Written by: Karina Meza
As we close out Latino Advocacy Week, Hispanic Access Foundation’s Oceans Advisory Council Member David Riera shares with us his experience and motivation in advocacy efforts. The Oceans Advisory Council works on ocean conservation efforts in the way of research, advocacy efforts, and community engagement. David is a United States Marine Combat Veteran and First Generation Afro-Hispanic college graduate who is driven daily to tackle various social and environmental issues like environmental racism, shark finning, deforestation, deep sea/coastal mining, and other water rights challenges.
What is your experience with advocacy?
I would have to say as I reflect on my life thus far, advocacy started when I stood up to a middle school bully and was almost suspended. You see, advocacy is something you do moving forward, but is only felt when you think back on it. Advocacy really should start for yourself, but that was not and is not always the case for me. In the Marine Corps, I became an advocate for Education in my platoon and made sure everyone was doing their Marine Corps Institutes or MCI trainings. I have always advocated for the animals and trees either by speaking out in class or working alongside my first mentor and Miami Dade Parks and Rec to plant native trees after Hurricane Andrew. That was me before - those experiences have snowballed into who I am and what I do today. I still advocate for the animals, trees, oceans, wetlands, and more. It is not just my voice, it is my entire person that battles for justice for those that can not or just do not have the will to.
Why is advocacy in your community important?
My community, my neighborhood, and the place I live in do not know that they can advocate for things. Many think that voting is enough, which I know is difficult from a historical standpoint due to gerrymandering, enslavement, imprisonment, and oppression - all things people from my community endure moment to moment either in person or thought. But it is not enough to just vote. Working as an agent of my community with our elected officials, we can consistently bridge dialogues and work toward a more accountable and just future. When I finished my enlistment with the Marine Corps, the uniform might have changed but my commitment to service is still forged in honor, tempered by courage, and battle-tested by the same commitment.
What does Latino advocacy mean to you?
Como Afro-Latino, I feel sometimes misplaced. I know more than anyone that the diversity which unravels in DNA from minute to minute is more than strength; it is an inherited line of wisdom, knowledge, and freedom. As I draw each breath, I consider myself fortunate to continually push myself to the Frontera like my forebears before me. Latino advocacy means traduciendo para transformar, representation not just in the either, but in voices and more importantly ideas, partnerships, and collaborations to have policies grounded in the equality and equity of our communidades. This work to me means being the one to get my foot in the door and once I push my way in, keeping that door open until there isn’t a door to close. Latino advocacy means listening to El Pueblo you live in and the one that lives inside of you. You see the languages might be different but including a diversity of stakeholders now is the only way to build the roads to peacebuilding across our globe.
How does it feel to get involved?
How does it feel… to me service is duty, a debt without an expiration date, one that I will continue to pay as long as I am who I am. An advocate is not a lobbyist; we do not have off-buttons and this is not a job for us. Many activists like myself wear multiple hats but advocacy is not one of them, because for us it is a spiritual connection that is constantly present when we see each other, work with each other, fail, and win alongside each other. This means that getting involved means you are and will never be alone.
What is your goal for LAW or getting involved in advocacy?
A goal I have for this 2021 LAW session is to support the Oceans Advisory Council team to not just represent our communities, or offer our voices, or even find ourselves at the table. My aim is to work alongside a talented group of advocates who will change the tides, smash the table, and help build a different one where everyone matters... today, tomorrow, and for decades after me.
What do you hope for your community when it comes to advocacy?
I hope to see that day when I will not have to armor up, where my swords remain in its scabbard; my hope is for my community, students, veterans, Latino, etc will not have to advocate and the skies are blue, the oceans calm, and I can spend my days teaching and learning from them beneath the waves. Until then I remain hopeful that I can continue to teach, equip, and train my community to do the work as the next generation emerges. My hope lies with them to hold me and my generation accountable until our shields are passed down to them to use or to display in honor. While the work of advocacy started before me, it feels like one inherits the will of the previous generation to continue and do better as part of their legacies.
What are the gaps you see for your community being involved with advocacy efforts?
GAPS! In my community in Florida, there are many but I will answer these in a form of questions: 1) Can true advocacy work when those that need it the most are not allowed access for multiple reasons?
2) Can advocacy work when the language you operate is not the same as those that make the rules/policies?
3) Can only the wealthy be advocates?
4) How can my community be involved with advocacy efforts when sea-level rise, climate change, and a pandemic both pose as the reason to and the obstacle from advocacy?
A lot of groups tend to operate as islands and I understand that - many fingers, many fists…many hands make for lite work. But I see the gaps being that if all the hands are working towards a very common unity then it quickly becomes a cliché where the left and right hands have no idea what each of them is doing. Pero, as a Latino I honestly have to know what my hands are doing all the time especially as I continue my advocacy efforts.
To learn more about Latino Advocacy Week, please visit latinoadvocacyweek.org.