Growing community: Plantiitas in Long Beach sells plants to teach self care

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Kristen Farrah Naeem | Signal Tribune

A wide range of plants were available during Plantiitas’ Sept. 12 pop up, including succulents, cacti and caladium among many others.

A newly formed plant business, Plantiitas, is helping communities of color reconnect to their mental health and ancestral roots through the care of plants.

Anthony Diaz, Plantiitas co-owner, greeted and conversed with Deaf customers in American Sign Language during a weekend pop up sale intended to raise funds for Pro Bono ASL, a collective of interpreters who provide ASL translation at Black Lives Matter protests. Ten percent of all sales during the event from Saturday, Sept. 12 to Sunday, Sept. 13 went towards benefitting Pro Bono ASL.

“That’s such an important piece, you know,” Diaz said, “having the Deaf community, especially Deaf Black and brown people, at those protests standing up and speaking against police brutality, injustices by the state and stuff like that. That’s something that’s close to my heart. Both the discussion on just police brutality, racism, but then accessibility, language accessibility. So I just felt it was kind of a way that I could show up for Black lives, for brown lives, especially for Deaf brown and Black people.”

A plant cutting sold by Plantiitas for $12, including a suspended propagating container filled with water. In the coming weeks, the cutting will continue to grow roots and sprout new leaves.

Many of the customers who attended the pop up and brought home new plants had already met Diaz through his decade of work as an interpreter and the company he formed two years ago, Interpret THAT, Inc. His connection to the Deaf community began with his relationship with his uncle.

“I just really wanted to talk to my uncle at that time, who’s Deaf,” Diaz told the Signal Tribune. “He was from Mexico and so he didn’t know ASL. And so we had that barrier of having to establish like visual communication, gestural communication, contextualized communication, but that really helped me in my career as a sign language interpreter.”

Diaz was adamant about using his business as a platform for the Deaf community to tell their own stories, rather than trying to speak for them.

“I think their stories aren’t heard enough, and I’m not going to speak for the Deaf community because I’m not a Deaf person. But definitely using my privilege, my ability to be able to do this, to open up a space for them to just share their narratives, to have a space to congregate.”

Plantiitas will be holding its first online seminars in the next two months, one of which will be in partnership with the group Deaf Latinos y Familias to teach both plant repotting and mental health skills. Repotting materials, the pot, the plant, the soil and access to the class will all be included for an affordable rate, according to Diaz.

Clay pots for small plants available at Plantiita’s pop up shop, held to benefit Pro Bono ASL on Saturday, Sept. 12 and Sunday, Sept. 13.

Diaz spoke on the importance of reteaching communities of color plant care because of the ancestral connection many of them have to that practice.

“So many of us have ancestral roots,” Diaz said, “and that’s something that other plant shops of color are talking about, you know, our ancestral roots to gardening and planting.”

Indigenous people of the Americas used innovative gardening techniques to support their societies, such as the Chinampas of the Aztec, artificial island gardens that sat on top of lakes, and the Amazon rainforest, once believed to be an untouched and wild part of Earth, is now thought to have been significantly altered and cultivated by the ancient Indigenous people of the area, who may be responsible for the prominence of useful plants such as brazil nut, the rubber tree, the maripa palm and the cocoa tree.

Plantiitas also believes that teaching people plant care will translate into them learning self care skills as well. For the repotting webinar, participants will name their plant after themselves to get used to using terms that identify how they’re doing personally.

“Within our culture it’s pretty much a taboo to speak about your mental health in general, right, but especially for communities of color, we’ve been so marginalized from the discussions of mental health, that I really want to help kind of start the discussion– not really start it but continue that discussion with our community because obviously other folks are already engaged in this type of work,” Diaz said. “I think talking about a plant, and its health and its condition is a great way for us to even start practicing using those words. You know, ‘my plant is healthy, it’s thriving,’ or ‘my plant is looking kind of sad, it’s not doing so well, it’s struggling.’ Those words can easily translate to our condition.”

Diaz started Plantiitas with his husband, Kevin Alcaraz, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in March. Diaz credits Alcaraz as the creative brains behind the business.

“It started with my husband making handmade macrames,” Diaz said, “and really this is his vision and I’m just able to kind of come behind him. He’s more of the inventor and the innovator, so I couldn’t get this started. Some of these things, like the racks, he made himself by hand. He’s so creative. He’s the one that has the vision, and so I come behind him to kind of give support on the business end, on management, but also just being labor, like physically moving stuff around.”

Plantiitas owners Anthony Diaz and Kevin Alcaraz. The couple began their Long Beach based plant business shortly before the pandemic arrived in March. The couple donated 10% of the proceeds from a pop sale held Saturday, Sept. 12 and Sunday, Sept. 13 to Pro Bono ASL, which provides sign language interpretation at Black Lives Matter protests to increase accessibility for the Deaf community. (Kristen Farrah Naeem | Signal Tribune)

The double “i” in Plantiitas represents Diaz and Alcaraz together, while “ta,” is what Alcaraz calls his grandmother.

The couple will hopefully be receiving the keys to their first brick and mortar establishment next week, which will be on 4th Street near Termino Avenue, and are brainstorming ways to open up the space to those at the intersections of the Deaf community and communities of color.

“We want to make this a community space. So one of the things that I want to do is have a friend of mine who is Deaf, and he’s a therapist as well, come by like once or twice a month, and give group sessions for folks in the community, how it relates to plants and wellness and how to address our mental health, especially for people of color– Black folks, brown folks– to start speaking on our mental health.”

Plantiitas keeps its plants accessible with affordable prices that are competitive with big brands like Home Depot, with a wide selection of plants and containers at different price points. Their baby golden barrel cacti is the perfect size to fit on desk corners and small shelves, and is sold for only $2 each.

“It’s more than just a monetary thing,” Diaz told the Signal Tribune, “It is our living, this is how we’re getting by, but then our spirits are so full at the end of the day– we’re physically exhausted, mentally drained– but we feel really good.”

A small golden barrel cactus sold by Plantiitas for $2.