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EYCEJ Seed Bank: Queering Environmental Justice by Xugo Lujan

EYCEJ is launching a blog series, #EYCEJSeedBank, focus on highlighting leaders within our movement. This series is to lift up the passion that fuels our work. As communities committed to #FightingForLife we are constantly battling larger systems of power, whether they be the State or corporations. We hope this series is an avenue to shed light on the love and humanity of our movement by sharing the stories of organizers/community members/leaders.The personal is political, and we want to provide a space for our leaders to share the passion that fuels our everyday struggles and resiliency. We encourage folks to engage in our series and initiate conversation (comment, ‘like’, share, tag). 

This blog is place to hold space to share the narratives of our movement.

Queering Environmental Justice by Xugo Lujan

Hugo and his grandmother, Maria de Jesus Garcia at an action against Exide, sharing personal testimonies on their experiences with pollution and toxins
Hugo and his grandmother, Maria de Jesus Garcia at an action against Exide, sharing personal testimonies on their experiences with pollution and toxins

Xugo Lujan was born and raised in East Los Angeles. Hugo has been engaged in community activism since his years at Garfield High School and then transitioned into UC Santa Cruz and organized to address a range of issues impacting his community. His organizing background is rooted in facilitating educational spaces where community knowledge and identity is affirmed and harnessed as a powerful tool for social justice. His goal is to open a community led school where organizing and education are bridged and rooted in cultura and community knowledge.

“The first night I was ever forced to acknowledge my queerness included a small apartment in East LA inside a kitchen the size of a restroom. At the center of the room there was a wooden kitchen table with a bright white candle illuminating the room and a large bowl of water, “to see better” mi tia said. Here I spent hours staring into my aunt’s eyes and allowing her to stare into mine. The smell of copal spread to my cousins sitting in the living room next door where the TV was set on high to allow for privacy.

“Tu nunca dejes de ser tu. Que nunca te pare nadie. Si no te dan de tragar, que te valga madre. Gente como tu, son personas muy poderosas. Porque tienen energia femenina y masculine. Tienen de las dos.”

“Never stop being you. Nobody should ever be able stop you. If they do not feed you, then forget about them. People like you are very powerful. Because you have the feminine and masculine energy. You carry both.”

Every part of my identity as a queer indigenous person is rooted in this experience. The values of my family have always taught me that everything that surrounds us has a purpose, has life, and is deserving of respect. Every aspect of our being depends on each other, depends on the existence of agua to drink, tierra to nourish us, aire to breathe, and fire to keep us warm. To harm them, is to harm ourselves.

My family never organized around what folks would call “environmental justice”. They did however instill in me a specific way of seeing the world and interacting with the world. One founded on community, love, respect, and willingness to protect each other. Through this experience, I was taught that as queer, I not only have a responsibility, but a role in protecting what nourishes us. I was taught that being queer was a gift and that it offered a deeper understanding of our interrelatedness. It is here that my drive to organize for clean water, soil, and air is rooted. This is what survival looks like. It is what has shaped every part of my queer identity.

My coming out was not an individual process. It did not include a closet. It was a ceremony. It was an experience of ‘coming into’, a welcoming into a role, responsibility, and purpose. Much like any ceremony, my coming-into involved an acknowledgement of the past, the now, and a painful rebirth.

Rebirth manifested itself in an understanding that I experience life as a person of color from East Los Angeles, but with an added layer of queerness representative of a whole community inside East LA; and that this experience was shaped by interactions with systems of power impacting our lives on the daily. Like any system of power, there is always a top and a bottom; there is always one who benefits at the expense of another. In regards to environmental racism, for example, white affluent communities benefit at the expense of low income, under-resourced communities of color. Queer people, like people of color in this system, do not fit the status quo, are marginalized and with this marginalization comes lack of access to power and resources and a specific placing of a community at the lower end of an economic, political, and social power spectrum.

We have recently seen an increase in attacks on queer and communities of color. Attacks on our Trans family and black and brown bodies have brought about a forced conversation of institutionalized and state sponsored violence. Through the queer person of color lens, I have come to understand that living in areas that are highly contaminated and face constant physical violence is not accidental. The same way that rich neighborhoods are kept clean, is the same way that our neighborhoods are kept dirty, drug and violence infested. We are placed in locations where lack of resources translate to lack of education, limited social influence, and increased levels of targeted violence toward our queer and trans communities.

My queerness taught me that the same structure that is creating and maintaining neighborhoods like East LA, Bell Gardens, Long Beach and Commerce under contaminated life threatening living conditions is the same structure creating and maintaining violence toward my LGBTQ community; and that both are active acts of violence. Environmental Racism and homophobia are born out of systems of oppression, and like any form of oppression, they manifest internally, interpersonally, and are rooted in the same institutional problem.”