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Eats And Beats: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s Climate Activism And Hip-Hop With An Indigenous Perspective

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is only 19, but he’s already veteran climate activist. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly at the age of 15 and is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government over inaction on climate change. Martinez is also an internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist who writes socially conscious music partially inspired by his Aztec heritage. He'll speak and perform as part of the Climate 2020: Seven Generations for Arizona summit Fri, Nov. 15 at Northern Arizona University, and is the focus of the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, Stories About Food and Music on the Colorado Plateau.

Music has always been a tool to represent the voices of the people, and historically the greatest movements throughout history artists have been creating the soundscapes for these revolutionary moments, whether that’s been Bob Marley or Tupac Shakur or John Lennon or Rage Against the Machine, artists have played a part in reflecting where the world is at in a very raw, uncensored way. And yeah, I believe my music, my art plays in that storytelling, plays a role in that reclamation of how we’re going to be remembered. And for me, it’s the most authentic way I can tap into this work is through my music because I feel most alive.

Credit Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

For Native peoples the idea of environmental activism being an external cause or something that is outside of us doesn’t really exist. For us, preservation of our land, our environment, our water, our air, that’s just a piece of our responsibility that we assign to ourselves, that our ancestors passed on to us. For us, the climate crisis, the environmental crisis resolving in understanding our place to fight for justice in those spaces comes from a place of cultural survival. Growing up in that community with a lot of those teachings it became very apparent very quickly that this is just who I am, this is just part of my responsibility.

Young people of color, young black, brown and indigenous folks are the most vulnerable today. The climate crisis is displacing people and taking lives as we speak. Yes, down the line in the future we have a lot at stake but it’s also like, immediately we are the most vulnerable and immediately we need our voices to be represented as the generation that is here today, not just as this abstract idea of future generations—fighting to protect the earth for future generations, ‘cause no, the fight is right now, right here.

It’s very inspiring to witness a much heightened level of diverse representation in much younger folks. Regardless of who you are, where you are from everybody has a place in this movement. Everybody has a part to play in this moment that we are in history.

We have a lot of power as individuals, as average, regular people. We have power, yeah, with our individual choices, with our consumer habits. We also have power with the way, in the United States especially, with the way we’re voting. So much of what is happening—the dysfunction of our political system is ‘cause there is a lack of representation of people that are actually fighting for the community, that are actually fighting for everyday, regular people. Play your part in the way that’s close to you. What the future’s going to look like in the next 100 years is really going to be determined by what we do in the next five to 10 years. So we’re in a very precarious moment and it’s going to call on everybody to step up.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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