May 17, 2016

Climate Justice and the Art of Healing

By Carolyn Chu and Pa Vue
Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute (API-CLI) 2015-16 Fellows

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, APANO is bringing our audience content all month-long, all centered on the theme of Building Power. Each week will see a different topic, all connected by our central theme. This week’s topic: Health Equity.

As part of their Community Action Project through API-CLI, Pa Vue and Carolyn Chu partnered together to conduct a Climate Justice Poster Visioning Workshop, with the intention of exploring how climate change relates and influences the health of API communities in Oregon. Together, they explored how to best collaborate with community members - Pacific Islanders in particular, as this community is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Read about Carolyn and Pa's reflections on the visioning workshop, the intersection of health and climate change, and the role art has in how we think about climate justice and health.

What was the visioning process like?
In an effort to outreach to the API community about the impacts of climate change, we worked to create visual narratives of the API community's experience of climate change. Initially, Khanh interviewed API folks to hear how climate change is affecting their communities and their thoughts on the best way to engage their communities. From those interviews, I pulled some quotes and ideas that moved me. My first few poster ideas were mainly focused on text and landscape images. After receiving feedback that the focus should ideally be on the people affected by climate change, I wanted to be sure to not divorce the land from its people, and to keep the themes of home and displacement central.

Take What You Need

That’s when Khanh suggested creating a workshop for us to listen directly to APIs, particularly the Pacific Islander community. In the first part of the workshop, people discussed the different impacts of climate change that they have experienced or seen in API communities. For example, Pa shared about the impact of increasing heat waves and drought on the Hmong farming community in the Central Valley of California. Others shared about the increasingly destructive hurricanes, coastal erosion, and flooding which are devastating many parts of the Philippines, Vietnam, the Marshall Islands, California, and Oregon. Then Khanh shared the many ways some activists are currently engaged in movement-building for climate justice.

In the second half of the workshop, our group spent some time quietly reflecting and writing words or sketching ideas that emerged from/resonated with the presentation. Folks were encouraged to be brave about their art skills!

What were prominent themes or sentiments you discovered through this visioning process?
Climate justice is an intergenerational fight that requires us to reach across all age groups to ensure that we are thriving instead of just surviving in this world. When finding solutions to this global issue, we want to advocate for a just transition to create healthy communities and a better world for everyone.In addition, climate change is a worldwide issue with international and local connections, and it is imperative that we all work together to preserve a just climate for future generations. That's where the themes “rising oceans,” “not just surviving but thriving,” and “how to create a just transition" originated from.

Can you share a bit about the importance of having a visioning space for API folks?
In general as a population, Asians and Pacific Islanders are minimally responsible for climate change (in terms of fossil fuel consumption, and general economic and environmental impact), yet are some of the first groups to experience its effects. As oceans are rising, homes, culture and history of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities are literally being washed away.

I also want to recognize that we use both "Asian" and “Pacific Islander” as umbrella terms, yet we understand that they represent a multitude of people and experiences. Our posters are not meant to represent THE way that climate change is experienced by API people. Every experience is different and many types of action and activism are needed.

Part of the Healing

What role does the arts play in how we think and talk about climate justice?
Climate change is causing a lot of violence to communities, both emotional and physical. Art has the power to create healing spaces and outlets for folks. Since climate change and climate justice can be abstract topics, I think it’s difficult to feel like I, as an individual, have much power in this global issue. Art has a way of connecting people and communicating a message beyond just an individual person.
Additionally, the act of people coming together to talk about issues and create art is radical in and of itself. It’s simply one of the many solutions toward creating a healthy, sustainable future.

What role does art play in how we think about health in relation to climate justice?
Art tells stories and stories are very powerful in engaging and connecting communities. The stories conveyed by art changes the narrative on how we view our health and connect us with invisible forces that impact our lives. Our environment, including the climate, is one of the social determinants of health that dictates our health without us seeing the immediate tangible effects of it until we get sick. We could use art to provide us with a visual representation of these effects and help us connect the dots to see the big picture.

What were some of the challenges you two experienced during the visioning and the creation of the posters?

Learning about the immensity of climate change can be paralyzing and we definitely wanted to highlight solutions and people taking action to build a better world.

Also, our project hopes to particularly amplify the voices of PI leadership, and to explore opportunities for solidarity between Asian and Pacific Islander communities both in Oregon and in our homelands. Neither of us are Pacific Islander. We paused ourselves several times when realizing that we cannot fully understand how Pacific Islanders are understanding and fighting for climate justice. We made it a priority to honor the voices of the folks who contributed to our project. Shout out to Virginia Luka, Kianna Angelo, Simeon Jacob and June Reyes!


APANO's work includes health policy and advocacy to make sure our communities have the resources and autonomy to make decisions for their bodies and their health. To support this work, please consider donating to APANO so we can continue our health equity work. As if that was not a good enough reason, as awardees of the Coulter Foundation, all donations to APANO at $100 or more will be matched dollar for dollar- that means you can double your gift and extend its impact!

Want to see what others have created for AAPI Heritage Month? Find a list of our Heritage Month posts here!

Follow APANO during heritage month by using hashtags #APIsBuildingPower and #AAPIHM, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter: @APANONews.

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