Beings of Resistance: Mixed Race in the Climate Justice Movement
“Like all people, we perceive the version of reality that our culture communicates. Like others having or living in more than one culture, we get multiple, often opposing messages. The coming together of two self-consistent but habitually incomparable frames of reference causes un choque, a cultural collision.” –Gloria Anzaldua
When you are mixed race, it is easy to feel confused about your identity. There are no cultural stereotypes for you, no cliché paths for you to follow—although those may exist for different parts of you, or for multiple identities that you hold. So my mixed story is one of being incredibly lost.
I was both never and always aware of race in my life. Growing up in white suburbia, race belonged to a world that was rarely talked about.
But that doesn’t mean that race was unfelt. From an unbearably young age, I remember feeling ashamed. And I remember hiding—having the privilege to hide, in some circumstances, that which made me “other.” I remember discouraging my Chinese mother from attending parent events in elementary school. I remember telling people I was wholly the half of me that they would want to hear. I remember, over and over, checking only one box: White, White, White.
And then later, I remember telling everyone my truth. I needed to clarify my identity each time I met someone, before I had to watch the confusion settling into the stranger’s eyes. I felt the need to explain, to say kindly, “Don’t be so confused—I just don’t fit in the boxes you’re used to.”
The uncertainty of how the next person was going to perceive me affected my sense of self. In my search for identity, I came to environmentalism (for the most selfish reasons of altruism, mind you). I fell hard into it. I desperately needed something to ground me, and caring passionately about people and the planet filled all the right gaps, becoming the center of my identity.
I eventually developed an infatuation with mixed race. I sought it in everything I consumed, from literature to art to foods. I read novels telling mixed race stories, finding myself in every character, and even took a class on Mixed Race in college. It was that same search for belonging, driving me onward.
In my exploration of mixed race identity, the sense of immobility struck me hardest. I found no mixed race stories with happy endings. The characters were always stuck, lost in confusion, with no space to move. They had such strong senses of self-dehumanization, were passive and detached, unable and unwilling to stand up for themselves. The darkest feeling was recognizing how much their immobility and dehumanization resonated with my own.
But it is la facultad that flips the narrative.
the capacity to see in surface phenomena the meaning of deeper realities
anything that breaks into one’s everyday mode of perception
Chicana feminist writer Gloria Anzaldua writes about a mestiza consciousness, a special way of perceiving the world that fosters a special power: la facultad.
When I first read her piece Borderlands/La frontera, I had no idea what was going on—with myself or with her words. It took a lot of processing to come to terms with what she is putting on paper, and to relate to it.
When you are mixed race, whether you are conscious of it or not, you develop the ability to switch back and forth between worlds. You develop a hyper-sensitivity to your surroundings and cultural contexts, and a hyper-reactiveness to adjust quickly to gain acceptance. It is a survival tactic for most of us. This is mestiza consciousness, mixed consciousness, 混血cognizance--the basis for la facultad as I understand it.
Because of this hyper-sensitivity, you see more deeply. You grow used to holding multiple identities, places, opinions, narratives. You hold a wider range of contradicting perspectives, validate them all simultaneously, and struggle to choose a side. This is also la facultad, the ability to accept differences and embody the bridge between contradictions.
Therefore, in the face of a broken world, you are able to hold conflicting ends of a spectrum and everything in between. You are both the broken and the breaking, the oppressed and the oppressor, together as one, inhabiting a single body. You are the bridge, the circle, the 阴and the 阳.Therefore, you are both the biggest threat and the greatest resistance.
The greatest resistance
Mixed race people are a threat to everything that keeps people separated.
Our world is falling and rising, and so many pieces are spiraling out of reach. There are disconnects every step of the way, with systems of oppression dividing us. What bell hooks calls “the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” certainly keeps us distanced, keeps us from loving each other and cultivating community across differences.
But the existence of mixed race people proves that our division will not last long. Our very existence denies the doomed fate of isolation, living proof that love persists past boundaries. We are beings of resistance.
That is why mixed race people are relevant not only in resisting systems of oppression, but especially in the fight for climate justice. In the face of the greatest threat to global life, we bring together heritage from sinking islands, melting glaciers, superfund frontlines, indigenous lands, segregated and gentrified housing. We break binaries and bring an understanding of multiplicity that is crucial to movement building. We have la facultad, and we offer this power humbly.
Granted, the climate movement often isn’t accessible to everyone, especially not people like us. Those of us who are racialized often struggle to relate to mainstream American environmentalism. Those of us who are mixed race may or may not have felt welcome in the environmental movement (or we may have felt either at different moments). So as mainstream climate work transitions toward a focus on justice, we each find ourselves in different positions to engage in the issues that affect our multiple communities disproportionately.
Eva protesting the lack of diversity in the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley with the Students of Color Environmental Collective.
We don’t know that we can solve these problems. We do know that we have each other. We know that we must stay together, connected, connecting, listening, sharing, reflecting, singing, together. We know that we must do this, and that we are already doing it now.
This revolution isn’t about me, but it’s about me. I have a duty to bridge my worlds together. Understanding my identity is a source of empowerment in the climate justice movement. I know now that mixed race people do not have to hide anymore. We don’t have to choose a side anymore. We are the resistance to all that keeps us separated, and that is where our power lies.
Eva Malis spent the most recent years of her life studying environmental science at UC Berkeley. She was the core organizer of 2016's Power Shift West Convergence and did her undergraduate thesis on wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay. She fell in love with the red rock and rivers of the Colorado Plateau as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar. Her passion lies in the overlap of racial and environmental justice. Now she is the Grand Canyon Trust Uplift Coordinator, organizing an annual climate conference for young people.