This blog post is available in: English, Traditional Chinese
The month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States, dedicated to recognizing AAPI communities. “Asian American, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islander” is a very broad term — many say too broad, often more homogenizing than empowering. As of 2019, there were 14.1 million immigrants from Asia living in the United States, accounting for 31% of all immigrants in the country.
Thanu Yakupitiyage is a Sri-Lankan-born, Thailand-raised New Yorker and US Communications Director of 350.org. Yakupitiyage wishes that people understood that the continent of Asia and the term “Asian American” do not refer to a monolith: “What does Asia really mean when it’s a geopolitical region that spans from Iran to Japan, Mongolia to Indonesia? When you use the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, you’re also talking about Fiji, Tuvalu, and all the Pacific Islands, which are a whole separate region. In all organizing work, including climate work, people need to be more specific about what they mean by Asian and AAPI because it’s important not to lose the contextualization of what’s happening to specific communities.”
Moonyoung Ko is a Korean-American resident of California and US Digital Manager of 350.org. Ko adds, “There’s a lot of learning that needs to happen. Even within people who identify as Asian. A recent stat I read said that a lot of light-skinned Asians don’t consider Indians as Asian Americans. Who gets to belong in these terms?”
“Part of building Asian American power requires that [people] within Asian American spaces connect with one another, build community with one another, and get to know each other beyond stereotypes. Right now, we are so segmented and boxed into narrow ways of thinking. For Asian American representation to happen in the climate movement, this [work] needs to happen first.”
This AAPI Heritage Month comes at a time of great sorrow and grief for many AAPI communities. Over the last year of pandemic, harassment and violence against people of East Asian descent has spiked. The New York Times found that there have been more than 110 instances since March 2020 with “clear evidence of race-based hate.”
At the end of March, Robert Aaron Long, a white man, murdered six women of Asian descent and two others in Atlanta. Of the women murdered, four were of Korean ethnicity, one was Chinese, and one was Chinese-Vietnamese. They were working low-wage jobs during a pandemic.
Last month, Brandon Hole, a white man, murdered four members of the Sikh community and four others working at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis.
This follows a rich history of anti-Asian violence and racism in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917, Japanese Internment during World War II, and the Patriot Act following September 11th, 2001.
At the same time, countries in Asia have been slammed by brutal climate impacts: Cyclone Seroja in Indonesia, Typhoon Surigae in Japan, and Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh. India is experiencing a COVID-19 catastrophe. As Asian Americans and people from Asia, health and climate impacts are experienced in both motherlands and adopted homelands. Increasingly, climate disasters from the other side of the world can trigger disasters close to home. For example, last year’s wildfires in California originated from typhoons in Korea.
Both Yakupitiyage and Ko’s communities are significantly impacted by climate change. Yakupitiyage is from Sri Lanka, an island impacted by sea level rise. Her neighbors in the Maldives have already been significantly impacted by sea level rise, as are Bangladeshis to the north. Yakupitiyage says, “People from the continent of Asia are already internally migrating because of climate. What it means to be Asian is also connected to [these] specific realities on the ground.”Ko is very aware of climate change’s impacts on South Korea: increased wildfires, brutal droughts, resulting in increased suicide rates amongst farmers and in the country side. Ko reflects, “Their entire ability to live is rooted in how the climate is impacting nature and when there’s not water they can’t grow food. That’s been a huge travesty.” Ko has observed a culture of consumption, influenced by the West, leading to an increase of car usage, traffic congestion, and want for expensive hiking gear, even though hiking used to simply be a part of daily life.
Ko also points out that “there are a lot of Asian Americans who live close to oil refineries and feel the impacts every day. There are Asian Americans who don’t have access to clean water. It’s so pronounced, and yet it’s so invisibilized because there’s an underlying assumption that Asian Americans are fine because of their proximity to whiteness.”
As hard as it is to simply survive right now, there is great power in pan-Asian and Asian American involvement in the climate movement. Yakupitiyage says, “Asia and the Pacific Islands are going to be the most impacted by the climate crisis…. I want people to think about climate in the context of people’s right to migrate, both within the continent and from the Global South to the Global North. Especially given that the Global South is the least responsible for climate change.”
“In the context of Asian Americans and broadly communities of color, we have things to contribute to the conversation around what is going to help turn around the climate crisis. Understanding our specificity, not treating us like a monolith, interrogating assumptions of the ‘model minority myth’, and ensuring that those most impacted by the climate crisis are at the table for decision making [is key].”
Ko reflects on her own involvement in the climate movement, “As someone that lives in the wealthiest nation in the world that is also one of the biggest contributors to [the climate crisis and fossil fuel dependency]… my commitment to this movement is not just part of my residence in California or in the United States but part of my commitment to [a] global community.“
Ko firmly believes that combating the climate crisis is not an individual effort, “The focus is not on the individual but on a more inclusive approach: how we’re working with each other, especially those who aren’t traditionally included in [climate] conversations. I’m thinking about my own privilege, [and asking myself], how am I thinking about working with Asian Americans who don’t have access to the resources I do?”
Yakupitiyage shares Ko’s global lens on climate activism, “[I have] a real commitment to a multiracial climate movement because my communities are multicultural. There’s a lot of work that Asian communities need to do about what it means to show up for each other’s communities and other communities of color… It’s important for Asian communities to be in solidarity with other Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, interrogate our own classism, colorism, and anti-Blackness, and show up in solidarity with each other in Asian communities… that will help create a more nuanced perspective on climate.”
With the world in multiple crises, generating global understanding and solidarity is more important than ever. We hope you will spend this AAPI Heritage Month learning about Asian American communities, especially those you are not part of.
To learn more, we recommend you follow: 350 East Asia, 350 Japan, Equality Labs, Asian American Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Stop AAPI Hate, 18 Million Rising, Red Canary Song, AAPI Data, and South Asian Americans Leading Together.
Denali Sai Nalamalapu is a South Indian American writer, artist, and climate communicator. She currently resides in Washington, D.C. and is US Communications Specialist for 350.org. She co-runs an intersectional climate newsletter called Entropy Inherited
三月底，白人男子Robert Aaron Long在亞特蘭大殺害了八人，其中包括六名亞裔婦女。這六名亞裔婦女中，有四名韓裔、一名華裔以及一名越南裔。他們在疫情期間從事低薪工作。
儘管現在單是活下去就有困難，但是泛亞和亞裔美國人擁有參與氣候運動的巨大力量。Yakupitiyage說：「亞洲和太平洋島嶼將是受到氣候危機影響最為嚴重的地區……我希望人們能夠在人類移徙權利的背景之下考慮氣候變遷，無論是在亞洲大陸內部還是從全球南方國家（Global South）到北方國家（Global North），特別是考慮到南方國家對於氣候變遷的責任最小。」
Denali Sai Nalamalapu是一名南印度裔美國作家、藝術家、氣候傳播者，現居華盛頓特區，擔任350.org美國傳播專家。她還與人共同運營了一份跨部門的氣候通訊，名為Entropy Inherited。