PHOTO: a landscape of my lovely backyard in the spring in Iowa City, IA.
Should I accept the very convenient styrofoam take-out box, handed to me by my waiter? Am I worried about my footprint, or do I need that tank of gas now? Do I care if my job is environmentally responsible, or do I need to prioritize making a living? Can I eat this hamburger knowing that beef spews methane in excess?
These are the intrinsic questions that affect human behavior on a daily basis — in the contemporary time, these thoughts come as often eco-conscious, but “foiled” by human needs and desires (annoyingly unoriginal).
But how aware are we of the sociological factors that influence whether or not people answer that call to action — change their habits to align with their principles, participate as climate activists, move to manage pollution and waste, or vote to enact regulatory standards, etc?
If we analyze environmentalism using, for example, race as a critical factor, we see that there are many paradigms that associate people’s wants/needs, the natural world, and altruistic duty (responsibility to a broader humanity).
I believe that effective solutions to climate change require investigating these paradigms and seeking multicultural conversation.
For my project, I want to explore notions of environmentalism in Chinese-American immigrant or first-generation and second-gen communities in Iowa. I’ll talk about some stereotypes, some history, some local stories and some unsung heroes…. What I’m hoping will come out of this is a better idea of what it means to have an accessible and inclusive environmental justice movement.
My inspiration comes from an essay by Julie Sze, an Assistant Professor in American Studies at the University of California at Davis. Her full research paper can be found here. She writes in the Peace Review:
The perception of Asian immigrant community activism within the environ- mental justice movement is another example of the gap that still exists between rhetoric and reality. While virtually all of the people and organizations that identify with the environmental justice movement recognize that EJ should be multiracial and multiethnic, far fewer would be able to cite examples of Asian immigrant environmental justice activism. This illuminates the problem of Asian invisibility in progressive multiracial activism, which this essay hopes to squarely repudiate. In reality, Asian immigrant communities are taking the mantle of community activism and of the EJ (Environmental Justice) issues that affect them in their own localities. These range from urban issues to occupational concerns, but in general they are linked through the prism of exclusion based on race, culture, language and citizenship issues, all of which affect the ability of Asian immigrant communities to fully participate and achieve full justice.
While there are numerous studies on Asian American communities in California, there is still an overwhelming lack of similar projects in Iowa or in other parts of the Midwest.