The city of Richmond is notorious for its high crime rate and industrial pollution. And the Iron Triangle neighborhood – which is bordered on three sides by train tracks – just might be the city’s most dangerous neighborhood. But inside the Triangle, activist Tania Pulido is cultivating community and social consciousness through the Berryland Community Garden. Pulido is one of the winners of the 2011 David Brower Youth Awards, and she joined KALW’s Holly Kernan in studio to talk about how she got started with the garden, and her social activism.
TANIA PULIDO: I’m the first-born generation here in the U.S.
HOLLY KERNAN: Where are your parents from?
PULIDO: Mexico. And there’s a lot of immigrants that live close to the Richmond Greenway and they just have a wealth of knowledge about farming and plants so it has been such a great pleasure to be able to hear like all of their knowledge and them wanting to help out.
So in some cases it has been really easy, in other cases, particularly with the youth, it has been a little bit harder to convince them because as we talked about there’s so many other issues with violence and drugs and other things that trying to save the environment is not at the top of their list. But some thing I have been doing is working with different organizations, so I work with the Rye Organization, that is a youth center in Richmond that does popular education. I’m working with Urban Tilth, and Urban Tilth is just a wonderful organization because 80% of our employees are under the age of 25. So a lot of the people managing the garden and farms are 20, 21. You know, the people I work with, one is 16, the other is 20, and they go to Kennedy High, which is really close by. So our strategy is to get people involved by actually hiring people near the gardens.
KERNAN: And you also said that you are reaching out specifically to young mothers?
PULIDO: Yeah, young mothers, there’s a lot of young mothers in Richmond and I’ve been working a lot with mothers, period. And young children. Children, period.
And so the Garden is right next to Lincoln elementary, so it is ideal, and we talk to mothers there, and children love to join the activities because we have art activities, so they love to be part of that and then we give them tours and we give them a little bag and we are tasting things as we go along and they just love that.
And, yeah, I'd definitely feel that after working with youth for almost two years... I felt like what I could do is be that bridge because little kids look up to high school kids, they think they are the coolest things ever. And it’s hard for mothers to get to their high school children, and then so, the way I see it, by getting people involved my age to help organize and to organize events and stuff, I am actually creating this bridge between generations, because I actually want this to be a community. I don’t want to target one specific group because it affects all of us, and I feel by cultivating a common space then we can all gather, in a community with many divisions. I think that’s very powerful.
KERNAN: So Tania, how did you become an activist?
PULIDO: The way I became an activist, I was just basically, like I mentioned before, I barely graduated from Richmond High. Richmond High, our mascot is like an oil funnel, we are the Richmond Oilers, which just shows the power that the refinery has in the community. And you know, the school... I don't even know how I graduated. I shouldn’t have graduated. I was doing really bad. And I never imagined myself going to a four-year college or anything like that. And, because of that, because of my bad habits, I hit a lot of walls. And it finally got to he point where I started questioning my existence, like, "Why am I here? What am I doing?" And as I asked myself questions I started seeking answers, and I started watching the news a little bit, and I started realizing the power of oil corporations in the U.S. and overseas. And I was like, "Wow."
And I started learning specifically about Chevron and its facilities in Nigeria and other parts of the world, and just the horrible practices it was applying and the horrible humanitarian violations, and I got really outraged. It got to the point where I couldn't hold it inside me any longer, I couldn’t just sit down there and keep watching the news. It wasn’t enough for me, so I felt like I had to go do something, and I started contacting everyone I knew who was involved with social justice and activism, and I met a lot of wonderful people.
KERNAN: And getting this Brower award, how does that effect your activism? How does that help you feel part of a larger movement?
PULIDO: It definitely helps a lot because as a youth in a community, there’s a lot of social activism going on in Richmond, but a lot of it is adults and elderly. And when I went to meetings I realized that. Most of the time I was the only young person there, in a lot of the Chevron meetings, different meetings, community meetings, I was the youngest person there. So just being surrounded by youth who are passionate and doing so many great things locally and globally, just so inspiring and it definitely keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and inspired to continue going at this even stronger.
I want to go back and I want to give it my all and just pour it all out, and I feel I am just so grateful for this opportunity to be able to connect and network with so many youth.
This interview originally aired on November 30, 2011.