The Asian American Experience in Environmental Justice

Lisa Ng, Liberal Studies

The Asian American Experience in Environmental Justice

For this project about Asian Americans in the environmental justice movement, I will be working on collecting oral histories of Asian Americans who were present at the 1991 People of Color’s Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington DC. This three day conference, which took place from October 24th to October 27th, is often considered one of the most important events in the movement. Leaders of the movement at the time converged in the nation’s capital to discuss the future of the movement and drafted a document titled ‘The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice’. This document served and continues to serve as a guide for communities interested in building grassroots environmental justice movements.

I chose to focus on this conference because although this event is considered to be integral to the environmental justice movement, Asian Americans present have not been written about beyond a name drop. How Asian Americans interacted with each other and other folks is indicative of the environmental justice movement as a whole because this was where the leaders converged to decide the future of the movement.

In my work, I will incorporate critical race theory to theorize why narratives of Asian American political activism are rarely shared outside of spaces oriented around Asian Americans. The goal of this project is twofold: to share the stories of Asian American organizers with the general public and to attempt to explain and theorize reasons Asian American narratives of resistance are not commonly shared outside of Asian American community oriented spaces. This work will serve both as an oral history archive as well as a critical analysis of the environmental justice movement. Because there is little existing literature about Asian Americans in the environmental justice movement specifically, this project will be interdisciplinary in nature. I will be building on the content created by scholars in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Political Science, Environmental Sociology, and more.