Being a woman of color in the colorado Water community: an interview with Cindy Medina

This is part 4 of a series on diversity in the water world, check out Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here!

In the final installation of my blog series about Diversity and Inclusion in the Water World, I got to interview Cindy Medina, from Alamosa Riverkeepers. Cindy is a woman of color, a community activist, and a published author. Cindy and I were able to discuss the complexity of holding space for multiple minority identities.

Cindy Medina grew up in the San Luis Valley, on a farm surrounded by animals with roughly 175 acres of land. This rural culture was really important in shaping her values. She identifies as Hispanic and has been working on water issues for over 25 years now. She helped start the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, and at the beginning, she was one of few Hispanic women at the table. “We hardly had any women. There are more women now thankfully, sharing their unique experiences,” she described.

“The water world is very suburban/anglo-dominated,” she stated. Cindy told me about one of her most eye-opening experiences where she spoke at a water conference, held by the Colorado Water Congress. “I was just blown away. It had to have been 99.9% white suburban men in that room. It was very challenging for me to present there with that audience, who were far from my rural upbringing,” she said. The challenge of relating to an audience that, on the surface, had little in common with her was something she learned how to navigate. Whenever she speaks anywhere, she comes with the expectation that people may not agree with her. That’s not her aim either. Cindy hopes to bring a level of consciousness with her perspective, rather than trying to persuade people towards a certain way. She explains: “It’s kind of like opening the door a bit, and then it’s up to them to fully open up that door. What I expect of myself though, is to open that door to new ideas for water policy that includes water security for everyone.”

Throughout our interview, Cindy’s main point was this: “As a minority, you bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table that needs to be heard, but it’s not always easy. For me, it took a lot of gumption to share my perspective on water and the way I grew up, and what water meant to my family.” Cindy highlighted how much courage it takes to share her unique perspective, but that’s also part of the reason she has so much support from other people in the water world.

One of the ways Cindy aims to foster inclusion in her environment is by making friends. Allies, she feels, are essential to her role in the environmental world, as well as to the role of many minorities in this field. “When an organization like the Colorado Water Trust or the CWCB asks me to share my story, I feel that they value my perspective. I feel like I have a friend.” She described how during events if she sees other women of color, she will try to go up to them and tell them how important it is for their voice to be heard.

Cindy’s personal mission to make minorities feel included, valued, and supported, is one to admire. She highlights the importance of support because that was an essential part of her own journey. When starting out at the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, she had a group of people who supported and valued her story, which gave her the courage to continue striving for water security for everyone. “When you go to these conferences, you’re not going to see a lot of brown faces. But just remember, that doesn’t mean your story and your voice isn’t important.” Hearing this was really encouraging to me personally, as a woman of color, as I often feel fearful of speaking up because it might not be relatable to the other people sitting in the room.

When I asked her what helped her the most throughout her journey as a woman of color in the water world, she brought up her ancestors. “In the hard times I went through, I think it was important to remember my ancestors, and what they went through. I mean, my grandfather who was 16 years old, rode a horse by himself all the way from Talpas, New Mexico to Southern Colorado to find work. Remembering his story and challenges has helped me remember that if he got through that, I can share my ideas and challenge old-aged assumptions at meetings and conferences. It’s so important to remember who we are, where we came from and the richness of our culture because I think that holds the capacity for so much inspiration for ourselves and for others. The environment, the earth, water, all of those things go back centuries to our ancestors who revered and fought for them and we have to remember that and grasp this ancestral baton.”

Allyship, vulnerability, courage, and remembering where she came from all played important roles in Cindy’s personal journey as a woman of color navigating the Colorado water world. Perhaps these are things that other people of color can relate to, or learn from if they are just starting out in this industry. Organizations can look to these qualities, and apply them to their own strategies when aiming for better diversity and inclusion outcomes. It takes courage to show up as your authentic self anywhere you go, but knowing that there are supporters willing to listen to your perspective and value your voice is so important. Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your candid, encouraging perspective on what it means to be a woman of color environmentalist, navigating this rocky terrain. I am hopeful that more allies will show up for people of color in the water world, to continue being vulnerable with one another, and to honor and learn from each other’s differences.

Thank you for reading my final blog installation of this series. It was an honor to share the perspective of some of the BIPOC leaders in Colorado’s environmental world. There is much more work to be done, and many more voices that have yet to be heard. Let us continue to elevate the voices of people of color, and work towards greater equality in everything we do.

-Written by Tzigane Martin, former Communications Intern for the Colorado Water Trust.