As the omnipresent sun climbed the sky and approached its zenith, more than 60 people had already felt, smelled, seen and even heard the texture of the earth in Kennedy Park as their feet plunged their shovels into the lithosphere, the solid layer of our planet’s biosphere that provides a home for all life forms, including us humans.
To the children, this was their chance to play and become connected to their surroundings. Some, such as 7-year-old Alyssa, were learning for the first time how to plant a tree. She learned how to put mulch over it once planted to keep the water from evaporating too fast and to encourage healthy bacteria and fungi to live with the tree in a symbiotic relationship. I explained this to her in Spanish, and also affirmed it in English since she understood both--but sometimes we may understand or feel certain things better in one of our languages if it has a personal symbolic connection to an idea or a ritual that is practiced within the culture where that language comes from.
To the Parks and Recreation employees who work outdoors, this was a routine activity and their chance to share their knowledge with the public as they demonstrated the best way to plant a tree. Other employees and staff, who usually keep the Parks and Recreation Office running from indoors, were making a full circle connection to their job by moving from the paperwork and applications they must process daily to a hands-on experience with soil. They organized and hosted Napa’s Arbor Day, thanks to the efforts of David Perazzo, Parks Superintendent. People were extremely grateful for the work he and the rest of Parks and Recreation accomplished. Everyone listened attently as the elected officials and the representatives from Parks and recreation read the Proclamtion of Napa Arbor Day together.
To the Napa Valley Ethnic Studies Advocates, Arbor Day was Xinachtli, a Nahuatl (Aztec/Mexica) word that means “germinating seed”. Xinachtil is the seed that is in the ground, neither a static seed nor a plant in bloom, but a seed with unlimited potential to take root and grow in many directions. Xinachtli is a concept that is taught in Chicano Studies, a branch of Ethnic Studies. NVESA seeks to implement Ethnic Studies in our schools, including Filipino-American Studies and African-American Studies, depending on the demographic needs of the different areas of Napa County. Their goal is to cultivate unity, understanding, and appreciation of the different experiences that people from different groups carry, so that people can have a critical consciousness and learn about the way our modern society has been knitted together by the contributions of many different people. NVESA planted trees alongside high school students from the Migrant Education Program, who themselves planted trees alongside students from Napa High and New Technology High.
Speaking of contributions, many would not have had the energy to plant trees that day if it wasn’t for the Arabs. Yes, the Arabs! We should be extremely grateful for one of their contributions to the world: coffee. Napa Arbor Day organizers welcomed volunteers with coffee and morning treats from Golden Bagel and La Morenita Market, among others. For lunch, tree planters feasted upon hearty burritos from Tacos Michoacan, Tacos Tres Hermanos, and Taquería la Jerezana. These are local businesses started and run by immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. They are restaurants or taco trucks that sell Mexican food-- although burritos are not Mexican. They are a Mexican-American invention, a transcultural nexus point, like Spanglish. If you asked for a burrito in Mexico, you would literally be asking for a young or small donkey.
How did all these Latino and Chicano people get involved in Arbor Day? At many if not most of the events or gatherings where the future of Napa is being shaped, discussed or decided, half of our community’s voice is missing: that of the Latino community. We should not forget that we have a large Filipino population in American canyon. They are one of the fastest growing immigrant populations, according to the most recent immigration study funded by the Napa Valley Community Foundation. We should also remember that, but the Latino community is an important focus within the City of Napa.
In order to mobilize the Latino community, Latinos Unidos de Napa (LUNA) partnered with Parks and Recreation to help mobilize people. Latinos Unidos created a flyer in Spanish, collected food donations from local Latino businesses, and announced el “Día del Arbol” by word of mouth and through KBBF 89.1 FM , the Santa Rosa-Calistoga bilingual radio station that reaches out across most of the Napa Valley. Although the turnout from the Latino Community was a little lower than what LUNA expected, a very noticeable number came, and many people were aware of the event.
I know that my family was aware of it, but none of them came. As I planted trees, my mother was making tamales, pozole and atole, and taking her collection of cans and bottles to the recycling center to make some extra income, struggling to find some time in between to complete her English homework from the Napa Valley Adult School. She wants to pass the citizenship test. She cannot drive but she rides her adult tricycle to school during the week. My oldest sister was cleaning hotel bathrooms, rooms and beds, and my older brother was harvesting the last batch of grapes for the season. By the time I got up and left my home for Arbor Day that morning, he was just returning home after his nocturnal job, ready to fall like a tree trunk and sleep.
Arbor Day wasn’t the only thing happening in Napa that day. We had the AIDS Walk, the Coffin Race, Zombies running loose, the bilingual Food Day at the Farmer’s Market, plastic bag cleaning day by Napa Valley CanDo, the Harvest Festival at Connolly Ranch, and landscaping work at the VOICES center.
Let’s continue to create a healthy Napa. We need to create spaces and networks so that the non-Latino community can easily reach out to the Latino community, and vice versa. We need to kindle a space where all groups, like the Filipino, Native American, Asian and and African-American communities can also be in collaboration with all of us. I witnessed this collaboration at el Día de Arbol. Through the simple act of planting trees, we planted some seeds in the hearts and minds of adults and children, or at least I hope we did. Let us continue to plant seeds together in our neighbor’s hearts and minds. Seeds will eventually sprout and grow, even in unexpected places. They have an unlimited potential, and if necessary, will even break through concrete.
[All content herein written is purely my personal observation and opinion]