Fourteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is one busy kid, what with having to save the world and all. As youth spokesman for Earth Guardians, a worldwide environmental nonprofit founded by his mother, Tamara Roske-Martinez, the eco-savant speaks at TED talks, writes and delivers raps against fracking, choreographs hip-hop dances and travels the world from his home in Boulder, inspiring youth to take on the work of cleaning up the planet – because if kids like him are the future, it’s up to them to turn things around.
At the age of six, Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced “shoe-tez-caht,” as he patiently explains for what must be the umpteenth time) saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary The Eleventh Hour, and that was enough to convince him to take a leading role in the youth ecological movement. The rest came naturally: His indigenous-Aztec father had raised him from the start to “acknowledge the beauty of life and my connection to my natural surroundings — the mountains and rivers and lakes of Colorado,” he says.
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“The Eleventh Hour really changed my view of the world and what was at stake,” he adds. “We were destroying the planet that we all rely on, and I was saddened by that, so I decided to put those feelings into action.” Xiuhtezcatl never looked back, and now his younger brother Itzcuauhtli joins him on stage to deliver the Earth Guardians' gospel to their peers through rap, song and dance.
Xiuhtezcatl believes that young people all have some hidden talent or conduit they can use to exact change. “I’m working to achieve goals through engaging young people in nonviolent actions,” he explains. “And getting young people to use what they are passionate about to shape their dreams is also the best way for us to shape the world. A lot of the kids don’t have the kind of support system that I have. We’re trying to provide that, and have spread to six continents, where hundreds of kids are engaged in our programs year-round.”
Hip-hop is an entry point for many of those kids, he notes: “A lot of young people are moving into hip-hop nowadays. But modern rap was garbage — it had no message. They got nothing from it. We rap about a cause, not about drugs and violence and money. We want to make it better, with a more positive message. Kids will listen to it and think about how every action, single decision you make in life works in a negative or positive way.”
And how can kids get involved right now? “Research how people are trying to do better things for the planet,” Xiuhtezcatl says. “Get involved with Earth Guardians or other similar organizations — or start your own. We are here to support this generation, and we’re not going to stop until we accomplish our goals.
As Earth Day approaches, Xiuhtezcatl will take a break from his globe-trotting ways to be part of a Teen Earth Day Festival from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, where he’ll speak and perform prior to a special, teen-friendly performance of the Mercury Motley Players’ Planet Earth — Power Shift. All of the activities are free for teens; go to the Merc's website for information. Lean more about Earth Guardians online.