by Stefanie De Leon Tzic
Mi Familia Vota
Having grown up in Guatemala City, there weren’t any government-mandated holidays like Earth Day to celebrate and support environmental protection actions. Regardless of this, conservation was a value we grew up with, and that a vast majority of Latinos share. Various studies show that Latinos overwhelming support environmental conservation and protection policies. According to research conducted by Latino Decisions, Latino voters share “a strong belief that the federal government should play a role in addressing global warming, reducing air pollution, and focusing on clean energy.”
This was evident during the Mi Familia Vota and Corazón Latino Earth Day event, when Latinos from different organizations and communities gathered at Los Angeles State Historic Park for a forest therapy walk and planting. We began our Earth Day celebration with forest therapy, which is inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing.” Forest bathing consists of simply being in the forest or taking in the forest atmosphere.
Living in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, we didn’t have a forest, but we did have parks. Led by the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, our group took in the park atmosphere with the downtown skyline in the backdrop. We began by acknowledging our busy lives and being OK with hitting the pause button on the chaos that accompanies it. We closed our eyes and let our senses take over. We took in the sounds, smell and feel of the park, all the while taking deep breaths. Sitting on the grass, with blades of grass running through my fingers, was an extremely relaxing and grounding experience – a sentiment shared by everyone else in the group. We went around in a circle to reflect about the experience and one current theme that was prevalent was mindfulness – the practice of being in the present. Several group members shared that although they visit green spaces and try to live eco-friendly lives, they often forget to just be present in their minds while doing so. Simple relaxing techniques to lower stress level, like the ones employed in our forest therapy, can improve an individual’s mental and physical health and can serve as a form of preventative health care and healing. We finished our forest therapy with a tea ceremony to thank the Earth for its daily nourishment.
As a way to give back to the Earth and help sustain it, we also worked with Los Angeles State Historic Park staff to beautify the green space and plant native California plants that are drought-resistant. We planted coyote brush and buckwheat and pulled out invasive weeds. This exercise helped the group understand the importance of having green spaces in our communities and the work required to maintain them. We also learned about the park’s history, which is rooted in social justice, activism and what happens when passionate leaders from different communities come together for the good of the Earth. This experience has only further re-established my commitment to our shared environment and advocating for policies that protect clean air, water and spaces in our communities.
Photo Credits: Mi Famila Vota