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Mariana Meza: Young Activist

Interviewed and transcribed by Celine Dipp


What‌ ‌activist‌ ‌circles‌ ‌are‌ ‌you‌ ‌a‌ ‌part‌ ‌of?‌ ‌How‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌incite‌ ‌change?‌ ‌

I‌ ‌just‌ ‌very‌ ‌recently‌ ‌got‌ ‌into‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌this.‌ ‌I‌ ‌mean,‌ ‌I‌ ‌guess‌ ‌what‌ ‌you‌ ‌would‌ ‌call‌ ‌activism.‌ ‌A‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌March‌ ‌for‌ ‌Our‌ ‌Lives‌ ‌prefer‌ ‌being‌ ‌called‌ ‌organizing,‌ ‌especially‌ ‌now‌ ‌that‌ ‌we’re‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌digital‌ ‌format‌ ‌-‌ ‌digital‌ ‌ organizing.‌ ‌But,‌ ‌so‌ ‌far,‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌a‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ ‌March‌ ‌for‌ ‌Our‌ ‌Lives,‌ ‌and,‌ ‌obviously,‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌very‌ ‌clearly‌ ‌known‌ ‌for‌ ‌gun‌ ‌violence.‌ ‌It’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌pretty‌ ‌intersectional‌ ‌organization.‌ ‌You‌ ‌know,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌also‌ ‌been‌ ‌dealing‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌current‌ ‌issues‌ ‌lately,‌ ‌and‌ ‌also‌ ‌recognizes‌ ‌that‌ every‌ ‌social‌ ‌issue‌ ‌you‌ ‌encounter‌ ‌intertwines.‌ ‌I‌ ‌guess,‌ ‌in‌ ‌terms‌ ‌of‌ ‌other‌ ‌organizations,‌ ‌you‌ ‌know,‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌only‌ ‌really‌ ‌been‌ ‌doing‌ ‌community‌ ‌service-type‌ ‌things.‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌that‌ ‌March‌ ‌for‌ ‌Our‌ ‌Lives‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌very‌ ‌first‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌involved‌ ‌in‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌classified‌ ‌as‌ ‌activism.‌ ‌

What‌ ‌we’ve‌ ‌been‌ ‌doing‌ ‌so‌ ‌far‌ ‌is‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌spark‌ ‌conversations‌ ‌in‌ ‌El‌ ‌Paso‌ ‌-‌ ‌especially‌ ‌because‌ ‌this‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌great‌ ‌city,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌also‌ ‌so‌ ‌traditional.‌ ‌We’re‌ ‌a‌ ‌pretty‌ ‌big‌ ‌city,‌ ‌but,‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌time,‌ ‌it‌ ‌really‌ ‌feels‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌town.‌ ‌For‌ ‌that‌ ‌same‌ ‌reason,‌ ‌it‌ ‌feels‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌very‌ ‌important‌ ‌conversations‌ ‌are‌ ‌le‌t ‌out.‌ ‌On‌ ‌a‌ larger‌ ‌scale,‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌see‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌very‌ ‌important‌ ‌conversations‌ ‌about‌ ‌gun‌ ‌violence‌ ‌prevention,‌ ‌but‌ ‌here‌ ‌in‌ ‌El‌ ‌Paso‌ ‌that‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌really‌ ‌start‌ ‌until‌ ‌August‌ ‌3rd,‌ ‌and,‌ ‌even‌ ‌then,‌ ‌it‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌everything‌ ‌just‌ ‌faded‌ ‌a‌ ‌er‌ ‌that.‌ ‌So,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think,‌ ‌everything‌ ‌we‌ ‌do‌ ‌here‌ ‌is‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌raise‌ ‌awareness‌ ‌about‌ ‌that.‌ ‌ ‌

How do you define Activism?

I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌feel‌ ‌personally‌ ‌like‌ ‌an‌ ‌activist.‌ ‌I‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌activism‌ ‌has‌ ‌this‌ ‌stigma‌ ‌around‌ ‌it.‌ ‌What‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌news,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌the‌ ‌heteronormative‌ ‌activists‌ ‌that‌ ‌are‌ ‌being‌ ‌highlighted.‌ ‌For‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌people,‌ ‌even‌ ‌calling‌ ‌it‌ ‌activism‌ ‌feels‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌reach‌ ‌and‌ ‌like‌ ‌only‌ ‌certain‌ ‌people‌ ‌can‌ ‌do‌ ‌that‌ ‌-‌ ‌like‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌special‌ ‌

to‌ ‌do‌ ‌that.‌ ‌I‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌activism‌ ‌could‌ ‌best‌ ‌be‌ ‌defined‌ ‌by‌ ‌organizing,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌into‌ ‌account‌ ‌very‌ ‌important‌ ‌

social‌ ‌issues.‌ ‌Not‌ ‌just‌ ‌doing‌ ‌that,‌ ‌but‌ ‌also‌ ‌making‌ ‌sure‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌provide‌ ‌some‌ ‌action‌ ‌in‌ ‌terms‌ ‌of‌ ‌that.‌ ‌Can‌ ‌

can‌ ‌be‌ ‌as‌ ‌small‌ ‌as‌ ‌signing‌ ‌a‌ ‌petition,‌ ‌or‌ ‌joining‌ ‌an‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌starting‌ ‌an‌ ‌organization.‌ ‌ ‌

How has your understanding of justice changed over time?

To‌ ‌socially‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like,‌ ‌especially‌ ‌when‌ ‌I‌ ‌was‌ ‌little,‌ ‌-‌ ‌I‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌when‌ ‌everybody‌ ‌is‌ ‌little‌ ‌-‌ ‌they‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌justice‌ ‌is‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌expected‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌expected‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌being‌ ‌strived‌ ‌for‌ ‌by‌ ‌everyone,‌ ‌especially‌ ‌law‌ ‌enforcement.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌conversations‌ ‌right‌ ‌now‌ ‌that‌ ‌are‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌with‌ ‌race‌ ‌and‌ ‌police‌ ‌brutality,‌ ‌I‌ ‌feel‌ ‌like‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌very‌ ‌transformation‌ ‌of‌ ‌that‌ ‌perception.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌becoming‌ ‌very‌ ‌clear‌ ‌that‌ ‌what‌ ‌is‌ ‌defined‌ ‌by‌ ‌justice‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌activist‌ ‌and‌ ‌activist‌ ‌groups‌ ‌isn’t‌ ‌necessarily‌ ‌what‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌law‌ ‌enforcement‌ ‌-‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌that‌ ‌are‌ ‌supposed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌striving‌ ‌for‌ ‌justice‌ ‌-‌ ‌it's‌ ‌very‌ ‌clear‌ ‌that‌ ‌that's‌ ‌not‌ ‌what‌ ‌they‌ ‌stand‌ ‌for‌ ‌anymore.‌ ‌So,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌this‌ ‌concept‌ ‌of‌ ‌justice‌ ‌is‌ ‌kind‌ ‌of‌ ‌just‌ ‌being‌ ‌warped‌ ‌if‌ ‌not‌ ‌ignore‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit.‌ ‌For‌ ‌me,‌ ‌it's‌ ‌just‌ ‌about‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌find‌ ‌a‌ ‌way‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌that‌ ‌back‌ ‌and‌ ‌get‌ ‌that‌ ‌out‌ ‌there.‌ ‌ ‌

What brought you to social justice?

Even‌ ‌before‌ ‌August‌ ‌3rd,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌the‌ ‌very‌ ‌first‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that--‌ ‌I‌ ‌was‌ ‌very,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌people‌ ‌are‌ ‌unaware,‌ ‌that‌ ‌there's‌ ‌such‌ ‌a‌ ‌thing‌ ‌as‌ ‌activism‌ ‌or,‌ ‌you‌ ‌know,‌ ‌community-based‌ ‌organizations‌ ‌doing‌ ‌this‌ ‌type‌ ‌of‌ ‌work—and‌ ‌so,‌ ‌when‌ ‌we‌ ‌had‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌very‌ ‌first‌ ‌march‌ ‌following‌ ‌Parkland‌ ‌and‌ ‌every‌ ‌school‌ ‌was‌ ‌involved,‌ ‌marching‌ ‌outside‌ ‌of‌ ‌their‌ ‌classrooms,‌ ‌I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌very‌ ‌student-driven‌ ‌but,‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌time,‌ ‌I‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌I‌ ‌didn't‌ ‌know‌ ‌that‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌way‌ ‌that‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌done‌ ‌because,‌ ‌you‌ ‌know,‌ ‌I‌ ‌just‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌something‌ ‌that‌ ‌everybody‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌upon‌ ‌themselves ‌individually,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌wasn't‌ ‌a‌ ‌school‌ ‌club‌ ‌that‌ ‌I‌ ‌thought‌ ‌I'd‌ ‌could‌ ‌just‌ ‌find.‌ ‌I‌ ‌guess‌ ‌what‌ ‌drew‌ ‌me‌ ‌to‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌actually‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌research.‌ ‌Especially,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌months‌ ‌before‌ ‌August‌ ‌3rd,‌ ‌I‌ ‌don't‌ ‌know‌ ‌why‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌why‌ ‌I‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌start‌ ‌it‌ ‌before‌ ‌honestly.‌ ‌It's‌ ‌something‌ ‌I‌ ‌feel‌ ‌kind‌ ‌of‌ ‌really‌ ‌guilty‌ ‌about‌ ‌but,‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌even before then, it's just something that had to be done, and if it wouldn’t have been me I'm sure it would have been somebody else.

What do you think are some of the greatest struggles you've experienced in your time engaging activism?

I think the biggest struggle is digital organizing or having to adapt to this entirely new format. Just because, when we came into this reading the March for Our Lives handbook, getting ready, mentally prepared for what we expected a lot of activist actions were like rallies and protests, it was very odd to see all of that kind of flipped upside the head and have to adapt to this new digital format and try to find a way to spread the same message - especially when we were so new to this. It was a really big challenge for a lot of us to see how it could be just as effective, but, even before the pandemic, everybody was pretty engaged in the media. So, it was not a blessing in disguise, but it was a pretty good challenge that we had. Now, even a er the pandemic, I know that digital organizing is an option that we have available to us.

What's most fulfilling about it?

I think just seeing that people care. I didn't expect-- I thought like 10 people would join. When I first joined March for Our Lives, I didn’t know that there were hundreds of chapters out there. Seeing that other people my age actually care about what's going on is something that's very satisfying to me because you feel like you're not alone in caring about this. Especially when it's young people, it definitely brings a lot of hope because you feel like you have something to look forward to in the future.

what can others do to engage?

I think the first thing a lot of people do to get started is to do research. So, if they want to join a community organization based around a certain cause then there are a lot of opportunities to do that, but they're just hidden beneath the surface, and you kind of need to go looking for them. And, even if there aren't, they also have the opportunity to be able to start those. It's definitely a challenge but, at the same time, I think it's something that's really worth it. Even if it's not something on that scale, something that we've seen right now - especially with digital organizing - is making sure people use their platforms for the right reason. It’s not just posting a black square but making sure that you are educating the people around you because it's not the job of any disenfranchised communities to educate others. Make sure to use your platform to spread awareness, maybe follow some community-based organizations that are doing some really great work and continue yourself on any issue that is really important to everybody right now, and especially that is important to you. I think the more you learn about it, the more that you can find ways to engage with that specific issue in a more action-based manner.

what would you say is the most important part of being an activist?


I think the learning. On a personal level, I think the learning process is pretty important because the first thing that you learn when you're an organizer, especially when you're in March for Our Lives, what you're doing is something that actually matters, even on a grassroots level, and it's definitely not something that you should be doing for your college applications (what a lot of people call cloutivism, which I didn’t even know what a thing before I first joined). When you first start, you encounter so many people that are very passionate about different subjects than you are passionate about, and I think that's like a very grounding thing. You just have to realize that like the work that you're doing is not something that puts you on a pedestal but, at the same time, it's still something that you need to take seriously. Even the smallest thing that you do could maybe just interest like two other people in your city, and, if it does that then, I think that that you've done a pretty good job of getting yourself started.

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