This fall, the Center for Climate, Health and Equity is spotlighting the 10 health equity and climate justice champions it sponsored to attend APHA’s July 2019 #ClimateChangesHealth Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. Today’s conversation is with Christopher Aono, a second year graduate student in public health at California State University, Los Angeles.

Christopher Aono is a second year graduate student in public health at California State University, Los Angeles.

Christopher Aono is a second year graduate student in public health at California State University, Los Angeles.

Q: Why are you passionate about climate and health equity?

A: Climate and health equity are important topics that need to be discussed in our communities. We are the ones living under these conditions. If we do not improve our environment, our health will be impacted even more.

I live California between East Los Angeles and Chinatown in the middle of two diverse cultures. Both are low-income ethnic minority neighborhoods burdened by major traffic zones that have long exposed residents to high levels of carbon emissions. The traffic is so bad that it’s like watching a parking lot.

I believe it’s the air pollution, made even worse by climate change, that causes so many of my friends to have asthma and other respiratory issues. It’s definitely made me more aware of climate and environmental health. I am personally involved in air quality issues. I use a PurpleAir laser sensor to monitor the particulate matter in my neighborhood. The air quality can get bad.

Q: What does advocating for climate and health equity mean to you?

A: Advocating for climate and health equity allows me to use my voice to speak up for those who cannot. I participate in weekly community meetings on air quality and other environmental issues. These meetings reflect the diversity of my community, and are often translated into Mandarin and Cantonese. Unfortunately, language barriers between community members and other stakeholders do cause problems.

Also, some people in my community, and at my school, are afraid to voice their health concerns because many of them are first-generation college students, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or undocumented. I have had friends deported and others afraid of having their immigration status outed. I have been personally stopped by ICE myself.

I want to use my knowledge and education to speak for those with language barriers, for those afraid of being deported and those without public health education. We are all being affected by these climate and health issues – but some of us more than others. We need a voice, too.

Advocating for climate and health equity allows me to use my voice to speak up for those who cannot.

Q: What message and experience at the Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp made the greatest impact on you?

A: The most impactful message I heard at the bootcamp was to think outside the box. Jenn Gustetic from NASA said to “go beyond thinking of policy,” to not limit myself. In the past, I did not take academics seriously, but through finding myself and growing in my education, I learned that you can stand up for what you believe in — regardless of your academic status. The bootcamp emphasized that.cclogowithhashtag

It also allowed me to meet peers from Los Angeles, who also spoke the “public health language” and gave me academic advice and shared their experiences. I got to understand that others, from communities not as diverse as mine, were talking about the same issues that concern me about climate change.

I enjoyed meeting people with different points of views and understanding the greater mission of helping people because we are all equal. Together, we will make a greater impact by collaborating and sharing our stories.

Learn more here about how APHA is helping the next generation of public health professionals take action on climate change.