By Sam Le
Northwest Asian Weekly
During the 2018 Water Festival, hosted by ECOSS (formerly known as Environmental Coalition of South Seattle) at the Duwamish Waterway Park, many communities of color came together to celebrate the cultural importance of water and Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish River. ECOSS Staff and Ken Workman of the Duwamish Tribal Council gave introductions in English, Spanish, Cambodian, and the native tongue of the Duwamish tribes. Throughout the festival, environmental education and sustainable practices were presented in subtle, yet effective ways for the very diverse audience members.
The lead organizer for the event, Joycelyn Chui, said the purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the Duwamish River and to learn how to appreciate and celebrate how water is connected to everyone.
“We need to continue to celebrate water because it has brought us life and impacted different cultures throughout the world,” said Chui. “Rather than polluting it, we should be taking care of this essential source of life.”
ECOSS intertwined environmental education throughout the program’s action-packed show by Lucha Libre Volcánica, storytelling performances led by Aleksa Manila, and the traditional Cambodian lantern launch. Unlike a seminar or lecture, the knowledge being shared was easy to understand by both the children and adults.
With temperatures reaching over 90 degrees and hundreds of audience members in attendance, ECOSS kept the audience and volunteers hydrated, while reducing the amount of plastic waste — one of the key points they wanted to convey. Waste reduction for this event was achieved through placing water stations and asking audiences to mark their compostable cups for reuse.
Chui explained, “When we hold different cultural events, we often times don’t pay attention to how much waste is created. Just because you are celebrating your culture, doesn’t justify the amount of waste left behind.”
Another key issue the festival hopes to address is the consumption of unsafe seafood from the Duwamish River by specifically local Vietnamese, Cambodian, Pacific Islander, and Latino communities. Through a research by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Duwamish River in South Seattle was labeled a superfund site, meaning it has been contaminated by hazardous waste. ECOSS invited King County Public Health’s Community Health Advocates to present cooking demonstrations on how to safely consume salmon from the Duwamish River.
Sophorn Sim, ECOSS’s community outreach associate, said, “The main message is to inform the public to know that PCBs can not be seen nor smell in the seafood or fish. They cannot be cooked away. When you eat seafood or fish that are contaminated with PCBs, you won’t be able to know and you won’t get sick right away. But it may cause long term problems, like cancer. However, PCBs May cause brain development for babies and young children. Pregnant mothers should avoid consume contaminated residential seafood and shellfish from Duwamish River and should consume only Salmon from that River.”
Emcee Aleksa Manila, a renowned Seattle drag queen, guided the audience through performances highlighting the Cambodian, Hmong, Japanese, and Hawaiian cultural perspectives of water. Either being known as a passage of safety, a powerful storm, and peaceful ocean, the cultural concept of water took on many meanings and connected many of the cultures and audience members together.
“I was deeply touched by the community involvement across cultures, across nationalities, and across waters; truly celebrating how water connects all of us,” said Manila.
Ending with a cultural tradition, audiences were given a chance to participate in the Cambodian lantern launch by sending hand crafted prayer lanterns into the Duwamish River. Sim and Song Vann, a Cambodian priest, explained the Cambodian lantern launches’ significance and the history of the Cambodian diaspora. Sending off small prayer lanterns was a practice to “give gratitude to nature and the Duwamish River, Seattle’s only river,” as explained by Chui.
Sam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.