Saludos! My name is Alan Ruiz Berman and I am a Mexican and American conservation professional, nonprofit specialist, educator, storyteller, environmental artist, and avid outdoor adventurer with a passion for preserving and protecting our biosphere and its rich diversity of life – including the many floral, faunal, and human cultures woven deeply into its fabric.
I enjoy inspiring others to view conservation as a holistic practice and for over a decade have brought diverse people together around the common goal of building a more hopeful and just tomorrow by making conservation goals are more integrated, collaborative, accessible, and equitably shared.
Currently, I live in Tucson, Arizona with my puppy, Bone, where I love learning about the Greater Sonoran ecosystem, and from time to time visiting the northern Gulf of California – one of our planet’s most biodiverse, culturally rich, and productive seas.
A Brief History of My Journey Into Conservation & Community Work
In 1983, the year that Caribbean coral reefs saw their first major bleaching event from global warming, I was born in the world’s largest metropolis, Mexico DF, to a large and culturally eclectic family. I am proud of my roots and enjoy thinking that not so long-ago my ciudad de nacimiento (city of birth) was Tenochtitlan – the Mexica capital of the Aztec Empire, a civilization that rivaled Europe and the Middle East in its scientific achievements and that floated atop a huge volcanic lake. Diego Rivera’s epic mural rendering of the Pre-Colombian city and its sustaining Chinampas, or floating fields, remains among my favorite works of art. I am also greatly inspired by Aztec art and cosmology and lament the extent to which colonization erased this history.
I left Mexico as a toddler and grew up in New England, primarily in Massachusetts and Connecticut where my brother and I were raised in two homes with intertidal wetlands in the backyard. As a youth, I could often be found wading in black, stinky, anoxic marsh mud or hanging over the edge of a dock to explore the colorful invertebrates and fish below. Our neighbor, Róbert, a master chef and fisherman, and a veteran of the French Foreign Legion, played a major role in my life, introducing us kids to the incredible nuance of the Long Island Sound’s estuarine ecosystem, which he knew as well as the recipe of onion soup. Unsurprisingly, my first job in conservation was opening and creating the exhibits for a new wetland Nature Center down the road from my house at Sherwood Island State Park for the CT Department of Environmental Protection.
I must also mention with pride that my mother, Estela Ruiz, is a dedicated chemistry professor in Norwalk, Connecticut, and my father, Jeffrey Neil is a leading heart doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut (two of our nation’s poorest cities). Thanks to their example, I strive to be a compassionate and progressive member of my community and to work across social, economic, and physical borders. My older brother, Christian Ruiz Berman, ever the family bird-nerd, is a professional painter based in New York’s Hudson Valley, from where he often tackles environmental themes with his brush. Art-appreciation, science, and excursions to spectacularly wild areas have always brought our family together around nature and the creative spirit.
After graduating from a small high school called Greens Farms Academy in 2001, I embarked on a one-year-long outdoor-leadership course in New Zealand’s North Island as the only foreigner. It was here that Richard Vincent Venimore, my legendary instructor, first made me conscious of the word “conservation.” I will admit with some shame that he used it in peeved reference to my contaminating a perfect stream in the bush with mayonnaise from a lunching knife that I had begun rinsing – something I had often done when camping in the American West. Richard, however, was rightfully concerned about the added substance’s impact on a more delicately balanced food web, and did not need to mention his sacred relationship to the stream as Taonga – a natural treasure that possessed Maui, or life force. Thanks to many such early experiences and teachers, I naturally migrated towards studies in cultural learning, conservation biology, and science education. What is more, I have learned that Kaitiakitanga – appreciation, active guardianship, and wise-management of nature in the Māori worldview – when performed at local and regional levels can have ripple effects on society at large.
I feel it is my calling to work at the interface of ecology and community and consider my capacity to learn from people of different cultures and backgrounds than my own to be an invaluable life skill, and one I enjoy developing as both a layperson and professional. I have a keen interest in knowledge systems pertaining to traditional and Indigenous cultures and am forever grateful for life-changing opportunities to have learned directly from the Māori in New Zealand, Quandamooka in Australia, Afro-Taíno islanders in the Dominican Republic, Comcáac in Mexico, and Tohono O’odham in Southern Arizona, among other fascinating peoples. In the light of these lasting, resilient, and often sustainable world views, I think we must challenge the dominant, consumer-driven paradigm, which despite its many societal benefits is evidently bringing our species and biosphere to the brink of collapse.
The question I most enjoy asking is, “how can our society better integrate science, traditional cultures, the humanities, grassroots efforts, and political action into one synergistic framework that will ensure a future with accessible education, public services, sustainable livelihoods, and the capacity for people to exist peacefully, comfortably, and in harmony with their natural heritage?” I strive to answer this question by building new bridges and taking down existing barriers, with the hope that future generations will look back at our efforts with pride and be able to look forward into the long-term future with great optimism.
It’s very nice to meet you, and I look forward to collaborating!
Alan Ruiz Berman