By MARK MASAOKA
Access to outdoor recreation opportunities is critical to the public health needs of Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) living in dense urban areas, like here in Los Angeles. But for APIs and other people of color in America, access to the outdoors is often limited.
With the upcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park Service on Aug. 25, we have an opportunity to address this issue by shaping what a second century of our parks and other protected public lands can provide to the American people.
The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council have joined forces with civil rights, environmental justice, and community organizations to propose policy recommendations that encourage diversity and inclusion in America’s public lands. The vision of our group is rooted in the belief our public lands must be welcoming and available to all.
Specifically, we are calling on President Obama to issue a presidential proclamation on this centennial anniversary that will address the next century of our country’s national parks and public lands. We ask the president to help ensure that all communities can access and benefit from America’s public lands. Our call to action is particularly timely with President Obama declaring May to be Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
This proclamation would build on President Obama’s significant legacy of protecting public lands so that all Americans may have access to the outdoors. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is a great example of this and shows how protected public lands can serve a community where access to the outdoors is limited. The San Gabriel Mountains provide 70 percent of Los Angeles County’s open space and host 3 million visitors a year. These mountains offer a critical outdoor haven that promotes public health in a park-poor large metropolitan region that is home to one in 20 Americans.
Promoting inclusivity in our protected public lands is also about ensuring our parks reflect the diversity and complex history of America. Honouliuli National Monument is an example of how a historic site can also serve these same goals. Honouliuli was Hawai‘i’s largest and longest-operating World War II concentration camp, incarcerating nearly 4,000 Japanese Americans and other individuals. The establishment of Honouliuli as a national monument allows the National Park Service to continue to tell the important story of the suspension of constitutional liberties for an entire civilian population. This place will also help ensure that future generations can learn from our past mistakes.
Our public lands can commemorate the historic contributions of persons of color and their stories should be shared with all Americans. Today the Los Angeles-based Chinese Historical Society makes an annual pilgrimage to Mt. Sing in Yosemite National Park, named after a Chinese cook, Tie Sing, who in 1899 accompanied the U.S. Geological Survey to the park. The 1930s paintings by Chiura Obata, a Japanese American, helped popularize the glorious landscapes in Yosemite.
President Obama has protected other landscapes and sites that better reflect America’s complex history, including the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, César E. Chávez and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments. Places like these represent and tell the story of our nation’s great diversity.
Through this effort we are revealing benefits that protected public lands can provide for the diverse communities that increasingly make up America. New parks and other public lands can provide health benefits to people disenfranchised by a lack of outdoor access, and protecting sites and landscapes can help us reclaim our sometimes passed-over legacy as contributors to American history. We look forward to working with President Obama to make this vision a reality.
Mark Masaoka is the policy coordinator at the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.