Roots of Change: Sandra Garcia of the Southwest Workers Union
My mother had a heart attack when I was 16. I remember my father telling me that if she died, I would become caregiver for him, my two brothers and my nephew – cooking, cleaning the house, and everything in between. Luckily, my mother came home from the hospital with a warning from the doctor – she had to change her eating habits to survive.
In my house, everything was made with spoonsful of Armour Manteca (lard). It came in a little green box and we used it for eggs, meats, beans and even for baking. We ate menudo (soup with beef stomach) and tripe. These foods evolved using the parts that the butcher would throw away or sell very cheap since it was considered trash. Growing up I believed that the food we ate was just a part of our culture, but looking back but as an adult I realized it was the cheapest, but unhealthiest food we could get. I started having conversations with others that grew up eating similar foods and I saw the patterns – diabetes, heart disease and other diseases directly related to the food we ate.
By chance, in my college economics class there was a guest speaker one day from the Southwest Workers Union. They were announcing a major march or immigration issues in 2006. They also announced they would be having a summer program if anyone would like to apply. I was shy and didn’t speak up, but I did end up joining the summer program one week late. My friend Diana would call me to be part of the meetings.
After Interning for the summer I was hired on as a youth organizer. We were fighting environmental racism in San Antonio. After the city voted to put two more fuel storage tanks on the East Side we brainstormed how can we get something good there for a change, and out came the Roots of Change community garden.
When SWU started the Roots of Change Garden in 2007, I realized how beautiful it was to grow your own naturally organic food. I was a youth organizer getting youth involved and facilitating the process of how to start home gardens, while just learning a week before. The trial and error process of turning a vacant lot that had been used for drug dealing to a beautiful acre of produce inspired me to grow my own food at home. I started with my favorite items that I use a lot in my cooking, cilantro, garlic, and all sorts of peppers.
I realized that our traditional diet and our traditional way of eating is actually healthy – filled with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Yet because we don’t have access to land to grow food or the resources to purchase high quality food, or even the education of better alternatives my family and so many others grew accustomed to cheap and readily available highly processed food products.
More and more young people are waking up to the connection between the health of our families and communities and access to land, resources and education. I am privileged to be the youth coordinator with the Southwest Workers Union – Youth Leadership Organization. Our youth leaders wrote “Thinking Green” a sustainability plan that included five areas: Food, Energy, Waste, Transportation and Awareness. Here’s an excerpt from the plan regarding school food:
We created a garden at Edison high school that got its own compost pile and green house. This is now a pilot for the entire San Antonio Independent school District. We are developing a Farm to School pilot program that sets a percentage goal for the amount of locally grown produce used in meals, establishing more healthy, fresh menu options in schools across the district, and establishing a Junk Free Food Zone that eliminates unhealthy vending machines and snack options in schools.
I saw firsthand the changes that eating healthy made in my mom’s life. I’m inspired every day to be able to work with young people who are fighting for fresh, healthy, and whole food in our schools and communities so that this generation and the ones to come can live long, healthy and fulfilling lives.
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