Rising Waters, Raising Voices at Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum

Feb. 21, 2012 / By

Written by Anthony Nget, VoiceWaves Journalist.

Largely known as one of the most marginalized groups of Long Beach, many members of the Pacific Islander community are working to end their disenfranchisement. The most recent instance of this includes the screening of the documentary, Rising Waters: Global Warming and The Fate of the Pacific Islands at the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum. The event started with a light reception catered with foods native to the Pacific Islands. A blessing was then held to welcome all guests.

“This is rare for Pacific Islanders. We just meet at churches and work, but we are artists, and mothers, and activists. Many times Pacific Islanders are invisible in the Asian Pacific community, we had to strategically plan this,” says artist and community organizer Amelia Niumeitolu.

Rising Waters explores the effects of global warming upon many nations in the Pacific.  Comprised of small islands or atolls, they are on the verge of vanishing due to rising sea levels resulting from global warming. Taking a hard look at science, the film also explores cultural effects as it profiles various victims of extreme weather.

The livelihoods of people in the Pacific depend upon the delicate ecosystem. The extreme weather not only contributes to deaths but to a loss of food and fresh water. The entire ecosystem has become disrupted and the film goes so far as to mention graves that have been displaced by encroaching waters.

“I keep going to maps to see if Pingelap is still there,” says Rene Castro, a former resident of the Micronesian atoll.

Rising Waters encourages its audience to take action, profiling a young woman who stood up to government officials by pressuring them to create climate friendly legislation. Much of the night echoed such sentiments of community action.

Following the screening, many community members were given opportunities to speak about the health issues that the Pacific Islander community faces. Although environmental concerns were at the forefront in presentations by groups such as A3PCON Environmental Justice Task Force and EndOil, others present discussed issues more pertinent on a local level. This included representatives from the Asian & Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) as well as a John Taeleifi who discussed the very poor air quality in west Long Beach and its link to asthma and other health problems.

“Pacific Islanders focus primarily on survival and tend to overlook the details that affect our lives. We want to unite communities to help each other and encourage others to heed our call to reduce the toxic quality of the air,” says Taeleifi.

Scott Chan, project coordinator of APIOPA, adds, “We are trying to impact globally by changing locally.”

The night ended with members of a tribe from Catalina calling for loose definition of Pacific Islanders and a stronger definition of brotherhood. They continued by preforming a song.

“We are stepping in the right direction for a more healthy community,” says Gisele Fong, executive director of EndOil. “It’s not abstract. It’s happening to our community. This is the right time because people know it’s an issue for the future and for now.”