Though they’re demographically categorized as minorities, when it comes to putting their support behind environmental issues, Asian Americans are becoming increasingly influential in effecting policy change.
For example, a 2009 California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund poll showed that more than 80 percent of Asian Americans support environmental measures.
“Asian Americans should be paid attention to,” the association’s Executive Director James Lau told NewAmericanMedia.org.
In fact, in organized groups, Asian Americans are successfully enacting change in the world of environmental justice.
The concept of environmental justice was officially recognized on February 11, 1994, when the then-President Clinton put his signature to a policy that would ensure equality in environmental protection no matter a person’s background, nationality or income.
Because it was conceived to target low-income earners and minorities — a profile that oftentimes fits immigrants who take on jobs at places such as factories or farms — the policy has found some of its strongest supporters in the Asian American community.
According to Oakland, Calif.,-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network, this group is particularly vulnerable to substandard conditions both at the workplace and at home, from unhealthy factory work conditions to even a lack of standard facilities. APEN also points out that in 2002, almost 50 percent of the Asian Pacific Islander population — which includes Southeast Asians, such as Vietnamese and Cambodians — arrived in the United States only about two decades before.
“We’ve spent 18 years working on fighting big oil, emissions from freeways and sickness caused by that pollution,” said APEN staff director Mari Rose Taruc. “Solutions to climate change are solutions to health. Right now, we’re focusing on renewable energy and the jobs that come along with it, [and] locally generated distributed generation.”
Another group that fights for social equality through environmental justice is the Japanese American Citizens League, whose goals include extending its reach to involve younger people. In May, it held the JACL Environmental Justice Youth Summit in New Orleans, the result of a collaboration between JACL’s Washington, D.C., chapter and two groups from New Orleans: the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp. and the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association-New Orleans.
During the two-day conference, participants focused on regional issues in environmental justice, such as how residents in the city were affected by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
More than 30 percent of the Gulf region’s fishing community is Vietnamese, said Gulf Organized Fisheries In Solidarity & Hope Coalition strategist May Nguyen to Inside Treme.