Texture Presidio – Ramon Rodriguez Aranda

Photo by Hannah Gentiles

Texture Presidio uses the art of photography and storytelling to explore and highlight the textures and tales that make South Presidio County and the surrounding desert landscape both beautifully ordinary and unique.

As I chatted with Ramon Rodriguez Aranda, a recent graduate of Presidio High School, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at his unwavering commitment to leading and motivating groups and initiatives toward a greener community, especially in the face of the growing climate crisis. When I asked him about his inspiration, he replied with a twinkle in his eye: “The whole community is my motivation. We are a town with limited resources, often leading to a lack of education. These climate issues are new to many people here. As a young person, I feel raising awareness about these issues is important.”

Throughout our conversation, he noted several times: “We are the generation that will be most affected.”

Aranda’s leadership skills are as impressive as his passion for the environment. He has held several high-profile positions this past year, including National Honor Society president, class president and Rocketry Committee president. He has also revitalized several PHS traditions, such as homecoming, more frequent pep rallies, and other spirited events throughout the school year. Despite his youth, he is an active volunteer and helps to facilitate community events. Community leaders know they can count on Ramon.

Aranda’s love for environmental causes began in his early years as he was captivated by a presentation on recycling from local community leaders Elvira Hermosilla and Liz Rohana in his kindergarten class. They continued to inspire and support him throughout the years as they carried out important work. He holds a special reverence for them and got emotional while speaking about a recent event they organized together for young students through the Big Bend Conservation Alliance — there, they commented that there might be a future Ramon in the crowd of children who would take the initiative to benefit their community and the environment in the same way he has. Aranda’s unwavering dedication and involvement in a small town that has struggled to encourage significant community involvement inspires hope.

Aranda has been involved in various activities over the years. Still, his greatest passion lies in addressing the climate crisis. He is dedicated to educating others, creating real change and starting conversations about the future impacts on the environment.

During his eighth-grade year, Aranda was stirred by the wave of youth-led protests happening across the globe and the tenacity of his idol, Greta Thunberg. He couldn’t help but take action in his community of Presidio, thus birthing Project Homeleaf. This movement was akin to a growing tree, with each “leaf” playing a vital role in its development. Aranda boldly rallied his classmates to join the cause, even standing on top of a cafeteria table during lunch, calling out to his fellow students.

After a successful recruitment, 10 students banded together to make up the passionate team of Project Homeleaf. Those 10 students remain at the helm of the organization. Often in partnership with Big Bend Conservation Alliance, they have effectively coordinated events and initiatives to tackle the climate crisis. Amid the pandemic, Aranda took it upon himself to grow a collection of tree saplings to distribute to each household in Presidio. Eventually, he teamed up with BBCA and began donating trees to any community member who expressed interest, brandishing shovels and donning gloves, ready to dig.

In 2022, Project Homeleaf organized the first Climate Summit in the area, inviting the community to learn from local climate experts about how climate change has and will affect the region. The group also revitalized the rock planters lining O’Reilly Street with beautiful native foliage and helped revive the city’s dormant recycling program. As a result, the recycling center is now accessible two days a week. They have also placed two recycling bins across town to encourage community recycling further.

Aranda proposed an innovative xeriscaping design to create a green space at the high school that utilized native plants, reduced water usage, improved commuter safety and provided better access for disabled individuals. He presented a detailed proposal on costs, materials and installation time to the school board and maintenance director early in the school year. His hard work paid off as the project has since been completed, leaving a true legacy as he exited PHS.

Aranda is dedicated to expanding the success of Project Homeleaf and hopes to duplicate its model in other small towns — Marfa, Alpine and beyond. He will soon go on to complete his biology/environmental science degree at UTPB and pursue a master’s degree at Texas Tech to best arm himself for success. Aranda and his team operate without a formal hierarchy, as he believes in giving people the freedom to explore different roles. In addition, they are actively engaging with young people to ensure that their work continues, and they plan to return regularly to provide support.

Aranda’s mission is to arm people with information so that they can better understand climate change and its impacts. In his efforts, he has become increasingly aware of how important it is to approach all climate control conversations with care, patience and an open mind, especially in a region like West Texas, where many families rely on work in the oil industry.

In an era where folks struggle to have productive conversations with those who think differently than them, Aranda believes it’s his curiosity that makes all the difference. “I’m fond of other people’s ideas; I’m curious. How do they see it? How do they see me?” he said. “It’s essential to see how other people view things.” He said he always tries to avoid arguments, instead sticking to the facts and being as respectful as possible.

As he moves on to the next chapter in his life, Aranda hopes that Presidio maintains a mindset of growth and giving back — that those like him, who leave for educational purposes, come back to put their knowledge to use.

“[We should] go get our knowledge and bring it back here, shaping new leaders and coming back educated — really value the new generation of students so they have something/someone to lean back on,” he said. “It comes back to people specializing in certain gaps in the community and coming back to fill them.”

Hannah Gentiles is a trained photographer with a background in social work who has lived in Presidio County since 2015. She currently runs “Texture Presidio,” a photo essay-based storytelling project, and lives in Presidio. To find out more about Texture Presidio and her photography, visit www.hannahgentiles.com/texturepresidio or ig:texturepresidio