United Nations Foundation/YouTube
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 15-year-old hip-hop artist and climate activist, speaks in Paris in December 2015 at the close of the COP21 climate talks. He sees youth rising up worldwide to take care of their planet.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: Teen Hip-Hop Activist Sees Global Youth Movement Afoot

Dominique Godrèche

Xiuhtezcatl received his Nahuatl name through his Elders, in the Mexican Mexica tradition of his father.

“He supported my indigenous identity,” the 15-year-old hip-hop artist and activist told Indian Country Today Media Network while attending the COP21 climate talks in Paris. “I feel connected to my roots, having been raised with the ceremonies, the songs.”

His mother, Tamara, started the Earth Guardian school in Maui in 1992, teaching a program focused on the environment. Raised in Colorado, Xiuhtezcatl was aware of environmental issues from a very young age.

“It is a family story: My mother, father, brothers, and sisters, were involved in the environment,” he said.

His 12-year-old brother Itzcuauhteli is now singing “Conscious Hip hop” with him.

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In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl received the United States Community Service Award from president Obama. In October 2015, he was one of five youth winners of a $25,000 fellowship from Peace First, a national nonprofit organization “dedicated to creating the next generation of peacemakers,” an award that recognizes “youth peacemakers” between the ages of 8 and 22, according to the group's description. He has also addressed the United Nations.

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In December Xiuhtezcatl attended the COP21 climate talks in Paris, where he helped launch the first French Earth Guardian group, a youth environmental activist organization.

“There is a growing interest from young people,” Xiuhtezcatl told ICTMN in an interview in Paris. “They are more and more aware of climate change, and the impact of their voices.”

He took time out from his activities to go into more depth with ICTMN.

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How was COP21?

Intense and creative: I went to so many events, made a lot of connections. And we are happy about the final agreement, as in twenty-one years, we finally arrived at an agreement in the right direction. Though it is not good enough: People wish for real change, and we need more action. We are at a point where there is no room for error, and actions—like for Redd—still have to be taken. World leaders’ decisions are not enough; their failure to act will send people into the streets [advocating] for new changes, and young people are rising up as never before.

And so did your interest in the environment start, at the age of six, watching a documentary?

Yes, I was in love with the world’s beauty, and saw a documentary about the global state of the planet, showing its destruction, the storms—how people were losing their homes—and it was a catalyst. I understood my responsibility, my path as a warrior for the Earth.

Did you attend a regular school?

I was home schooled until age ten and then attended a public school. Now I am in a private experiential school in Boulder. Everything we learn is part of the world around us. I started music around age nine, as my oldest siblings were hip-hop artists and rappers, using music to engage people in environmental activism. I saw the opportunity to meet people through music and develop my passion as an environmental activist. My parents, sisters, brothers, were involved in activism. We are all connected, aware, and responsible.

Is that why you started a new Youth Earth Guardians group? How fast did it get under way?

Yes, I was nine, and with some friends, we launched actions in Boulder to stop the use of pesticides. I had noticed problems we could do something about in my community: pesticides in the parks, the water that kids were getting sick with, etc.

And it was very fast: I called some friends to talk about pesticides, and soon we had a group of twenty people meeting every week, planning how to take action over climate change, the floods, wildfires. As in Colorado, more and more trees are gone.

How old are the members of Earth Guardians?

It varies according to the countries; it goes from five to twenty-five years old.

Do you feel heard by adults? What do you bring that would not be addressed in their official meetings?

Sure, we are heard, and today more then ever; a new relationship between adults and children has been established. Adults are listening, because young people make a difference, as we are not talking about money or politics, but about our lives and future, and the world we are going to be left with.

What did you learn at COP21?

There is a powerful movement of people ready to fight for change. And hip-hop transcends culture or language. We have been able to share across boundaries with a lot of young people, and we are now starting an Earth Guardian group in Paris for the first time.

How do you see your future?

I will tour with my music, make albums, videos. I chose hip-hop as a mainstream tool because a lot of people can listen to it, more than to a climate change speech. Music is my passion; so I will pursue it forever, bringing the right messages.

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