Holding Your Ground and Leading With Your Heart

When I tell people I want to challenge the system, many say it can’t be done. They ask me about my education, and I say, “Why, yes, I do have my Master’s.” Then I point around in reference to my ancestors. 

My maternal grandfather and grandmother migrated to the United States as part of the Bracero Program, which brought millions of guest workers from México to the United States. In Jalisco, my maternal grandmother’s family still has their potreros—meadows or pastures—where they grow sugarcane. My mother Yolanda was also a farmworker in the Imperial Valley. I guess you can say that growing food is in my blood. 

It wasn’t until later in my life, however, that I began to truly understand how food is at the intersection of many disparities that challenge our communities, and how much of these disparities are formed based on race. 

Today, my organization, Mundo Gardens, connects the dots of community, food, and justice, and makes it a little bit more possible for communities like mine to grow the food we want, participate in improving our living conditions, and increase access to healthy food. We say, Queremos mas arte, mas parques, mas jardines, y celebrar nuestra buena salud. We put the cultura en agricultura.

Mundo Gardens truly began two decades ago, with a man named Jose Nuñez and the vacant plot of land he farmed by his home for many years. It was a jungle of banana trees, tomatoes, mint, and citrus. Joe, as we called him, gardened daily and shared the fruits of his labor with neighbors and the community. And he was willing to teach you, if you were willing to learn. 

After Joe moved away with his family in 2008, the garden was uncared for and became overgrown with weeds. My siblings Michael and Michelle, middle schoolers at the time and the youngest of the Luna Reynoso Family, approached National City’s City Council to share the idea of converting the lot into a community garden. In 2010, we broke ground at Joe’s Pocket Farm—now part of Mundo Gardens. Along with family, friends, local organizations San Diego Victory Gardens and YALLA, and the support of National City, we began the work to transform the garden back to its original purpose.

The reopening of the community garden is a testimony that we can do it! I’m a single mother raising my three daughters on my own, no degree, working three jobs—and I was able to impact the local food system with the help of community and family. 

My community has grown since this journey has begun. I can walk through many of our barrios and the hood and call it my own. I feel at home and I love my community, the land, the water, the artists and their art, our music, our cultura, the activists, the Indiginous Caretakers since time immemorial, the struggle, the healing. Land is such a big part of it, the earth, la madre tierra. We are only here for an amount of time and we can work and collaborate with each other and nature to be the best stewards as possible. We belong to the land but yes I do dream of buying up blocks in our barrios to mitigate gentrification and grow our own food, for us. If leadership and business owners can help us do that, that would be awesome. 

At the heart though, Black, Indigneous, Latinx, and other people of color should hold the power to make decisions for their communities. But there are many challenges that stand in the way of increasing BIPOC leadership. I know because I have experienced these challenges. I have experienced the pushback when leadership is uncomfortable with change. I have also experienced being the only one who looks like me at decision making tables. I have even been challenged by other BIPOC leaders when thinking outside the box or advocating for anti-racist practices. 

Persistence is key. Continuing to encourage leaders to see food systems as a priority in a culturally responsive and responsible way will benefit us all. I just keep going, and eventually hope that my passion and persistence will open more doors than they close. Ears and hearts will open if you consistently sing the same song and truly represent.

My advice to others is to stay authentic and hold your ground. Do not change your values to fit in a box. Be bold and specific about what you want and what you don’t want. Show up when you can. It makes a difference. And most importantly, always recognize the land and original people of where you stand. This land we are on is Kumeyaay Land and we are fortunate enough to have the Kumeyaay Community active in San Diego County. Hold your ground and lead with heart, the people will not forget you and you cannot forget the people. 

Janice is the Founder of Mundo Gardens, and longtime community leader in National City. Janice remains inspired by her families farmworker heritage, and history of community organizing. Her work through Mundo Gardens addressess deep inequities in the food system through connection to land, and community.

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