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Asian Pacific Environmental Network

September/October 1996 issue of Poverty & Race

Asian Pacific Environmental Network
1221 Preservation Park Way, 2nd floor
Oakland, CA 94612
Contact: Yin Ling Leung

Established in 1993 as an outgrowth of the growing environmental justice movement. Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) is the first organized initiative to promote an Asian and Pacific Islander perspective in environmental policy and decision-making. APEN's work is divided into two main areas. First, APEN is developing a model of community organizing and capacity-building that works with environmentally affected community people to develop skills for organizing and advocacy. These activities include participatory research, ed-ucation and outreach, leadership development and other organizing skills.

The main focus of APEN's current organizing work is with the Laotian community in West Contra Costa County, one of the nation's toxic "hot spots." Other issues APEN has been working on include contaminated fish consumption, lead in Asian ceramic-ware and the conversion of Alameda Naval Air Station.

APEN'S second main function is to help network with other organizations. As a part of its work to bring an Asian and Pacific Islander voice to environmental policy, APEN will be looking at ways to work with already established organizing, advocacy and service organizations in the API community on issues related to environmental and economic justice.

One project that cuts across most of APEN's other project areas has been data gathering and computer mapping of the demographics of the different API subgroups, environmental data, such as locations of toxic sites, and other environmental disamenities. One of APEN's principles is to be where there is the greatest need and where the work is the most difficult; and in order to do that, we need to know where it is the hardest to be. Therefore, with funding provided by PRRAC and other sources, APEN began its needs assessment of where the greatest need is in the San Francisco Bay Area by using computer mapping.

A former APEN intern conducted an extensive analysis of Santa Clara County, using toxics information, such as locations of Superfund National Priorities List sites as well as Toxics Release Inventory facilities compiled by the EPA, and population data produced by the Census Bureau. He analyzed the disproportionate siting of toxics facilities in communities of color and low-income communities, examined the current condition of disproportionate impact, and examined demographic changes of communities over time. Computer mapping allowed for a spatial analysis of the county, its toxic areas, and where its API populations live. The study provided APEN with an understanding of where to focus our attention if and when we will work in Santa Clara County. This study has confined what we already suspected; that race and poverty have an impact on environmental toxics exposure, and the persistence of the nexus of race and poverty will ensure that low-income people of color will be even more affected as toxics facilities creep into their neighborhoods.

Mapping has been essential in the needs assessment and organizing work of two of APEN's current projects. In conjunction with the affected communities, APEN is using information from research that has been mapped to strategize appropriate advocacy agendas. Using MapInfo, demographic maps of the different API ethnic groups have been produced for the city of Alameda (where the Naval Air Station is soon to be closed and the area converted for economic uses), as well as maps with locations of various amenities such as the city's schools, churches, open spaces, libraries, social services etc. Sharon Bail, APEN Administrative-Coordinator, is a resident of Alameda and has represented the API community as an elected member of the Restoration Advisory Board since Spring 1995. Along with other community members, she has used the Alameda maps as needs assessment tools which show that a higher proportion of Asians and Pacific Islanders, particularly Filipinos, and people of color in general live close to the naval base, and as graphic educational pieces which engage and empower community members. In order to become involved in the process, APIs need to know that they are a significant constituency of those who live near the base and are affected by the base's closure and conversion. The maps of the locations of schools, parks and other amenities give a framework to organize and do outreach.

With respect to our organizing project with the Laotian community in West Contra Costa County, APEN's initial understanding of the Laotian community in the San Francisco Bay Area initially came from the maps produced by Asian and Pacific Islander Center for Census Information Services. Additional mapping of demographic information regarding the Laotian community in Richmond and San Pablo and the locations of the 20 most polluting industries and polluted sites, using MapInfo, has been a powerful tool for APEN and has revealed, not surprisingly, that the Laotians live close to many of those sites. Mapping has also helped in public accountability on this project, as gaps within government agencies' knowledge of the Laotian community and how the toxics are affecting them are being filled. APEN is creating the framework for a small but growing group of Laotians to participate and represent their community through the Richmond Laotian Environmental Justice Collaborative, the aim of which is to link the Laotian community with health care providers, organizations, researchers and other affected Richmond residents. APEN's maps of the demographics of the Laotians and environmental data, such as toxic sites and housing stock (to help in determining whether lead is more likely to be present in paint), provided a powerful graphic presentation of an important issue. In addition, in the very near future APEN intends to use the maps in training members of the Laotian community, to help them get a better understanding of their environment.

We at APEN firmly believe that a community should be empowered to define its own research agenda when the research concerns its own members, and we want to be able to provide that empowerment in one way through providing maps which reflect the community's concerns and requirements. Ideally, a community should not have to rely on others to do research, and we believe that providing community groups with our mapping capability is a step towards that goal. In many ways, we are already doing that, and in the future APEN hopes to provide its members with its mapping capability in a more comprehensive way, to empower them to decide what maps they would want to be produced for themselves, to help them do their community owned and directed research. Using MapInfo, we want to build our own capacity by building our members', constituencies' and community's capacity to define their own research agenda.

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