Susana Almanza is a founding member and Director of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources), a grassroots environmental, economic and social justice organization. Susana has overcome poverty, prejudice, and segregated schools to face down some of the world’s most powerful transnational corporations.
Susana is an indigenous person of the continent of America and resides in East Austin, Texas. She is a longtime community organizer, and educator, mother and grandmother. Susana participated in the civil rights movement as a Brown Beret taking up issues of police brutality, quality education and equity in school systems and health care as a right not a privilege.
Susana Almanza is a proven leader and nationally recognized environmental justice activist. Susana is a model of civic engagement; Almanza has spent her life organizing for the advancement of the underprivileged in the neighborhoods of East Austin and beyond. Susana served on the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Board and has served on the City’s Planning Commission, Environmental Board and the Community Development Commission. Susana continues her struggle for human rights demanding environmental justice and a better quality of life for people of color, all humanity and for future generations.
For more biography on Susana, visit here.
What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?
I grew up in poverty in East Austin, the segregated part of Austin, Texas that in some parts rivaled unlivable conditions found in third world countries. Both my parents were not formally educated. My parents only spoke Spanish and I could see that they were being treated as second-class citizens. I experienced cultural prejudice, because of the part of town in which I lived; I had to attend segregated schools. I saw firsthand the poverty and the economic inequity. As I started attending integrated schools during my high school years, I saw the differences in the schooling that I and others received in the segregated schools, I saw the educational inequality. It is the total of all these life experiences at an early age; cultural, educational, social, and economic injustices, which have motivated me to be a community activist.
Who would you consider your social justice heroes?
I have to credit my parents for their very humble teachings. My mother taught me to plant the seeds in the earth and to massage her so that she would give us food. My dad taught me to respect everyone regardless of race. Together they taught me how not to waste, how to share and the understanding of need versus wants. They helped develop my voice, so that I could advocate for them and others. My parents, two humble people, with little formal education were so knowledgeable about life and full of wisdom. I have been blessed to have so many heroes or as I call them friends, mentors, allies and family. All these people have shared their knowledge and wisdom with me and have helped me stay on a path of justice in a world that acts out so many injustices.
What gives you hope for the future?
New born babies give me hope for the future. A new generation which doesn’t want to accept racism gives me hopes for the future. Education that speaks to the truth gives me hope for the future. Social change organizing, which acknowledges the understanding of cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves gives me hope.
What books would you recommend people look at for social change?
Two books by Domingo Martinez Paredez – Un Continente y una Cultura and Hunab Ku: Sìntesis Del Pensamiento Filosófico Maya. These books inform us about the philosophy of an indigenous people before the arrival of the Europeans on this continent. One must understand culture and the natural world so that we can advance social change.
El pensamiento vivo de Sandino by Sergio Ramírez Mercado: This book informs the readers about exploitation and oppression and how grassroots people organized to bring change in their communities.
Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
Che Guevara Reader: Writings by Ernesto Che Guevara on Guerrilla Strategy Politics & Revolution – Edited by David Deutschmann
I would also recommend reading Dr. Bob Bullard’s books. He has published numerous books.
Are there any movies you recommend for teaching about social justice and change?
The Motorcycle Diaries of Che Guevara
The new Cesar Chavez by Diego Luna