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To My Bebito

Yessenia Funes  /  July 26, 2023  /  6 Min Read  /  Community, Activism

Climate and sustainability journalist Yessenia Funes writes to her future child—the one she hopes to have and has been afraid of bringing into our world.

Illustrations by Alexandra Bowman

My little love,

I wasn’t always certain about you. I used to obsess over the questions my child would one day ask me. Why is the world like this? Why the floods, fires, fear? Where is the clean water and air? Who caused this? What did you do to stop it? The thought used to terrify me. It still does. How does a person look their bebito in the eye and explain that they are here because they symbolize all the love their mother carries inside? That their mother delivered them not because she wanted them to suffer but because she wanted to ease her own suffering.

To My Bebito

How do I explain to you, mi amor, that you’re here out of my selfishness? That I wanted to be a mother, so damn it—I became one! I love you, child of mine who does not yet exist but who I hope someday will. I stopped obsessing over these questions that you may or may not ask one day because I realized that they don’t matter. Not really.

Perhaps the world wasn’t always overrun with wildfires and hurricanes, but our people have always faced the end of an era. Ours is merely the end of the fossil fuel era—an end that is unbearably violent and divisive. An end that is the beginning of something else. And that’s because of the existence of children like you: babies born to loving parents grieving the loss of an old world yet emboldened to build a better one.

We must. Somehow. That’s the future I’m betting on when I reach into my heart to pull you out.

To My Bebito

But I wasn’t always sure of you. You see, the situation here doesn’t feel too great most days. I turn to my newsfeed and see headlines about police killing unarmed Black men. I ride the New York City subway where unhoused people are missing shoes and shirts. I read about governors who want to limit what children like you can read and study in school—elected officials who want to regulate who you are and who you’re allowed to become.

The news can be heavy. Luckily, your mama covers the news for a living, specifically about the planet and the activists trying to protect it. They are the ones who keep me inspired. Their work and worldview compel me to remember: We will get through this because we always have, and we can make this better.

A few months ago, I visited Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood where Black and Brown working-class, immigrant communities (like the type I grew up in) are attempting to build a paraíso of solar energy full of fresh food and freedom. They’re standing up to polluters and gentrifiers while speaking up for renewables and green jobs.

I was there to visit Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the local climate justice organization UPROSE. We met for a story I published about auto-shop owners and their climate adaptation efforts since Superstorm Sandy blew through their neighborhood 10 years ago. Some days are hard, but on days like these, I know yours can be a loving world, too.

I step outside, respiro, and I see how incredibly miraculous it is that I exist—that the universe made it so I can be alive at this exact moment, that your nana migrated to the US many decades ago from a life of extreme poverty in El Salvador, affording me an existence of dreams and wealth she never imagined for her niños. When I say wealth, I don’t mean money and riches. I don’t speak of the indulgence and greed that brought us to the edge of the end. I mean a wealth of love, of community, of possibility.

I will not give up on humanity. And others won’t, either. The climate crisis can’t stop babies from being born.

Parents of histories past didn’t allow the atrocities and war and genocides of their time to keep them from creating their purest expression of love: their chiquitos. Today, parents are brave enough to conceive in circumstances more difficult than mine. They will continue to do so. The world needs you. I need you. It’s selfish, I know, but if human existence requires such suffering, surely, it should offer such love, too, right?

I hope I can instill in you this same sense of awe for our planet and ambition for our species. I want you to feel a sense of determination for creation. I mean create as in creativity: imagining, building, molding, dreaming, fighting, ensuring a just world for all. For the innocent babies of the world.

To My Bebito

When I imagine your life, I hope for a childhood full of picturesque road trips, silly bedtime stories, and strange and surprising meals. My childhood was full of love, but it was limited in experiences. Before the age of 6, I could barely play in my front yard because our neighborhood wasn’t safe. I remember waking up one morning in that house to find that our TV and video games had been stolen. We moved after that. In the fifth grade, I finally traveled somewhere beyond my immediate Long Island enclave: El Salvador. My parents took me, your tío and your tía to their homeland, a tiny tropical country in Central America.

Growing up, I remained in environments where fear was currency for respect. If people weren’t scared of someone, they usually didn’t respect them. If you weren’t scary, you were a target. I sure as hell wasn’t scary. My currency was good grades, but by the time I reached middle school, I felt like a loser because of it.

I began to idolize gang life—until your tío was shot in a gang-related drive-by. He survived, but his experience left me with an eternal fear of who would be next and a deep hatred of guns and what they can do to people. Just a few years ago, my heart broke again when a shooting happened outside your primos’ house. Before you, I only had them—they were my babies—but that event (even though they were safe) triggered me. I was that 12-year-old girl all over again, full of panic and terror. Something terrible had just happened, and my loved ones no longer felt safe.

I don’t want that for you. I worry sometimes that this is some kind of generational curse our people carry. Before me, there was your nana—and what she lived through was something else. That’s a story for another letter. I hope that, with you, I can break the cycle of hardship our family has faced. I hope to imbue you with love.

To My Bebito

I believe love will find its place in your world—in politics and policing. I hope our leaders will invest in peace and safety. I dare to dream of communities where you and your classmates judge one another based on your character and commitment to each another, rather than the kicks on your feet or the colors you all rep. By the time you’re in school, I hope its roofs are covered in solar panels, or alive with gardens and plants, and that your class takes trips outside into nature without a worry about guns or shootings.

I hope teachers greet you with free breakfast and words of affirmation, that school entrances no longer require the heavy militarization (security, cameras and metal detectors) I experienced as a child. Instead, these institutions will invest in counseling and mental-health resources, in art and sports and after-school activities. I hope by the time you’re reading this that families have access to good-paying jobs so that no one has to struggle.

This struggle is at the root of all this violence—slow and direct—many of us face today.

How can we expect our children to help us build a better world if they’re in pain? How do we expect them to grow up strong and caring if they’re hungry and alone? How can they confront the climate crisis if they’re in crisis?

Con todo mi alma,

Mom

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