Yusef Salaam of “Exonerated Five” Speaks in Voices of Color Lecture Series
Activist, leader, and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez—also known as “X”— shared his message about climate and social justice and other topics, in a conversation with the Hamilton community on April 22. Mckela Kanu ’22 and Tenzin Sherpa ’23 moderated the conversation, which was part of The C. Christine Johnson Voices of Color Lecture Series.
Martinez, who was recently included in the TIME Next 100, began by expressing his appreciation for the land acknowledgement read at the start of the event. “If we go back to the very beginnings of this country, the dysfunction and the imbalance and the exploitation and the violence began with the land, … stripping people from their land,” he said.
Reclaiming what was lost during these decades of exploitation and violence can be “messy” and “painful,” Martinez noted. He encouraged those in the audience, some of whom shared their personal struggles with rediscovering their cultural identities, to “be patient and gentle with yourself.” Martinez said that relearning the past through what may be an unfamiliar lens is important in academic settings as well, advocating for ways “of viewing the world that aren’t solely Eurocentric.”
One such perspective Martinez mentioned involved self-care. In contrast to the “neoliberal” self-care that focuses on the individual, he said, indigenous peoples’ “care work and caregiving is communal, grounded in a space of [investing in] collective wellness, which, in turn, is a form of investing in our own healing and our own well-being.”
In a similar vein, Martinez reflected on the superficiality that he felt in many of his interactions with large media outlets. A lot of the “white media and white nonprofits,” he said, would treat him as a “figurehead,” using and “tokenizing” him for his Indigenous background. “I’ve been unpacking that a lot, and really trying to reorient myself to this work,” Martinez said.
The bulk of this work has been done in the realm of climate change and climate justice. Martinez is the youth director for Earth Guardians, a global network of young leaders that focuses heavily on the climate crisis. In addressing the crisis, he urged audience members to be aware of the history of Western conservation movements, some of which have leaned into the “extermination of indigenous peoples from their land and the cleansing and purification of nature as a commodity.” These people have been coexisting with nature for centuries, Martinez pointed out—it might be wise to learn from them.
One question from the audience asked about Hamilton, and what could be done for this kind of institution to shake off its colonial roots and reform itself for the future. Martinez pointed quickly to divestment, in particular from areas like the prison-industrial complex and fossil fuel industry. Another remedy could be something like a “land-back scholarship that goes toward indigenous communities,” he said.
Though Martinez made clear the amount of work that needs to be done, he recognized that positive things are happening right now. “The fact even that conversations like this are possible is, for me, really beautiful to see,” he said. “And I’m grateful for it, absolutely.”
More Than Skin Deep
The C. Christine Johnson Voices of Color Lecture Series recently offered Hamilton students an opportunity to connect with their faculty and administrators outside of the classroom and on a personal level. Discussing race and gender, five faculty and staff members shared their experiences about negotiating their roles in their respective fields, despite the obstacles that gender and being a person of color impose.