From The Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/24/environmental-activist-xiuhtezcatl-martinez-we-day/
BOULDER — Xiuhtezcatl Martinez shuffled into Logan’s Cafe one morning looking like a typical teenager. He wore a black T-shirt and blue sneakers with the laces untied. His nearly waist-length brown hair, which has never been cut for cultural reasons, was slightly tangled at the ends, causing his mom to run to her car for a pink hairbrush.
In some ways, he is like any other 16-year-old. He runs around his neighborhood at 3 a.m. catching Pokemon with his friends. He went through a breakup recently. He’s itching to get his driver’s license.
But he’s also an internationally recognized environmental activist.
Raised in the Aztec tradition — his father is Aztec Indian — he grew up learning that all life is connected and sacred. Martinez started speaking out about climate change and preserving our planet when he was just 6 years old.
“The way that I was raised really helped shape my passion for being a steward for the land,” Martinez said. “Once I started learning all the science and facts behind it, it was very obvious to me that I have a voice that needs to be heard. I’m in love with a world that’s falling apart.”
The 16-year-old activist has given three speeches in front of the United Nations and received the 2013 United States Community Service Award from President Obama. He currently serves as the youth director of Earth Guardians, an organization of adult and youth environmental activists. In the past, he’s worked with Boulder city officials to stop the use of pesticides in parks and end a 20-year contract with Xcel Energy in order to pursue renewable energy.
Russell Mendell, the trainings coordinator for Earth Guardians, struck up a relationship with Martinez after seeing him perform at a Frack Free Colorado event. He found a lot of common ground with the young activist and worked with him to generate a youth movement for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
“I’ve been called Xiuhtezcatl’s mentor, but the thing is like I feel like he’s my mentor, too. I learn stuff from him every single day,” Mendell said. “He’s just so wise and he can integrate bigger social issues into how he understands the environment. That’s so impressive for someone his age.”
“There are some people in this world who came into the world with a purpose and he’s one of those people.”
Martinez also regularly writes and produces hip-hop music about the environment with his younger brother, Itzcuauhtli, who is 13. He wants to drop a new album in October. The activist has also spoken at more than 100 conferences around the world, most recently at the Arise Music Festival in Loveland. (He had a great time staying up until 4 a.m. meeting his favorite artists, he said.)
Martinez’s latest project? Suing the U.S. government for violating his constitutional rights by enabling continued exploitation of fossil fuels.
At the end of this month, Martinez will share his story on ABC’s second annual WE Day broadcast, a one-hour commercial-free special that explores social issues such as the environment, homelessness and inner-city violence. Celebrities including Charlize Theron, Orlando Bloom, Selena Gomez and Seth Rogen will give speeches and performances at the event. (Kermit the Frog introduced Martinez with “New Girl” actress Zooey Deschanel; her hair was shorter than his, he noted.)
“It’s cool to be invited to represent the youth voice, being a young activist and leader,” Martinez said. “I’m a normal 16-year-old kid, and I feel like I brought the perspective that you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. I was there to hold it down and show that each of us have the potential to make a change.”
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 15, is an influential 15-year-old environmentalist activist who is going to be on television for WE Day, a celebrity studded environmental awareness event. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver PostXiuhtezcatl Martinez, 15, is an influential 15-year-old environmentalist activist who is going to be on television for WE Day, a celebrity studded environmental awareness event.
After being in the spotlight for so long, Martinez is used to dealing with people older than him in decision-making positions. But when asked about whether or not his age poses a disadvantage in those interactions, he said that while initially it might, people come around eventually.
“Once people understand the sincerity of my message and that I represent a demographic that isn’t heard, they listen,” he said. “I’m not talking about just politics or money or religion, I’m talking about the world that my generation is going to be left with. It’s a very sincere, honest perspective.”
But Martinez has made sacrifices to put himself in that position. He said he loves hip hop and dancing, but wasn’t able to attend a class for months because of his traveling. He also gave up gymnastics and soccer because there wasn’t enough room in his busy schedule for competitions.
Martinez also spends over 65 days a year on average traveling. Last year, he stayed in Paris for nearly a month during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Over summer break, when most of his peers are off on camping trips or family vacations, Martinez has to make up missed credits at the Watershed School, where he is a sophomore.
“It’s definitely hard doing what I do when I’m 16. If I were a retired dude, it’d be really easy, but I’m not. I don’t spend as much time with friends as I’d like to,” he said. “But writing music helps me release stress for sure — sometimes I just have to abandon all my responsibilities and lose myself in the music.”
Martinez said his identity as an indigenous person plays a large role in his activism. Ever since he can remember, he’s had conversations with his father, Siri, about how the United States has stolen not only natural resources, but also wisdom and ways of life from indigenous people all across the world.
“Everywhere we see indigenous people, we see continued oppression to this day. And when we look at the roots of that, we see patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism,” Martinez said.
“We need to see that there are systems in place that oppress those already at the bottom, and that continued growth and expansion usually means growth of wealth for the rich and the marginalized communities continue to suffer,” he said. “Climate change is the same — poor women and children of color are impacted the most.”
Siri Martinez said that his son’s environmental awareness began when he watched a documentary about the Earth when he was just 6. The issues presented by the movie hit Martinez really hard and he cried a lot. Siri said after that, he began trying to bring some sort of awareness to other people about the environment.
“We’ve always taught him to be respectful to everything — from people to flowers. That’s how he perceives the world, as something important and sacred that he can’t waste,” Siri said. “The things that he’s doing and saying, to us it’s very normal. That’s what we encouraged and talked about with him.”
Siri said his son has always been very eloquent and bright, so when he encourages people to see things a certain way, he’s extremely powerful.
“It’s always been my responsibility to pass on the things my father taught me to my kids, so I feel very grateful that he receives this knowledge and carries it eloquently to other people, like a strong and beautiful bridge,” he said. “It’s always been a joy to watch him grow and unfold.”
Even though Martinez is deadly serious about his work with the environment, he said he’s still just “this goofy 16-year-old kid who’s passionate about life.” He jams out to Chance The Rapper and J. Cole, plays with his Siberian Husky puppy Koda and goes on sunrise hikes with his friends. That relatability and groundedness is key to his work, he said.
“I’m going through struggles and pain, just like many other young people in the world,” he said. “I share a lot of similarities most young people share with each other, and once I show people that I’ve been able to use my voice and be powerful with it, they realize they have that potential as well. What I would love to see during my lifetime is my voice become less and less pertinent because I’m speaking as a generation, with all those other young people joining hands and lifting up the world together.”
WE Day will be broadcast on ABC at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28.