AAPI invisibility is real. Communities of color are often left out of political discussions entirely especially in the context of climate justice. For AAPI communities specifically, the complexity and diversity of our community is rarely conveyed in mainstream media let alone discussed in our movement.
However, we know that climate justice is deeply related to AAPI struggles. Lao, Hmong and other AAPI communities in Richmond, CA face the impacts of pollution from the Chevron Oil Refinery. Vietnamese refugees and immigrants on the Gulf coast who relied on shellfishing and shrimping have had to make new livelihoods due to hurricanes and warming waters leading to declines in shellfish populations. Bangladeshi migrants are leaving their home country in large numbers as sea level rise impacts their coasts. In addition, many of our homelands or ancestors’ homelands are being destroyed by climate change. The Marshall Islands are expected to be underwater in the next couple of decades due to sea level rise and unprecedented climate change fueled storms, like Cyclone Pam in the island nation of Vanuatu, are increasingly common in the Pacific.
That is why we want to call attention to the many ways AAPIs are taking action on the climate crisis and demanding justice for communities impacted by extraction and exploitation from the fossil fuel industry.
Below are some fierce AAPI climate/environmental leaders and social justice activists who are helping to further the movement on climate action.
1) Miya Yoshitani is the Executive Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). She has been building the environmental justice movement since she was student. She participated in the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, and was on the drafting committee of the original Principles of Environmental Justice, a defining document for the environmental justice movement.
2) Varshini Prakash is the Executive Director of Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people rising up to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. The Sunrise Movement youth have been leading the fight in advancing a Green New Deal.
3) Kathy Jetnil-Kijner is a writer, performer, poet and educator of Marshall Islander ancestry, born in the Marshall Islands, raised in Hawai’i, and based in Portland, Oregon. Kathy’s primary creative practice explores her culture’s rich storytelling and weaving traditions, and how they intersect with evolving issues threatening her islands and community. She is also a community organizer and co-founder of the Marshall Islands based nonprofit Jo-Jikum.
4) Ananda Lee Tan has been organizing grassroots social movements since 1986 – building activist coalitions, networks and alliances for Indigenous land defense, worker rights, environmental justice, energy democracy, ecological forestry, food sovereignty, climate justice, community self-determination and peace around the world. Ananda is a leader in the Climate Justice Alliance and the Labor Network for Sustainability.
5) Harsha Walia is the Project Coordinator at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center, co-founder of No One Is Illegal, and award winning author of Undoing Border Imperialism. She is a community organizer in feminist, migrant justice, Indigenous solidarity, anti imperialist, and anti-capitalist struggles. Harsha is also co-director of the short film Survival, Strength, Sisterhood: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside, and co-author of the two groundbreaking reports Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration and Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She was recently a keynote speaker at Powershift Young and Rising 2019 in Canada – a convergence bringing together young people from across Turtle Island to act on the climate crisis.
5) Charlie Jiang grew up first-generation American born Chinese amidst the urban greenscapes of Hyde Park, Chicago. He is an organizer for 350 DC and the Sunrise Movement where he is pressuring the D.C. government to divest from Wells Fargo to help #DefundPipelines and more. Charlie aims to build a richer, stronger movement for climate action that strives for racial and economic justice for all. He is currently a climate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, where he’s pressuring 2020 Presidential candidates to commit to make saying yes to the Green New Deal and no to fossil fuels a Day 1 priority.
6) Pam Tau Lee is a San Francisco activist and recognized movement elder currently serving as the Chinese Progressive Association Board Chair. She has played many roles in advancing environmental justice including co-foundng the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and the Just Transition Alliance. She was a participant at the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 in Washington, D.C. where she wrote the discussion paper focused on workers of color which helped lead to EJ Principle 8 about worker justice. More recently, she led a delegation from SF Chinatown to Standing Rock and worked with Indigenous organizations like Idle No More and Indian People Organized for Power to launch NO DAPL resistance rallies outside the Army Corp of Engineers.
7) Jan Victor Andasan is a community organizer with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) an organization that empowers community members in East Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles and Long Beach to engage in the decision-making processes that directly impact their health and quality of life.
8) Yong Jung Cho cho is a young organizer and activist with experience working on a variety of climate action and political campaigns to pressure politicians to take a stand for climate justice. She has held numerous movement roles including co-founder of #AllofUs, Campaign Coordinator with 350.org and more.
9) Sarita Gupta is the co-director of Jobs With Justice and the co-director of Caring Across Generations. She is a nationally recognized expert on the economic, labor and political issues affecting working people, particularly women and those employed in low-wage sectors. She is widely recognized as a key leader and strategist in the progressive movement.
“The same forces that are weakening worker bargaining power and making work more precarious are also undermining public institutions like schools and mass transit, profiting from rising household debt, and shaping policies that are contributing to climate change and environmental injustice.”
These AAPI climate leaders are just a few of many. There are so many more AAPI organizers, activists, scientists artists and more who are working to advance climate justice in the US and around the world.