'Everyone deserves a safe community,' Texas born, Diandra Marizet truly believes in the spirit of community building and the power we posses as individuals to help one another, providing a sheltered space for humans everywhere and to protect & safeguard the people + planet for a better future. Conscious curator, community builder, writer, and founding member of Intersectional Environmentalist, Diandra pushes forth the narrative of intersectional sustainability through a social impact perspective. Possessing an undying love for the planet’s ecosystems and a professional background in fashion and community building, this powerhouse of a woman is currently on a soulful path to unpack the importance of cultural preservation as well as centering BIPOC voices in the fight for environmental justice.
Ever since I chanced upon Diandra's work, I always knew I'd want to engage in conscious banter with her, be it around intersectionality, sustainability, earth conservation or humanity. Since she had such interesting, bold perspectives on such topics, I found her to be a perfect fit for the blog, especially when it came to educating environment amateurs like me. Diandra and I got to talking a couple weeks back, and in the midst of it, I realised there's so much more to sustainable advocacy and community building than I ever thought I knew.
Here's how our exchange went down -
1. Hi Diandra! I’d love for you to introduce yourself to our readers.
Absolutely, I'm Diandra Marizet (she/her), born and raised in Texas. I'm the co-founder of Intersectional Environmentalist (popularly known as IE). What I do at IE more so, is behind the scenes, making sure the lights stay on, business operations, logistics, legal, accounting, all kinds of stuff. And it's been a wild ride, just figuring out what it takes to build your dream job. Although I'm so happy and feel so privileged to do this work every day, I didn’t realize that much of the beginning doesn’t feel like the “real work” I imagined. I've yet to have a single week of work where I’ve felt like I’m doing the work I want to do. I’m largely setting up and making sure that we can actually support a team and have a financially sustainable model, have the impact measures that we want for our community, to be able to empower our community in ways we want - all of that has to function well for this work to be sustainable long term - and I’m really lucky to be part of this learning process. I consider the past year as one of the biggest learning years of my life. And I think that my story started out like most people who are intrigued or passionate about the environment, the environmental movement or the social justice movement.
2. Would you like to tell us how your journey has shaped you into the person you are today?
I believe I was a simple, normal kid that got primed with the same things we all do. For instance, how you learn your alphabets by attributing them to animals, you learn to love and appreciate animals and nature and just being one with it. So, I think I was primed the same way every kid was, but then life progresses and I think people just kind of lose that connection along the way. I just never did.
Of course, I suppressed it the way anyone would because in high school other things take over, like I wanted to play volleyball and I wanted to have friends and my friends didn't care about endangered species or didn't want to talk about systems of oppression on the weekend so you just kind of let things things fall by the wayside. But I found small ways to do my bit through my marketing degree in college. Since I lived on an ocean campus for a year, I was able to build a tiny community that wasn't focused on social justice, but at least had an appreciation for nature.
I was living in Galveston, which is not the cutest beach town. It's not the most well-funded, well-kept beach town, but it was a more environmental way of life, eating local seafoods, and supporting smaller businesses, compared to the suburbs of Houston (where I now live), which is full of large food chains now. Through ocean campus life, I tried to maintain what I could, but really didn't have an eco-community around in high school and college. Then I moved to New York and didn't know anyone. I had a few friends from college that had also moved to New York, but they weren’t in an environmental scene in any waySlowly, I started to sniff out this cool online sustainable community across so many different niches in New York - agriculture, fashion, tech - all these different spaces! And it was the first time that I got to build a community around this idea of sustainability. There were people unpacking sustainability issues, in so many ways, and it was one of the most inspiring times of my life, particularly as someone who had been yearning for a community like that for so long. But I did see a little bit of a resistance against combining the environmental justice and social justice aspect into certain things. People weren't in the know as to why vulnerable communities needed to be centred because the general narrative suggested that - Sustainable agriculture is good for everyone! And you're like, okay, All lives matter vibes.
There is a clear distinction between not just the human element of centering those most vulnerable, but the strategic element as well. People who are most vulnerable to certain issues that you're trying to build solutions for should be informing those solutions. So it was frustrating to find this community that I had been wanting for so long and then being disappointed by how surface level and limited the conversation was. But, I definitely made what I could out of that community and made some beautiful relationships that would later help me expand the conversation. It was still an opportunity to learn so much from people who had been working in these various spaces for so long. But because I was lacking that sense of urgency around the human element, I was led to engage in my own community building. My exact thoughts were, what if I was the one hosting the event, and deciding what the narrative worth exploring is? What if I was the one creating space for people to have that conversation? ...Even if it was for just one night. So I just started inviting people over to my apartment. And I was like, Hey, y'all want some wine, some cheese, low casual conversation about systems of oppression. And that's how I started manifesting my own community of people who were willing to take the conversation further.
Now that we have IE, it feels like we get to validate our own narratives. Finally, we don't have to wait for the white CEO of tech, agriculture fashion company XYZ, to tell us that centering vulnerable communities is important. We just have our own space now to say, hey, this is important - and we don't validate the mainstream take on environmentalism and here's why. It's not about sides or teams - just progress.
I think that there is this misunderstanding, sometimes in an environmental movement that centers vulnerable voices, that we're trying to flip a hierarchy. We're not trying to flip a hierarchy, we are trying to suggest, by way of academic study, environmental understanding and ancestral wisdom, that creating solutions for vulnerable communities at the root cause of exploitation and damage, builds and creates liberation for all.
So, I really want to push back, I really want to use our platform to focus and center joy in the environmental movement for vulnerable communities, while also making some space to combat that narrative. We're not flipping a hierarchy; we're not making one group more important than the other. We're centering those that need to be centred so that everyone can be liberated. And we're just starting with those that need it most!
3. When we speak about community building and finding our niche in a sustainable ecosystem, was it, in any way, soul consuming for you to come across the right kind of people? Did the trust factor come easy for you?
In terms of my involvement with IE, specifically, I kind of feel like I was the one who was trusted by everybody else. There is a pressure when people meet me, that I am “the right kind of person '', and I'm still learning to navigate that. Outside of IE, when you're finding people to build a community with in general, it’s important to remember that despite everyone having valuable experiences, those aren't necessarily people that wish to be a part of the movements or work you want to do.
I don't think that every single person has to be a part of this work.It's got to be people who WANT to be part of this work, because I don't want this to fall on the shoulders of vulnerable community members that just want to live their lives. So, I think it's first, finding out what people are passionate about and not assuming that everybody wants to engage in growth the way you do.
I am 100% for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and folks with disabilities - people who are in these more vulnerable spaces - don't NEED to be activists. I want people to feel empowered to just live their lives, be happy, and know that it’s enough. We can focus on joy in an effort to reclaim space too.
So yes, I would say that's step one, when you're figuring people out - Do they want to just have this conversation right now with me, because they're interested in it at this moment in time? Or do they want to get more involved?
Adjacently, I don't think it's everybody's job to coddle anyone. This is just a personal take, but I think that when people get it "wrong" or maybe their perspective falls a little short, the way mine has time and time again, I try not to be disappointed in that person. Sometimes we feel like people "fail" us in some ways, because of the knowledge that they don’t have, or the perspective they've chosen to take, and while there is certainly personal choice embedded in that, which may or may not align with us, , deeming ourselves as proper “judges” of people to a certain extent not only diverts attention away from systems that need our scrutiny but it also creates a false sense of knowing. We are all going on this wild journey and face incredibly unique challenges geographically, economically, socially, etc...There is so much room for communal openness and collective growth.
4. You're a public figure, Diandra. So is the Intersectional Environmentalist platform. I'm curious to know how you manage to put forth a strong, bold opinion without thinking it might receive a lot of backlash? Do you ignore the haters and go on to stand by your statement or go back and reason with your audience in a way that makes them feel heard as well?
I took a poll on Instagram a while back. The question was - What do you wish white people would stop trying to teach? And my number one response, which was the only reason why I would speak to it on my own platform, was "I wish white people would stop trying to teach yoga."
This took me back to my own background, which is Mexican. It took me back to the days where I was working in fashion, and really unpacking the concept of cultural appropriation as it related to Mexican fashion and the aesthetic, and the way it's glamorized and held in the South and Texas. And I started thinking about this, why would everyone say yoga? I began to unpack that a little bit, which is how I posted about it later. The backlash was tremendous! Thing is I don't care so much about backlash, I presented a considered view. I explained in the caption, this is why there's always more to the story.
There was a lot of fragility in the comments. I thought to myself, that's okay. Fragility, I think, is a part of growth. You can stop there, which I don't think is good. You shouldn't stop facing your fragility, you should face it and move beyond it. But yes, I do think that was expected, though. That was a post where I personally received a lot of backlash. But by receiving backlash, I presented an opportunity for people to face their own fragility on the matter. In many cases, backlash is valuable. It helps you understand how to build a better case.
5. Myriads of people follow your journey and the work you do on the daily. Personally, I've seen you come such a long way from who you were and all that you aimed to do. Do you feel like you've become a role model for all of us, your followers and the ones who wish to follow your footsteps?
I actually don't think that. It's interesting for people out there, when I share fun titbits and snippets of my life behind the scenes, and these are things that make me happy. I believe it's important to contribute to an environmental justice culture that celebrates our joy and our happiness, even if it is just me eating a beautiful piece of tomato toast, right? I feel it's important to share that stuff. So, I like doing that.
I remember @AOC shared this quote a while back, because people see her as a role model. And the fact that she's incredible! She quoted, "I don't want to be a leader, I want to be a mirror." And when she said that, it was perfectly encapsulated! That's the only reason I want to be on social media. To show that I didn't have this community. I built it!
I wasn't born with this level of understanding. I built it! So yes, I think that whenever I share thoughts, it's more so with the intention of helping. And it took me a long time to manifest a community I wanted, and even grow into a place where I could better appreciate the community I always had.
I don't necessarily feel like a role model per se. I'm not super active on social media compared to most, but when I do share, it's always with the intention of doing more. I hope that the people who do follow me, follow me because they see themselves in the things I share, like "I was today years old when I learned this." and how I didn't know this before but I do now! For me, the end goal is just sharing raw, vulnerable moments. And that I didn't have to be an environmental expert to do it.
6. In today's times, I feel like having a support system is so important, especially when you're doing the things you love that are also better for the community. I've also come to see people who just want to do what they do on their own, without anybody's help or support. They're the ones who wish to be their own mentor, leader and guide and do not look for a community to build or be a part of. How do you feel about this?
As with most things, there's a balance to be struck. To do everything on your own means that you are preventing yourself from tapping into community wisdom that can expedite the things you're trying to achieve.
You could be someone who's incredibly ambitious, driven, smart, resourceful, and a part of being smart is knowing what you don't know. And leaning on those who are willing to help and support you.
As cliche as it may sound, the saying “You travel faster alone, but farther together” is always true. Part of being driven to go far is seeing the need for community. An ability to see when people around you are thriving and the ways you are a part of that process, and vise-versa is community. When those around you can thrive, they can also create space to share wisdom that you can tap into. There's so much mutual value in ensuring everyone can flourish.
It's interesting you say that, because when I was in New York, working in the fashion industry, living in Manhattan, , saving no money, throwing away all my potential wealth on rent and brunch, I got to a place where I was trying to progress my life forward and I was like, "Okay, I want to build this career life." I wanted to start thinking about marriage, home, and kids. But I had gotten to a place where I was so hyper focused on myself, that the other parts of my life started to fall apart...because I didn't have community. I felt clueless about how I would keep up with my ambitions and have kids, when I didn’t even feel like I had people around me that would be there when I needed them. I had no support system because I wasn’t focused on building my community and giving back to them every step of the way.
When you are ambitious and driven in that way, you want to have it all.When I was in New York, I started thinking to myself, maybe I don't even want to be a mother, because I can't do it alone. It just didn’t seem feasible. Which was not the right perspective for me to have.
I moved back to Texas. And I realized, being stuck at home, during COVID, alone with my thoughts, I had convinced myself back then that I didn't want these other beautiful, dynamic parts of my life and I just wanted it to be in my career, because that's something I could do alone. And I thought that was the answer. I thought that was the safe way, the smart way, the ambitious way to go about it. The way that I could be completely in charge. Hello control freak!
When I was home, I realized how badly I did want all of those things. But what was lacking when I was in New York, what convinced me that I didn't want all those things was because I was lonely. I didn't have a community that I felt could support this full dynamic life that I wanted, because you need a community to do that. So now that I'm home, I think it's become interesting to reflect on how easily circumstance and lack of community can alter the way you think your life needs to play out.
7. Absolutely. I'd like to believe we came out a lot stronger than we thought we would from this pandemic. On this note, I'd love to ask you about the importance of social media in your life and the journey you're on now. Do you think things would have been the same for you if the internet didn't exist in today's day and age?
My career on social media started 6-7 years ago. I also believe that social media was both helpful and harmful in my case. The avenues that social media provided seemed like the answer then, even though that wasn't entirely true.
Logistically and practically speaking, it requires an artistic touch, expertise, connections, networking, etc. to be a social media expert. Plenty of influencers that I personally watched grew a whole lot on social media. They did so because they had a tremendous amount of privilege and community and network to amplify them. And it kind of left me feeling like, damn, I don't have any of that. So I felt stuck, watching all these other people grow. And those are the kind of mental mind games that Instagram and other platforms play with you. You watch all these other people grow, and you think it happened overnight. And then some people, they're just privileged enough and have that network. And it does happen overnight! But it put me in this place where I didn't like my career and I definitely wasn't happy with my job. I didn't know where I was going. I didn't know my place in the movement, because all these people are trying to resist what I'm talking about when it comes to environmental justice. So it caused a tremendous amount of confusion, and self-doubt.
But at the same time, it's also the reason I was able to get to where I am now. It's the reason I was able to find people to just hit up and have coffee with in New York. It's the reason I was able to build a community and work my way towards hosting nights where we talked about cultural appropriation or social impact reports, etc. It's the reason why I was able to start. Even if I was doing it very poorly, I started playing artistically with the concept of media art, photography, and all the things that inspire the soul. Photography, in a way, is a beautiful medium for cultural preservation. And I got to start exploring that. Social media was a way for me to figure out what I wanted my voice to represent.
But I guess, you have to take the good with the bad.
The benefit of social media is that the dissemination of information is so rapid. We're able to mobilize it a lot easier, educate each other a lot more conveniently, build a community, imagine environmental justice advocates who live in really small towns that might be super conservative and their only friends are online. That is a huge benefit of having social media in today's times.
Take Leah, for instance.
She took this term - Intersectionality, which I certainly didn't know, before IE. It was a legal term created by Kimberly Crenshaw, who was incredible! But it was used in a legal context. And because of Leah's creativity, her passion, her advocacy, she held onto that word, and applied it to environmentalism. Through social media, she made it a mainstream concept, along with other people as well, who have been trying to embed this idea of intersectionality into social justice and environmental spaces. So yeah, I almost wonder if without social media, would the important work of Kimberly Crenshaw do such ground breaking things in the legal space in that context. Indeed, it would have still revolutionized the way we look at legal cases. But would it have become so mainstream without social media?
8. Fascinating to hear such an interesting perspective from you. And since we're talking about social media, I wanted your take on the whole workaholic culture most of us seem to have adopted, given the current lifestyle and the millennial era we live in. How do you manage your current workload and are there any ways you've tried to overcome the toxic overworking culture?
I definitely think being in New York made me a little bit of a workaholic. I think that growing up in a Mexican family in the south, where you see your family members fighting so hard to be able to provide, and you see how hard they have to work, and just how much of their mental space is taken up by this idea of working and providing for your family. That kind of a perspective, oftentimes, takes hold in the next generation. For instance, BIPOC, immigrant parents, and their kids feel so much pressure to perform and succeed, bring home status and money and build generational wealth and be able to pass that on to the next generation.
But because of the fact that I'm trying to build an intersectional future, things turn out to be different.
For me, an intersectional future is one that effortlessly tells black, brown, indigenous and children of color that their connection to nature is something to be celebrated and nurtured and protected. It's a future where everyone feels how sacred their existence is, and how important their Earth stewardship is. And that presents itself in small ways which turns up in my work, certainly. It also presents itself when I'm in the kitchen making tortillas with my mom. Our connection to the ways that our ancestors have nourished our bodies for generations, is a part of my conscious and sustainable lifestyle, an intentional lifestyle that harnesses ancestral wisdom. So that thought has helped me log off at a considerable hour, depending on how busy I am. I think it's fairly easy to take time for yourself.
If you are a workaholic in the environmental space, just remember that your connection to nature, and not your laptop is also a part of the work.
9. Switching to a lighter side of the conversation, I'd love to know when you're not saving the world, through your awareness advocacy, what's something that gets you in a calm headspace?
I think that having a glass of wine with people I love, at the end of the day to wind down is nice. Wine has such a magical way of making you shut out your responsibilities. So I think that when you drink wine together, it's like you're both agreeing to that. Also, a candle and a book adds to that calmness. Plus, I've noticed that the more I read, the more I write. I guess it's this creative flow that pushes me to do that. Which is why I really value time to just read. Over the past few weeks, I just have really been taking a tremendous amount of time to myself, in solitude. I think it's super important.
It's a constant, like work and effort. I love engaging in conversations and exchanging energies with people, with my community. In so many ways, though, it could be in the form of a laugh or a cry, or somebody who needs support or help.
So yeah, I think I love those exchanges. It's an important part of my life, being there for my community and showing up for people. But also, being able to just sit with my own thoughts on a long drive down these beautiful Texas roads, or reading a book at night.
10. Beautiful tip! With this, I'd love for you to let us in on a couple tips and tricks for our readers, especially for people who are trying to enter the intersectional, sustainability space, that helps in making their journey a tad bit easier. Any words of wisdom?
If you're someone who is just now, really trying to step into an environmental justice space, and intersectional sustainability space, something of that sort, you're probably just not doing it, because you don't have a tremendous amount of community that has been doing that otherwise, you might have already been influenced to do it. So you might be the only one in your community going forward with it. Just knowing that building a community in this space takes time. But the spaces for you to do that exist. We have so many sibling accounts that are doing incredible work right alongside us and have been doing it longer than we have. And these are all beautiful spaces that have been created for people to tap into and build community. And I think that that is a beautiful way to take an approach.
Thank you for giving me so much of your valuable time, Diandra. I've certainly learnt a whole lot through your stories and your experience in this space and I can't wait to see all of the incredible things you're going to do at IE and otherwise. :)
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Website/Resource Hub: intersectionalenvironmentalist.com