Naliyah Martinez-Truso - Student Staff

April 08, 2021

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What brought you to UC Santa Cruz?

It was actually my second choice for schools and it turned out to be really great. I love the campus, I love the community I've built here and I've met some really amazing people that have been present and have been the catalyst alongside really transformative points in my life. I was able to learn so much more about myself outside of my academic major and I was involved in so many organizations and community spaces that really helped me grow and learn more about my community and myself. So it's been a very enriching experience. 

What brought you to the Center of Agroecology and this position?

I had been taking classes on herbalism and plant medicine and also kind of just learning on my own. So I had experience with using plants to heal myself and heal my community but not so much how to grow them. I knew before I came to this position that I wanted to create a space for Black and Indigenous folks to be in community and feel safe and have a garden. When I saw this position it felt really right because it combined all the things that I already knew that I had a passion for, including community organizing and just being really in touch with myself and with each other and the earth.

Tell us about your experience stewarding the Black Lives Matter Garden

It's been a really amazing position. There is the on-site work, like tending to the garden and planting and taking care of whatever plants are sown into the soil and working with the altar. And then there's also the community programming piece alongside the themes of the garden, which are sovereignty, food access and learning how to steward the land, and also drawing a deeper connection with our ancestors through the land and through the altar space. And then there's the online historian work, like interviewing alumni who have been involved in this space and organizing the archive of the BLM Garden online, sorting through pictures and looking through meeting notes and things like that. Then there is the work of looking through the archives of the garden and finding ways to incorporate the spirit of the garden that's captured in the archive into the physical space. I wasn’t able to get to this aspect in the time I have been stewarding the garden, but it’s something the next steward can work toward in a way they choose. 

I’ve really enjoyed interviewing past alumni and being in the physical space and learning about the intentions of this space. I feel really grateful and inspired by the timeline of the space's creation and how much intention was tied into it so that there could be this space on campus where Black folks can feel seen, heard and safe and reconnect with our ancestors who have been lost to state violence and relatives who have transitioned on. Going through the archives and listening to the interviews or interviewing people was really grounding and emotional for me. Learning the history of this space and its connection to people who started it and to me now and what my intentions are moving forward and what I've been able to get out of the space feels really powerful. I think also just learning so much about myself through the position and through being with the land has really shown me so much of myself, which was really powerful. I feel like I carried a lot of fear around failure but entering the space taught me to step into ease and not hold so much tension and follow my gut and my intuition. It's definitely strengthened my connection to myself and nature and my ancestors.

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated? Do you want to continue in land stewardship?

I'm in a place where I'm figuring that out but I definitely feel like my experience here in the garden has taught me so much about land stewardship and what autonomy and sovereignty means for Black people. In the future, I would like to create a space and have a garden where Black and Indigenous folks can gather and be in community and feel safe and heard and just be autonomous and sovereign. A lot of the work I've done here prior to this position has been around program organizing. I really love curating community events and creating spaces to address some of the concerns around retention of Black students on campus, and creating spaces where people can feel safe and engaged and heard and finding creative ways to go about that. 

I want to start a garden at my grandparents’ house and my parents’ house, which is exciting because growing up I didn't have a lot of access to these things. I really want to incorporate what I've learned here into my family, those who are alive now and future generations. Growing a garden at home and teaching my sister and teaching any family who wants to know what I know.

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