Get Well

How Activist Diandra Marizet Esparza Takes Care As a Co-Founder of a Grassroots Organization

by Nathalie Peña

Spending my days amplifying and supporting the stories of marginalized folks to help mitigate climate change has proven to be a huge privilege. But it can also open other organizers like Diandra Marizet Esparza, to moments of burnout and consistently assessing the historical pain of BIPOC communities.

Diandra co-founded Intersectional Environmentalist, a resource hub that explores the intersections of social and environmental justice. Because IE tackles a lot of topics that expose the injustices many queer, BIPOC, and disabled folks face, it can get difficult to balance personal self-care. As Diandra continues to help IE grow she’s learning more and more about what brings her personal joy and care.

Diandra Marizet Esparza, Co-founder of Intersectional Environmentalist 

Instagram: @diandramarizet 

What has been the most difficult part of starting and growing IE?

When you start something new, it’s easy to fall victim to the “wear multiple hats” mentality to the point where you work yourself into the ground. When IE started growing at such a fast rate, we were all SO excited and humbled to be doing this work and as a result, we took on A LOT. It’s been the most unexpected honor of my life and the support of our community was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. While the journey has been beautiful, we added a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform at a rate our very new and very tiny team simply couldn’t sustain for long.

I’ve personally had a bad history with workaholism which means it takes me a while to listen to any overload alarms going off in my body. Luckily my co-founders listen to those internal alarms a little better than I do. We were able to come together as a team and start unlearning all the pressures that build workaholism. We decided we wanted to be an organization that works hard and passionately, but makes room to show up for our community in a sustainable way. We have our whole lives to uplift our communities and do this work. Taking a step back to remember that those rooting for us most want to see us taking care of ourselves reminded me that we don’t have to be a perfectly built-out organization overnight.

How has working on IE affected your relationship with balancing self-care and work?

Because we live in a capitalist-driven society, the world will drag you if you let it. So I had to learn what intentional boundaries look like for both myself and for my business. I wish my biggest takeaway so far didn’t sound tragically cliché, but it is that “there is so much power in saying no”. Self-care helps me show up for myself, my passions + my community more deeply. So my to-do list is PRECIOUS, and I’ve made it unapologetically difficult to infiltrate.

I’ve already lived that “always too busy” lifestyle, and looking back, it was largely by my own design. It had me going out for coffee or dinner with friends while under so much anxiety. The whole time I would find myself nervously tapping my foot because I had “so much to do”. It’s simply not worth it, low-key not true, and most importantly I can’t show up for mi jente that way.

Learning to center self-care within the walls of IE helped me shift my perspective from “too busy” to “too precious”. I’m allowed to not cram my to-do list.

What do some self-care days look like for you?

When I let workaholism and anxiety run my schedule, I lose a clear-headed sense of focus and motivation. Then I resort to procrastination instead of true rest and all hopes of visionary moments fly out the window. You can’t build revolutionary work if you’re drained AF all the time!

I’ve learned what my mind, body, and spirit need most so my self-care routine always includes sunshine, a sense of adventure and community. Working from home has its perks for sure, but being cooped up all the time in front of a laptop can put a real damper on the ole’ zest for life. So I try to always have something exciting to look forward to. Some things I’m looking forward to right now are perfecting my pasta making skills (needs so much work), doing a solo retreat Airbnb style at a nearby nature spot, and giving myself 20-30 minutes a day to explore whatever I’m reading (currently Daughters of the Fifth Sun).

Connecting with the people I love also plays a big role in my rejuvenation process, so I’ve made it a part of my schedule. I have time for mentor sessions and coffee catch-ups blocked-off on my calendar. Watching the people I love grow fuels why I do what I do, so I take a few mornings each week to hear their voices or read up on how they’re doing while I enjoy my morning coffee before work.

When do you know it’s time for you to take a break and ~rest~?

Contrary to my *slightly problematic* overachiever instincts, I’ve started being quite vigilant about not starting work until 9:30 or 10 AM and I make sure to log-off before 7 PM.

Overworking CAN in fact come from an excited place. I was so overwhelmed with happy-stress when we started IE that I was jumping to my laptop right when I woke up and wasn’t closing the laptop until my eyes started to betray me for some desperately needed sleep. I was overjoyed but still working myself ragged.

Now I try to find rest in all the little things. I wash up in the AM like I’m on Vogue sharing that 5-step morning routine, I sip my morning coffee slowly so I can take some time to smell it, I soak up the sun during my midday walks with my pup, and my evening reading time is usually accompanied by a glass of wine.

I don’t “need to know” when it’s time to rest. Rest is now an important part of the daily routine.

What do you do during really tough days? Those days when you feel burnout from constant conversations around environmental racism and news around the injustices that are spurred on by corporations and the government?

Building out resources for IE means consistently assessing the historical trauma and pain of BIPOC communities. Taking a break from unpacking it all can provide some rejuvenation but never in a way that soothes the intake of information when it’s time to come back to work. What helps me align my mind and spirit in the work I do is unpacking the joys of BIPOC communities in the multitude of ways our ancestors have passed on their voices. Lately, I’ve been connecting with Mexican poetry to remind myself that my ancestors both experienced and created so much beauty in this world. Our ancestors planted seeds of both resistance and joy.

What advice would you give to folks starting their own social-good organizations / mutual aid networks?

There’s probably so many directions you could grow when you start out because your potential is limitless! Focus on the things that you truly want to see at the heart of your business. Spreading yourself and your team too thin with lots of initiatives/projects will add so much stress to the already difficult journey that is starting a new venture. Otherwise, make sure you and your team work closely together and consistently align on what you want. 

Organizations like IE really emphasize the importance of community care within the environmental justice movement. How can self-care and conversations around healing justice contribute to community / environmental care?

BIPOC communities have been out here tending to one another and the planet. America has a way of projecting an individualistic approach, but many of our cultures are rooted in collective care + sustainable living.

The reassurance that comes from your community coming together is a wellness routine that beats anything the beauty industry has to offer. Despite the need for so much systemic change, community care reminds us of the power we have to thrive together against the odds.

There isn’t one single formula to healing justice, so having conversations about the initiatives that are giving communities their power to thrive helps more people build for their neighbors as well.

How do you see IE shifting the conversation of self and community care within the climate justice movement?

My hope is for people who follow IE to feel empowered to connect their love for people and the planet to social justice. Environmentalism should recognize the importance of centering vulnerable communities in the climate crisis. Lifting unheard voices in the environmental movement helps us amplify grassroots driven solutions, preserve ancestral wisdom, and celebrate the beautiful cultures that laid the groundwork for sustainable living in the first place. The future is intersectional. 🤎

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