Vietnamese American Dorothy Le, 24, is a 2007 UCLA alumna who majored in Environmental Science and minored in Geography/Environmental Studies. As an undergraduate, she led E3: Ecology, Economy, Equity, an environmental and social justice organization at UCLA and was involved in the UC Divestment Taskforce, The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), and the Statewide Sustainable Transportation Policy.
Dorothy is currently Planning and Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), where she works to increase bike facilities and bicycle and pedestrian access to transit hubs throughout Los Angeles County.
Pacific Ties: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of environmental activism and advocacy work?
Dorothy Le: My favorite part of environmental activism is that I work to protect nature and the world in which we live. It’s a beautiful world, and I want it to continue being beautiful for my children, grandchildren, and generations beyond.
My least favorite part of the environmental activism is that it sometimes doesn’t address race or social equity. I have to work, as a woman of color, to incorporate race and equity into environmental work, but sometimes it’s difficult. Especially with bicycling being such an activity dominated by white males, it’s quite a challenge to incorporate people of color and women, even though there are plenty of people of color and women who cycle.
Do you feel that Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans are proportionately involved in environmentalism and leadership positions?
I think there could be more Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans involved in environmentalism and leadership positions, of course. It’s difficult though because of many cultural factors.
What cultural factors encourage or discourage activism?
These include parental pressures, societal pressures and confusion. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, or a medical professional at least. They didn’t understand how I could make a living doing what I am doing. They just don’t understand the system very well and are scared that if I take a risk, then I’ll be losing a lot. They would rather have me be safe. I, though, am a person who takes risks and is okay with trying new things. In order to be where I am today, I had to disobey my parents and communicate with them clearly about what I wanted to do. That’s a difficult thing for anyone to do- to not have that support from your parents to do what you want is tremendously discouraging for Asian American people.
Being a Vietnamese American woman, in a society that is still dominated by white privilege, hierarchy, and power, it took me a long time to understand where I fit in, what my unique contribution was, and what my own privilege was- to overcome and make effective change. I encourage everyone- Asian American, Latino American, African American, Caucasian, Native American- to understand their privilege, unique contribution and work to make the world a better place with their unique abilities and power.
Portions of this interview, plus Dorothy’s thoughts on women and environmentalism, are featured in UCLA’s FEM newsmagazine.
– posted by Debbie Chong