Skip to Main Content

PRC Oral Storytelling Project: Asian Pacific Environmental Network & Ryce Commons


In this episode, listeners will hear from the Co-Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Vivian Huang, and the Ryse Commons Director of Innovation, Dan Reilly.

The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) in Oakland, CA, builds resilient communities that promptly recover from flooding, air pollution, and heatwaves. The work that APEN is completing will create communities that can adapt to new climate situations and prepare for an unpredictable climate future. APEN identified sites for solar installation in Oakland and Richmond to develop community solar resilience hubs and increase the amount of renewable energy generated for use. Increasing renewable energy will decrease the risk of electricity shutoffs, reduce utility bills, and decrease the greenhouse gases released for electricity generation. The Richmond site is in partnership with RYSE, and the Oakland site with Asian Health Services and Lincoln Elementary School. APEN is empowering local youth to design the community facilities to sustainably meet the needs of residents before, during, and after climate impacts. These resilience hubs will create more resilient communities with renewable energy added to the grid and build climate resilience, emergency preparedness, and social resilience.

Full Transcript

Vivian Yi Huang [00:00:00] Hello, I’m Vivian Yi Huang, she/her pronouns. I grew up originally in Southern California and now currently live in Oakland. I feel like so much of what drives me in this work is the fact that I am a child of immigrants. Both my parents are immigrants to this country, and I really saw all the ways that they really struggled and experienced racism when I was a child growing up. One of my first memories was actually of being at a community event. It was a barbecue, and my dad and I were standing in line waiting to get food, you know, from kind of the buffet spread. And a little kid actually ran up to me and my dad. And you know, and he yelled the…the very stereotypical, you know, go back home, go back to where you came from. Go back home. At that age, I was very young. And this kid was actually pretty close to my age. I was definitely in shock and didn’t quite know what to make of it. For me, home had always been, you know, where I was. But I think from my dad, I really saw and witnessed the way that those words really hurt and impacted him. And kind of the…the…the anger and the sadness and kind of the disrespect, you know, of kind of the inherent dignity that we all hold as people that really occurred in that moment. And you know, and when I got to college, you know, I was not politicized in any way. But I remember in 1994, in California, there was a statewide ballot measure, Proposition 187 that would have banned undocumented immigrants from accessing very important and basic services like schools and health care. And at the time, I was so shocked to find out that so many people would support an initiative like that. I’d always grown up in an immigrant family had been connected to, you know, many people who are immigrants as well. And so for me, it was a real shock to…to realize that so many people did not feel the same way that I did. And I think from there, it really, I think, opened my desire to really learn more about what I could do and what I could do in response. And so after seeing what had happened with Proposition 187, I was really excited, inspired to sign up for this class that was about Asian-Americans and organizing. It was the first time I really learned about Asian-American history, and it was the first time that I actually talked to my parents about their experience in the country before I was even born and experiences that they faced, you know, as immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s. And then also is the first time that I really learned how to organize and just how transformative that experience was and really seeing that like, yes, my…my parents and other immigrants have really struggled and experienced so much of the impacts of white supremacy, but that we also have inherent power and power that we can build in collective strength with each other to actually make change and to…and to be able to move like the change that we want to see for our communities. 


Dan Riley [00:03:33] Hi, my name is Dan Riley, I use he him pronouns, I’m originally from the Bay Area in California and that’s currently where I reside. So in some ways, how I really became activated and came into this work, similar to some of what Vivian shared in the fact that I really became activated in college, although I had…had childhood experiences, I was you know, into punk and hip hop and skating. And so there are elements of resistance and counterculture. I had friends that would would push me to understand my Irish heritage and the resistance there. So there is elements from my…my childhood that were there, but it was really in college that I became activated. Seattle ’99 the antiwar movement after 9/11. It was that time in my life where I started to find my way. I…I also took college courses, I had professors, I became mentors. I became involved with groups where I really learned direct action in organizing principles and strategies from more experienced organizers. That time in my life, when I became activated, I was in college to study filmmaking. At that time, I really thought I would be a documentary filmmaker. I became very connected in…in…in spirit to the struggle of the Palestinian people and other struggles around the world. And I thought at that time that my role would be to tell stories. I think as I matured, I really started to understand whiteness, its role in the world, understand white privilege and what I carried and the blind spots that I had. And really what needed to happen in the world. I started to question whether a lot of these stories were actually my stories to tell. I was actively working as a filmmaker at that time, and some of my favorite projects were local non-profits and organizations that were doing tremendous work. And The Ryse Center where I currently work, and the organization that is in partnership with APEN on the project we’re talking about was one of the organizations that was a client of mine. And I fell in love with the work that was being done when it came time to start a video program here. Because we had had a relationship, they reached out to me. And so my rise, my time at Ryse really started with me, coming in two hours a week as a video workshop instructor. I mean, I just realized that there were the young folks were so amazing and the stories were so important and…and I could…I could leverage that knowledge expertise and also resources into the hands. Get those into the hands of young folks of color to really tell the stories for themselves of their own community. And eventually, I just realized I like teaching a lot more than I like making films myself, and it better aligned with my values. I think it started, and I still I still had a lot to learn and still have a lot to learn around how whiteness and white privilege show up. But I really, at that time started…started going to reiterate started the process of understanding what that needed to look like. My vision of myself and how I was going to be kind of in this movement changed. 


Vivian Yi Huang [00:06:56] So I work at Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and it’s an environmental justice organization that has deep roots in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. And we just have this vision and belief that everyone deserves a healthy and clean environment where they can thrive and live full, dignified lives. And we believe this, you know, not only for our communities but for all communities. And we do this by actually working in collaboration and coalition with many, many other communities of color who are also on the frontlines of environmental injustice. As part of kind of a broader environmental justice movement, we’ve been working on how to think about of just transition from an extractive economy that’s based on profits and pollution and how do we transition to regenerative and life-sustaining economies that benefit everyone? Right. And as part of this work, we’re looking at how we steward a just transition to decommission like the fossil fuel infrastructure and to really repair the harm that oil and gas industries have done for workers done to workers and communities. And we’re also investing to make sure that we’re building resilient communities where everyone can have what they need and what they…what they need to kind of thrive and live full dignified lives. And so as part of this work, we felt that it was really important that we are looking at how do we deeply invest in places and spaces where people are already gathering, organizing and accessing resources? Right. So our vision is that spaces in our neighborhoods should be the places where we’re building up resilience can offer and can offer like the support and the services that are needed to community members in times of disaster. You know, Ryse and APEN have had a long history already, you know, having deep partnership and working together. APEN in Richmond does have a base of youth of Asian-American youth that we’re organizing. And so we already been in collaboration around different youth organizing events, around campaigning, you know, for policies at the local level that were going to benefit youth for really creating more city and public investments in youth services and programs. And so it was really natural. I think that when Ryse was having their process to really dream big about what a new campus-like rice commons could look like and engaging youth, you know, over a two-year period of what were the needs and priorities of youth in our communities. It just made perfect sense that when we were thinking about talking about and what are all the ways that we can make this, this building in this site even more resilient from a climate resilience perspective that we should be partnering, you know, to really be exploring and researching and discussing and deciding what that could look like. So in…in thinking about this concept of resilience hubs. Even though that term may be new, I want to just emphasize that the…the concept already existed long before and in many ways Ryse is example of a resilience hub, right? It’s a trusted community institution where people already know, they already gather, they already find resources at, they already organizing community around. And so I think in our conversations about resilience hubs, it’s important to remember that this is a way of thinking about how we continue to invest in these types of spaces, you know, that are so important for communities and that when we think about how we’re responding to climate disasters, that we’re not thinking about creating kind of new structures that are like far away and in places that are not accessible but are actually being that we’re actually supporting like building the physical and social infrastructures that our communities already have and kind of strengthening them to be able to respond in times of disaster. There’s a really important principle in environmental justice that’s about, you know, letting people speak for themselves and in particular really centering the leadership of community members who are on the frontlines of the injustices. You know that as a society, we experience. And so I really reflect on that a lot because in our organizing, we’re working with communities who often are not part of the decision making, that are not engaged in the conversations. And that’s why it’s so important that in this concept of resilience hubs in the concept of environmental justice, that we are really engaging people in having agency and making decisions around policies and solutions that are going to impact their lives. Our members have a very clear picture of the world that they would like to see what they want their neighbors to look like, what they know, that their families and communities need to thrive. So we organize Asian immigrants and refugees because so many of them are the front lines of the extractive economy and are so important in driving what a just transition looks like. You know, they’re living in a city where one of the largest greenhouse gas polluters in the state resides, right? They’re living next door to the Chevron refinery, which is a toxic, polluting industrial site that has impacted, you know, their health, their political power, you know, for generations. And because of that experience, because of their impact, you know, our community members should be centered in the leadership in driving what the solution should look like. Right. I think too often decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are being made without the engagement and power and control of the communities that are most impacted by them. 


Dan Riley [00:13:17] I think in some ways, the challenges that Ryse and APEN have faced on this project in this partnership are not unique to us. We have been operating in the midst of a global pandemic that has impacted us as individuals, us, as organizations, US in partnership with one another, just like has impacted folks globally, right? So…I think that beyond that, the challenges that…that stand out to me most are the technical challenges, really understanding and having to learn what we’re trying to do on the fly. We also are adept at pivoting and navigating complex situations, be it political, be it a global pandemic or anything else. So we had a lot going for us. But there is a technical component to resilience hubs as we think about the actual physical infrastructure that is built into buildings. That was a step beyond what either organization had tried to tackle before we were able to pull together resources get support has some amazing partners that came in to help walk us through it. And I’m super excited to share that we do have a solar installer engaged on the project and we are moving forward with that project, so we are able to navigate that successfully. But that was really, really one of the biggest challenges. And then very briefly, I will say also how we communicate out our experience as we think about field building, as we think about like, how do we share this experience with other folks? There was a degree to which and is a degree to which organizationally, we’re still figuring out like, how do we talk about this in the same way? Think about it in the same way. And that I think we do a really good job of and it’s just an ongoing process like we’re always going to be in those conversations. How are we conceptualizing resiliency and liberation? How are we talking about the technical and the community organizing base that led…you know, led to the vision for this project? How do we talk about all of that as partners? And it took time and takes time and energy in order to kind of get on the same page like that. As I think about what to offer other white folks, white men in particular coming into the space to do similar work like this. I kind of go back first to some of what Vivian was sharing around resilience and starting to speak to the liberation, resilience for communities of color that that’s the baseline young folks of color, communities of color–they are resilient. So as we think about resilience, it’s really resilience in service to liberation, right? And liberation should not be led in the ways that we typically think of leadership by…by white folks and by white men. The path towards liberation is led by folks of color, in my opinion, young folks of color. As white people, we need to do a few things. One, we need to be able to develop the muscle to…to…to talk about whiteness, to name it, to be open, to understanding how it shows up in our lives and our work. We need to lead by following. I think it’s the Zapatistas that that speak to that. But like it is our role to understand leadership and what it looks like differently. Like we need to lead by following right. And it doesn’t mean that we do not step up in certain ways or in certain cases, but it is a relational way of being in partnership with folks that maybe it’s a little different than…than how leadership is traditionally understood and identified. And then I think the…the…the final, the final thought that I would offer as a white person coming into a community of color and doing work that we are extracting resources from that community right where if we’re accepting paychecks, if we are extracting resources. And so there’s, in my opinion, an ethical obligation to be in service to the community that we’re working in or the communities we’re working in, and we really need to understand ourselves to be in service to communities and to the individuals that we’re building relationships with. If I had the opportunity to speak to my younger self, I think what I would share is listen more, learn from those around you, understand leadership differently and understand how it shows up in different ways with different folks. And be open to the vision and the…the dreaming and the passion and the ideas of everyone that you’re working with in order to build kind of the strongest communities possible. 


Vivian Yi Huang [00:18:06] I feel like the advice I would give to my younger self is how important relationships are to organizing? And I think I got a taste of that just, you know, with the story I shared earlier about, you know, how I got politicized. Which just I, you know, reflecting back on all the experiences and kind of, you know, important moments in my life. I feel like so many of them have come about because of my relationships with people, you know, either people who inspired me. People who taught me, even people who challenged me and really challenged me in good ways and just, I’m so much of who I am because of my relationships with people. And then of course, I think when we’re talking about, you know, how do we build power? It’s like that power really comes from us being in community and in with each other, right? And really, I think amplifying kind of our connections and our strengths beyond sort of us as an individual, but really being in solidarity, you know, with…with many communities. 

Learn More About the Partnership for Resilient Communities

PRC Oral Storytelling Project Production Credits and Attribution 

  • Project Producer, Felicia T Perez 
  • Sound Producer, Vanessa Vancour 
  • Sound Editing Assistant, Escenthio Marigny 
  • Transcriptions, Dr. Lydia Huerta 
  • Illustration and Music, graceuarts 

Additional music credits (credits do not imply endorsement): 

  • “Emergency Siren” by onderwish CC0 1.0
  • “Fire” by mmutua CC by NC 3.0 segment of original audio sample used
  • “Matchbox Strike and Light” by jaredgibb CC0 1.0
  • “Sewing Machine” by j1987 CC0 1.0
  • “Water Stream” by sterferny CC0 1.0
  • “Construction Soundscape” by ajexk CC0 1.0
  • “Neighborhood City Street” by rifualk CC0 1.0
  • “Street Protest Sound Effect” by spanac CC by 4.0 segment of original audio sample used 
  • “Royalty Free Mexican Mariachi Background Music No Copyright” by MFCC
  • “Car Horn” by keweldog CC0 1.0