I came to the United States in 1989 and the South Bronx has been my home ever since arriving from Guatemala. As an 18-year old attending Theodore Roosevelt, I saw the need to learn the sciences and why it is important to be involved in environmental issues. I saw many people in my neighborhood with inhalers due to asthma. Saw the medical cost to buy medicine and injections to balance their sugar because of diabetes. And saw water areas polluted with all the garbage that was thrown into them, including cars.
The planet has faced more than 5 major extinctions, so I understood it was and is about us humans. As students at SUNY ESF, some of us used the phrase, ‘Think Global, Act local’. A phrase that taught us how interconnected we are around the world. There I learned that many of the problems we faced in the Bronx are the same problems that are faced by other marginalized communities around the nation. I learned to think holistically and I learned from the past.
Before Samelys Lopez’ Campaign for Congress in NY15, I have volunteered either by petitioning or giving flyers to people for someone running for assembly and city council. I saw how brutal politics is and how sometimes it takes a long while to accomplish a few things.
As an intern at Congressman Serrano’s office, I saw the importance of his position. I saw how crucial it is for people in the Bronx to tell our story, and how for so many years and are still today we are labeled the poorest Congressional District. That phrase has been use to further marginalize us and keep us where we are today. Many from the outside come in as saviors and don’t listen to some of the ideas we have. I have seen and experience how our ideas are shutdown, hardly supported, or denied funding. I saw this during my time as an intern working on the Choice Neighborhood Initiative project, and have seen fit rom the community designs from neighborhood organizations, for example the South Bronx Unite small park architectural design near Bronx Kill.
After helping those two candidates for assembly and city council, I stoped volunteering my time for political purposes. I gave up because I heard the same rhetoric and kept hearing about dreams that the person didn’t even try to accomplish. I saw that it was up to us to take care of ourselves. That we needed to show our talents and our ingenuity. To show that people with no resources built the Bronx, and that they created one of the most diverse counties in the nation. People from everywhere in the world now call the Bronx home. We may have cultural differences, we may disagree, but we have raised a generation through so much environmental, economic, and cultural neglect. We created new norms through our music (salsa and hip hop) and our views of life through our graffiti and paintings.
I have met Samelys and spoke to her about our conditions in NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) and why I and with the help of some Mill Brook residents started to construct a garden and communal space for us, the residents of Mill Brook Houses.
I learned never to idolize people because it fogs reality and one day you may have to hold them accountable. I have seen, for more than 25 years, how money in politics have created stagnancy, no progressive growth for us and how it has led to gentrification. I decided to volunteer again when I heard Samelys López say that she wasn’t accepting donations from Super PACs, major real estate developers, or other special interest groups. Instead, she accepts small donations, from individual community members, so she will be accountable to them.
Anyone who knows me, knows that for most of my life I have worked on environmental issues, and know that I have always tried even if I failed. Knows that I started a nonprofit to think big, and at least try to put the South Bronx at the forefront of environmental innovations. This is about seeing our past and laying the future for many neighborhoods like the South Bronx. By us working together with a common vision we can tell everyone else that for many times in history it wasn’t the money in your pocket that got things done, it was and has always been essential just to try. I see the same spirit in Samelys Lopez.
Cesar Yoc, a resident of Mill Brook Houses in Port Morris, is an environmentalist and urban planner.