Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, Founder and Executive Director
This is a story from our Ocean Challenge partner Azul. Your participation in the Ocean Challenge has helped to support their work!
Azul is an environmental justice organization working with Latinx communities to protect coasts and oceans, based in San Francisco. We applied to for a Students Rebuild grant to engage student groups in the Tijuana / San Diego area as ocean stewards by highlighting cross-border biological links and international collaborations.
We had been looking for opportunities to work in Tijuana in collaboration with both Mariel Mendez and Km1, and already had come up with the idea of art focused ocean education in the area. Tijuana, bound by the US border and the Pacific coast, is my hometown and the place where I first fell in love with the ocean.
We excitedly applied to this grant, making our plan to collaborate with both Mariel Mendez, - a San Diego-based artist with an education background - and Orlando Anaya, co-founder of Tijuana-based Km1, a marine and coastal conservation organization. Just before we heard about the grant decision, the region was catapulted into the headlines: groups of Central-American refugees hoping to apply for asylum in the United States arrived in the area and were illegally blocked from accessing the border, with the US government militarizing the border and slowing down processing times to a trickle, creating a humanitarian crisis that unfortunately has lasted for months. We got news of the grant at a time when US policy changes (fully closing down the existing border partition at the beach) made it logistically impossible to complete our art project as first planned, but which in our eyes, made the need for cross-border collaboration and discourse, on a subject that was interesting to all, especially important. We decided to adapt our original project and forge ahead, which has proven to be a particularly enriching experience for all of us involved. Orlando sums it up best:
Working with kids is special. For me, it's the key to create change in the communities. Since last fall, we have been working with 4 groups of children, 2 on each side of the border and I can tell you - it's simply amazing. Through art and conservation, we are empowering the next generation of ocean leaders. As their background, their perspective on the problems is a little bit different but the nature of their thoughts it's basically the same, they all want a healthy ocean for their favorite species and are eager to know how they can contribute to saving them. Even though their schools, homes and playgrounds are just a few miles away, some of them have never been in Mexico and some of them have never been in the US. We want them to create a connection, make new friends and understand that we share more than just a region, we share an ecosystem that needs to be protected. Just as the species, and the ocean, we know these kids have no borders to stop their efforts.