Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

Five Asian American and Pacific Islander Environmental Leaders You Should Know

(Pictured above: Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner)


May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month – a month federally recognized to acknowledge the history, contributions, and impact of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the country.

Today, we’re highlighting five Asian American & Pacific Islander environmental leaders we think you should know about:


Grace Lee Boggs

Photo of Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs photograph by Robin Holland

Grace Lee Boggs played many roles: social activist, environmental justice advocate, philosopher, feminist, author, and more. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1915 to Chinese immigrant parents. Boggs, along with her husband James, were notable activists in Detroit, advocating for issues surrounding the environment, civil rights, labor rights, feminism, and more through leading marches, supporting community organizations, and giving lectures on human rights. She was a co-founder of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the environmental and economic health of [the Detroit] community.”

“We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values.”
—Grace Lee Boggs


Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

Statement and poem by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Climate Summit 2014 – Opening Ceremony

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner is a climate justice advocate, poet, educator, and performance artist. She is a co-founder of Jo-Jikum, a youth environmentalism non-profit that “empowers Marshallese youth to seek solutions to climate change and other environmental impacts threatening their home island” (kathyjetnilkijiner.com/author-bio/). In 2014, she performed a poem she wrote for her daughter at the United Nations Climate Summit. A portion of her poem is below:

“…we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
and we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive…”
—Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner


Philip Vera Cruz

Philip Vera Cruz

Philip Vera Cruz photograph by Minerva Amistoso

Philip Vera Cruz was a Filipino American labor leader, a farmworker, and a key founder of what is now the United Farm Workers. He was the union’s longest-serving second vice president and strived to better migrant workers’ working conditions. Born in the Philippines in 1904, he immigrated to San Francisco in 1926 and once settled, he began working as a farmer. He helped successfully lead the Delano Grape Strike for fairer wages and better working conditions for farmworkers, a historically significant and important strike in farmworker history in California.

“I think that whatever nationality you are, you should be treated equally, otherwise you don’t have equality”—Philip Vera Cruz


Haunani-Kay Trask

Haunani-Kay Trask photograph by Kapulani Landgraf

Haunani-Kay Trask was an activist, scholar, founding director and professor at the School of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai’i, author, and poet, most famous for her fight for Hawaiian sovereignty and Indigenous rights for Native Hawaiians. Dr. Trask was also well known for helping lead 15,000 Native Hawaiians in a march to reclaim lands that the state held in trust. She was also a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

“The people cannot exist without the land and the land cannot exist without the people”—Haunani-Kay Trask


Varshini Prakash

Varshini Prakash

Varshini Prakash is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization dedicated to building a movement to address climate change. Her career in organizing around climate change issues began during her college years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she led a fossil fuel divestment campaign. The University eventually became the first large public university to divest from fossil fuels.

“The role of young people in politics and movements throughout the years has been to hold the moral line, and not move from it one inch—and that is what we’re doing.”—Varshini Prakash


Below are some ways you can celebrate AA&PI Heritage Month:

  • Support a local AA&PI business
  • Watch these PBS documentaries that feature AA&PI voices
  • Read a book written by an AA or PI author (recommendations from the New York Public Library here)