use that to change the world, he said.
One question Martinez is often asked is whether or not he feels like he’s missing out on his childhood. He admits there are some elements missing. There are times when he could be hanging out with friends or spending days doing nothing. That disparity is balanced by the extraordinary things he is doing with his life.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can now so the children of the future will never have to,” he said.
His father, Ahuizotl Martinez, sat in the front row at his son’s speech, beaming with pride as his son spoke. Seeing his son travel and speak makes him feel good as a father, he said.
Ahuizotl Martinez insisted he merely taught his children basic values such as respect and appreciation. He said they didn’t watch television and made a habit of going into the Rocky Mountains and paying respect to nature.
Although he’s satisfied with the life he’s lived, Martinez said he doesn’t want to live it this way forever. After 10 years, he hopes to take a step back and let other leaders take the reigns.
So far, Earth Guardians has more than 600 crews set up on six continents, Martinez said.
“Anybody can be an Earth Guardian because anybody can fight for what they believe in,” Martinez said.
More info on the Earth Guardian movement can be found on its website.