By Dru Berry
April 20, 2020
The virtual event features poetry and story readings, musical performances, and more.
Kao Kalia Yang has been attuned to the environment and the manner in which its changing since she was a young girl, thanks to her grandma. Yang, her parents, and her grandma, who has since passed, are all refugees who left Thailand and became part of the Hmong community in the Twin Cities. Her grandma was a shaman, a medicine woman, and a healer, and spoke with Yang about the changing weather and the ways the plants that were so essential to her practice were changing.
Yang remembers asking her grandma if these changes were for the better or worse–the response was always for the worse, with her grandma referencing chemicals becoming more prevalent in the air and the earth. That, along with the recent birth of her twin boys, led Yang to jump at the opportunity to partake in this week’s Earth Day Storytelling Slam. The virtual event takes place Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and features stories, poems, and music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The event also commemorates the release of a new book, Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change, which Yang’s work will be in.
Yang wrote an essay centered around the delivery of her twin four-year-old boys, Peace and Freedom. She ponders what it means to give birth at this point in time, and what it means to confront death and the dying Earth. “To see the connection with the land and to the Earth that my parents and elders and ancestors have always held dear and to look at my children growing up here in America so disconnected from their food sources and the very world we live in, I felt a great responsibility to respond to the call as this middle-generation voice,” Yang said.
The event was originally going to take place in person, but like many of the events on Yang’s schedule for the spring, was cancelled due to the coronavirus. However, the organization Climate Generation came together to figure out how to take the event online and virtual, leading to Wednesday’s virtual happening. Yang partially attributes this to the fact that Climate Generation is composed of a younger group of people. “They’re going to look for the ways of navigating the world that they are living in, not the world they inherited,” Yang said.
Joining Yang, who has three books coming out this year, for the hour and a half event will be:
- Strong Buffalo, a poet and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota.
- Ben Weaver, a songwriter and poet, who recently biked 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico using the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Weaver travelled with a guitar and banjo and stopped during his journey to play free performances.
- Jessie Diggins, a cross-country skier that won a gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Diggins recently released a book, Brave Enough.
- Marco Hernández, the Environmental Justice Organizer at Communities Organizing Latinx Power and Action. Hernández uses his platform to fight for environmental issues, keeping the racial and economic disparities in these issues in mind and out front.
- Daniel Crawford, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, whose collaboration music videos with the university faculty about the change in global temperature went viral.
- Will Steger, who established the Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. nonprofit and led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without resupply, and the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica.
- DJ Cavem, an eco-hip hop artist, educator, and vegan chef. His latest album BIOMIMICZ was released as a seed pack.
- Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
- Michael Chaney, an activist, organizer, and cultural artist. Chaney started Project Sweetie Pie in response to threats to close North High School, and has grown the nonprofit to practice horticulture, urban farming, and more.
- Juwaria Jama, an environmental justice organizer who was the co-state lead for the Minnesota Youth Climate Strike.
- Liz Lat, a digital designer and Programs Support Intern for Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy.
- Chris Heeter, a wilderness guide, poet, and founder of The Wild Institute.