Recognizing that people of color have historically been left out of the U.S. public land conservation movement, SUWA is committed to raising up diverse voices across the Intermountain West. Our Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest seeks to elevate new and essential voices through personal narratives pertinent to the broader conversation around public lands and their protection.
Please join us in celebrating the three winners of our 2020 Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest. Our final winner is Alex Sanchez.
Naps to Activism
by Alex Sanchez
The ground is sacred to me—especially a patch of earth nestled in between the Education and the Psychology buildings on my campus. There is a small grass courtyard, and a place I have found that is safe to sleep. Covered with trees, the small grassy area is well hidden from the “the mall,” a busy mile-long walkway running through the middle of campus. Since my freshman year, it has become my safe haven.
I struggled to sleep growing up because I didn’t feel safe. I was always on alert. From age 4 to 11 I was regularly molested, leaving me with the inability to let my guard down when I went to bed at night. As a biracial, queer child, I was also constantly guarding my identity and evading being outed before I was ready. Despite having some lesbian and gay family members on my family’s Mexican side, both my parents expressed queerphobic views to me in passing. We would see a queer couple at a basketball tournament and my mom would say things like, “I can’t see how a woman could date another woman, rather than a man.”
Anytime any of my siblings or I got in trouble, we would be lectured by dad. It would start with what you did wrong and move into how your choices would lead you to drugs, rape, jail, and/or death. He never forgot to mention that he believed God didn’t intend people to be gay and the diseases they got through sex were God’s way of righting the wrongs. We saw his lesbian sisters regularly—they are my godparents—but we never talked about their partners, or what it meant that they lived with woman. When Caitlyn Jenner won an ESPY, my parents talked about her and other trans people as if they were monsters. Little did they know my “tomboy” essence was gender dysphoria.
There was something about that courtyard on campus that felt safe. My family and my abuser were over 400 miles away. Few students even knew it existed. When I moved to Arizona from New Mexico, I felt I could breathe, release the tension I had been holding in while growing up in place I’d been forced to hide my self. In between classes I would melt into the ground and let the sun heal me. The warmth of the intense UV rays in Tucson felt like a hug from the earth, encouraging me to relax, to rest amid the burnout culture of the University. For the past three years, I have napped or just laid down at that spot five days a week—until the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. I haven’t been to campus since March 2020. I miss my nap spot, the place I’d go when I felt overwhelmed by school or by life. It was where I went if I needed to reconnect with myself and with the world around me.
I’ve had to learn a new way of connecting and destressing in order to survive this year. Instead of napping, I’ve taken up Vinyasa Yoga. The asanas (the poses or movements) help me connect with my body and the earth beneath me. Special attention is paid to toes being spread, pressing into the palms, and pushing into the floor. The pranayama (breathing exercise) and final meditation in savasana connect me to the earth. In those moments, I think about how my breath is reliant on the trees and how my exhale feeds them in return. As I lay flat on the ground, I feel the earth on my back and know that I am safe in her presence. I am whole.
There is an Indigenous spiritual teacher that I admire named the Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley of Portland Seminary. Woodley often speaks about how in the decolonized, indigenous worldview, everything is sacred. The earth and the animals and people who inhabit it are all sacred. The earth becomes our mother or our sibling—a living, sacred being to love and to learn from. The animals become our siblings of equal status. And without dualistic, imperialistic thinking, it is hard to rank one people above another. In Woodley’s view, if you see everyone and everything in creation as sacred, it is then that you get true justice and true shalom. That is the driving force of the activism I participate in—from protesting with the Movement for Black Lives, to raising a voice against Immigration Customs Enforcement and the evil happening at the border, fighting for LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and standing with the Tohono O’odham people as they resist a wall dividing their reservation and homelands. Everyone and everything is sacred.
Through finding the places I have felt safe, I have been able to grow and learn to trust myself, and free up the courage to fight for others. Connecting with creation and myself through my favorite nap spot or yoga reminds me that the world is much bigger than I am, and yet I can trust that I am a sacred vital part in it. My voice and my body matter in this world.
I’m Alex. Originally from New Mexico, I moved to Tucson AZ to pursue my education. I’m currently majoring in psychology and creative writing with a minor in Africana Studies, and plan to pursue a PhD in social psychology upon graduation with the hopes of doing research on social constructs such as gender, stereotypes, and injustice. I also hope to continue to write and publish creative non-fiction essays.
My favorite outdoor activities include yoga and napping on the University of Arizona campus under the sun.