In today’s episode, storyteller Vi Pham explores the impacts of Australia’s troubled immigration policy on climate-impacted Pasifika communities. As the daughter of Vietnamese asylum seekers, Vi reflects on her family’s own history to better understand the varied experiences of Australian immigrants, from people displaced by war to those forced out of their ancestral homelands by climate-charged natural disasters and sea level rise.
And, in this week's bonus episode, Inherited host Shaylyn Martos sits down with storyteller Vi Pham, who reflected on her own family history to better understand the effect of Australia’s immigration policy on climate-impacted Pasifika communities in Ep. 7, “Home and Away.” Together, they talk about Vi’s work in the legal system, the experience of putting together her story, and her goals for the future.
For more information about our podcast, head to our website at yr.media/inherited, and follow us on the socials @inheritedpod.
S3E6: “HOME AND AWAY,” BY VI PHAM
HOST SHAYLYN MARTOS:
[music fades in]
In the fight for climate action, language is key. How we define the effects of climate change, and how we speak about those on the front lines, determines how we perceive the climate crisis. And what we can do about it.
The term “climate refugee” is commonly used in Australian politics and media to categorize those facing displacement by climate disasters in the Pacific. But for many, uprooting their families and abandoning their homes is a last resort.
[music cuts out abruptly]
So what does “climate refugee” even mean?
Håfa adai, and welcome to Inherited — we share the work of young audio storytellers, hoping to uplift a new generation of climate advocacy. I’m your season host, Shaylyn Martos. This is season 3, episode seven: “Home and Away.”
As a child of Vietnamese immigrants, Vi Pham’s understanding of the word “refugee” changed as she learned more about Pasifika climate action. Today, she shares the voices of young activists from the Pacific Islands working to change the narrative that paints climate disasters as both inevitable and irreversible.
Here’s Vi Pham with “Home and Away”.
The Vietnamese language uses this same word, nuoc, to refer to both “water” –
[tinny voices speaking Vietnamese]
– and “country.”
Other languages often think of “country” to mean to the earth upon which a nation rests. Like how in English, “land” and “country” are often used interchangeably. But for the Vietnamese, water and country is the most natural association in the world. For generations, we have been fed by flooded rice fields. Our land is nurtured by river deltas, and the monsoon rains keep us healthy and strong. Water is our food, our livelihood, our home.
I am a second-generation Vietnamese immigrant living in Australia. It’s an interesting space to occupy. And it’s probably pretty unsurprising, then, that I ended up studying and working in migration law for quite a few years. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s movement around the world, and how that impacts the way we conceive of and talk about concepts of home and belonging.
It’s not just in Vietnamese or English where land, water and home blend. In Samoan, the word for land is also a homonym.
MARY MASELINA HARM: For a lot of our Pasifika countries, a lot of our language will tell you the answers of how we're connected to our lands. You know, the the word the Samoan word for land is also the same word that's used for placenta. Really, you know, the land is like a living thing. It's, it's, you know, what gives birth to our people to everything that we eat, everything that we see. And it's just so connected and ingrained into our culture.
VI: This is Mary Maselina Harm, a Pacific Climate Warrior. The Pacific Climate Warriors are a climate movement led by young activists from the Pacific Islands. Just like me, Mary is far from her ancestral land. We both live in the Australian city of Brisbane, or to use its First Nations name, Meanjin.
MARY: So I was born in Canada but raised on Turrbal country, so north of the Brisbane River. My mum is from Samoa and my dad is Chinese, but born and raised in Fiji. And so I grew up most of my life here in Meanjin.
VI: Despite being one of the world’s largest cities by territory, Meanjin is extremely socially tight. Locals jokingly call it a large country town, and I can barely meet new people without being able to count our mutual friends on both hands. Depending on who you ask, it’s one of the best things about living here – or one of the worst.
For Mary and I – two young women from migrant families, living in the insular city of Meanjin – the connection was strong and instant. I felt a sense of kinship as soon as we started talking and reflecting on our relationships with our respective home countries.
MARY: Living away from your ancestral homelands, it's kind of this natural calling that you always feel to, like, return home. And the idea of not being able to do that is yeah, like you're saying, quite devastating.
VI: Almost immediately, Mary and I realized the tragic thing about growing up in an Australian city: we are so alienated from the land that supports us. Between my apartment and work is a thirty-minute walk along a highway, with the Australian sun radiating off the concrete around me. Our supermarkets import the exact same produce all year round, regardless of the season. And for us living in Meanjin, we are in constant conflict with the floodplains on which our city is built.
[thunderclap rumbles, synths fade in]
In our short lives, both Mary and I have experienced three supposedly “once-in-a-lifetime” floods. I remember my first one, age eleven, on holiday, watching footage of the Brisbane River swelling into my street on TV. Standing in my house after the fact, the windows having been smashed in by neighbours hoping to save our valuables while we were away. Just last year, another flood left me couchsurfing for a week as all roads to my house were deep underwater. Australian climate scientists are saying our floods will only get worse.
DAVID KAROLY: We’ve been seeing extreme rainfall and flash flooding and hailstorms associated with the more moisture and the more thunderstorms that we see associated with the higher climate… It’s important to understand that these are projected impacts, but unfortunately they’re also the impacts we’ve experienced across Australia in the most recent decade. These are the changes we are seeing already.
VI: I often feel that our cities and infrastructure are built almost in spite of the land we occupy, rather than in harmony with it. It is hard to imagine a city-dwelling Australian likening their home to placenta, to water, to nourishment. It just doesn’t feel like our day to day language connects to the land and culture of Meanjin.
[light piano music]
While being separated by time and space, the Vietnamese and Pasifika diaspora in Australia have both experienced being the objects of hot debate within the Australian public consciousness. Back in the 80s, Australia received a wave of refugees fleeing war. Today, it nervously awaits another wave of refugees: this time, fleeing the climate crisis. But despite this commonality, Mary and I nevertheless have very different relationships with the word “refugee”.
For me, it is a word that embodies strength and history. It is a word that reflects the willingness of the Australian community to open their hearts. We can hear this in ABC clips from 1979, a mere three years after Australia accepted its first Vietnamese refugees.
AUS PUB 1: I think we all have to think in terms of the one world, one humanity, and we all have international obligations to fulfill if it's going to be a peaceful world for everybody.
ABC JOURNO: Do you think we should take as many as we can fit in?
AUS PUB 1: Yes, I do, most definitely. And I think that we should cooperate in – in many ways, to make sure that the needs of these people are fulfilled.
VI: “Refugee” is also a word that reflects the responsibility of the Australian government. I am speaking to you today from Australia because forty years ago, my mother and her family embarked across the ocean on the most significant journey of their lives. As people who have witnessed their country being torn to shreds by war and colonialism, Australia was a symbol of hope.
[sound of waves moving rocks underwater]
While my family was sailing the seas and being processed in the refugee camps, Australia was undergoing its own journey of self-discovery. Government policy may have been welcoming, but society took a while to recalibrate. For a country still weaning off the White Australia Policy only a few decades earlier, the wave of South-east Asian immigrants almost 100,000 strong was paradigm-shifting. At the time, the media hotly debated their arrival.
ABC JOURNO: Do you think it would cause racial hostility in this country?
AUS PUB 2: In this country? Certainly. But the sooner we get that out of our systems, the better we wake up to where we are and what we're doing.
VI: My mother landed in Sydney, where she spent her teenage years. Then she moved to Meanjin, and became a doctor. She bought a house, and many years later, I would come into the story. Having studied and worked in migration law for nearly two years now, I am still only scratching the surface when it comes to reflecting on my own family’s journey to this land. It is almost impossible to imagine my own mother – a happy-go-lucky woman, who indulges in gardening and retail therapy – as an eleven-year-old girl, on an overcrowded boat, surrounded by dark, stormy waters.
Within these conversations about the asylum seekers, one theme that kept coming up again and again is this idea of governmental responsibility and obligation.
ABC JOURNO: Do you not think we have some responsibility to these people? Many of these people quite possibly will die or will starve as a result of not being able to find a place to go to. Doesn't that fact, at least temper your thinking?
VI: Jumping forward some forty years, journalists are asking the same questions about Pacific Islanders today.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Australia likes to talk about the Pacific as “family,” that’s the sort of language we hear. What obligations do we have to accept climate refugees from the Pacific if their islands become uninhabitable?
VI: “Climate refugee”. What a strange term.
For many of us in the Global North, the phrase “climate refugee” evokes post-apocalyptic images of tsunamis destroying cities, of buildings slipping into the sea, of people wading through knee-high waters in the streets. And there is an uncomfortable truth behind this: while Meanjin residents can wring out their clothes and persist for a couple years between floods, some Pacific Islands are in danger of being submerged for good. This is an emerging reality, particularly for low-lying coral atoll nations, like Tuvalu and Kiribati. However, it is still only a small snippet of what’s going on.
MARY: Families at home always say things like, you know, “Oh, the, the sands moved,” or, “We can't have that crop now because it doesn't grow as fast,” or, “It doesn't grow the time where it's meant to grow,” or when, you know, there's cultural attire, for example, certain things that we would normally use, like flowers and whatnot, aren't blooming when they're meant to bloom.
VI: As Mary describes it, the climate crisis isn’t just buildings collapsing under huge tidal waves. It’s a slow erosion of the life and culture that Pasifika communities have enjoyed for thousands of years.
MARY: And so there's significant changes in just our natural environment. And we wouldn't say like, oh, climate change is happening, but we're saying there's changes. And our families on the ground can feel that and see that.
VI: Though the Pacific Islands are hardly alone in being affected by climate change, they are viewed in a unique light by mainstream Australian media and policymakers. Being on the frontlines of climate change, as well as within Australia’s sphere of geopolitical influence, means that Australia and the Pacific Island nations have had a long-standing relationship. Some Pacific Island nations, like Nauru, are former Australian colonies. The current Australian government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, employs the phrase “Pacific family” to refer to our corner of the world.
PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Australia unequivocally supports the Pacific Island Forum. It’s the body that is so important to bring together the Pacific family.
VI PHAM: And so, within climate discourse, this idea of Australia’s responsibility keeps coming up.
But responsibility to what, exactly? To open our borders to people fleeing sinking islands? Or responsibility to do something else, something more proactive in preventing the climate crisis that is supposed to kickstart all this migration? The more I researched this topic, the muddier the conversation seemed to become.
[echoey voices talk over each other]
While the phrase “climate refugee” forms the basis for a lot of Pacific climate policy discussions, it’s one that’s legally shaky at best. To begin with, the legal framework around refugees is very specific. It only applies to people fleeing war or persecution based on political or social characteristics, like religion, or ethnicity. For the Vietnamese immigrants of the 80s, like my family, the label applies easily. But Pacific Islanders seeking higher ground? Not so much.
[14:39 - MIDROLL]
VI: In October 2017, New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister announced that they were considering bringing in an experimental climate change humanitarian visa, targeting Pacific Islanders whose homes were being made uninhabitable by climate events.
JAMES SHAW: What we proposed is to set up a new humanitarian visa category because people who are displaced by climate change and rising seas are not recognised by the United Nations refugee agency as refugees, so we can’t bring them in under the regular refugee program, resettlement program.
VI: However, after consulting with their Pacific neighbours, the New Zealand government dropped this climate visa program just six months later, for the simple reason that Pacific Islanders did not want it. For many Pasifika peoples, leaving their homeland is an absolute last resort.
MARY: I don't like the term personally, and I know for a lot of our communities, the Pacific don't resonate with this term at all because it's not an option for us. It's not an option to, to leave our homes. And as someone living in the diaspora, I know for a fact that it's not an option for my own people at home as well.
VI: Hearing this was like a lightbulb going off in my head. Once I thought about it, it did seem completely absurd to assume that Pasifika people are scrambling to leave their homes, the lands which have fed and sheltered them for generations. How arrogant to assume that their greatest concern is gaining permission to cross our borders, especially when it’s wealthy, developed nations like Australia that contribute the most carbon emissions.
[slow, sad synths]
For a while now, I’ve had pretty similar thoughts about Vietnamese migration stories. The Vietnam War was many things, not least a violent assertion of American imperial power. The damage that the US military caused to Vietnam’s environment, infrastructure, economy, and society was absolutely devastating. As migrants, we’ve established thriving, happy communities in the countries where we eventually landed, and that’s even after crossing open oceans and spending years in refugee camps. And don’t get me wrong, I love my life and my community here in Australia. But I’ll never forget why we were forced to leave.
This is why Mary’s words resonate with me so clearly now. If we actually listen to Pasifika voices, it becomes abundantly clear that climate refugee discourse misses a key point: that Pasifika communities would prefer not to migrate at all.
MARY: And it's really disheartening because, again, we're talking about families, we're talking about connection to land, we're talking about ancestry, we’re talking about our people who are buried, you know, next to our homes. And the fact that we're jumping to this idea of “climate refugee” when we haven't even discussed ways of stopping climate change is really disheartening.
VI: By focusing on migration eligibility criteria, Australian media distracts the mainstream discourse from the things that actually matter, like our climate obligations. Again, Pasifika people have been fighting relentlessly for climate justice. Just last year, a group of Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders won their complaint against the Australian government before the UN Human Rights Committee. The committee found that the Australian Government had violated its human rights obligations by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change. It’s still too early to tell what this means for Australian climate policy, so watch this space, I guess.
Mary notes that the climate refugee narrative also undermines Pasifika culture and agency. It presents the breakup of communities that have persisted for generations as simply an inevitable next step in the climate crisis, rather than a humanist tragedy. After all, visas are a very individualistic tool for relocation. If you want to come to Australia, you cannot come as a community. You have to come alone, and start from scratch. And who wants that?
CHANNEL 4 INTERVIEWER: So, you would be the first climate refugees, as a nation?
ANOTE TONG Well, I’ve always rejected the notion of refugees because it’s not a nice term. Whether it’s the right term or not, I don’t know. But what I’ve been advocating is a policy of migration with dignity. And the reason is because we have the time, we know what’s happening, and we should be preparing, which we are.
VI: The voice you just heard belongs to Anote Tong, the former president of Kiribati, a low-lying Pacific Island nation prone to sea level rise. Like Mary, he finds the “refugee” label ill-fitting. It seems to imply a level of helplessness which ignores the fact that we have known about climate change and its effects for decades. Likewise, Pasifika communities are strong, and capable of mobilising. They don’t need our sympathy. Instead, they are asking for us to take responsibility for a crisis that’s been a long time coming.
“Climate refugee” is thus a phrase that originates from the vernacular of the Australian mainstream climate policy space. It is not one that Pasifika people want to describe themselves. In fact, it often has no bearing on their material reality at all.
MARY: Still, I think, you know, 99.9% of the time when I hear about the climate crisis on mainstream media, I don't see myself. I don't hear the voices of my people. I don't hear their cries. I don't hear their stories. I don't hear their soul lines. It definitely does not capture the resilience and the warrior spirit, I would say, of the Pacific at all.
VI: As they are on the frontlines of climate change, Pasifika people should be leaders in the climate movement. Mary is part of the Pacific Climate Warriors, a movement for climate action run by young Pasifika organisers from all around the world. Their mission statement is to harness the power of Pasifika youth and change the narrative on climate. This is particularly important for Pasifika communities. When their stories make it into mainstream media, they are too often dominated by pessimism and despair.
MARY: Yeah. It's such a weird term. Yeah. I mean, in some ways you would think that a term like that would put some urgency on the issue. Yeah, but on the other side, it also takes away from the fact that we're talking about, you know, using the term climate refugee is almost saying that it's too late, it's done, it's over. It totally voids the topic of fighting for climate change and climate justice. It paints us as victims of climate change and not leaders in this movement.
The Pacific Climate Warriors are indeed a formidable force. Another Warrior, Brianna Fruean, addressed world leaders at COP26.
BRIANNA FRUEAN: If you're looking for inspiration on this, look no further than the climate leadership of young Pacific people. We are not just victims to this crisis. We have been resilient beacons of hope.
VI: This kind of message is particularly important in Australia’s political climate, where the “climate refugee” narrative is still widely used, despite many Pasifika people struggling to identify with it. The central premise treats Pasifika people as casualties of an inevitable doom, as another country’s burden. Climate refugees are very different from climate warriors. If we only see the former being platformed in discussions about climate change, then we’re destined to lose sight of what is possible.
Watching a 60 Minutes episode on how the climate crisis will impact the Pacific Islands, I heard a lot of this pessimistic language once again.
LIAM BARTLETT: Ladies, you tell me, I mean, what is the future?
JEAN TARAKA: We don’t, we don’t think we have future, but we just fight for our own life. We don’t know what is the future.
LIAM: You don’t think there is a future, Jean?
JEAN: I don’t think of the real future.
LIAM: That’s sad isn’t it. Do you mean by that, you think the whole island will eventually disappear?
JEAN: Yeah, without doing anything, this island will be disappear.
LIAM: And this has been your home.
JEAN: Yes, I don’t know where to move.
VI: The loss of country on such a scale … there’s no doubt it’s an existentially horrifying prospect. When Pasifika people speak about their lands and their lives, it is our job to listen. However, Mary cautions against exclusively framing Pasifika stories through the lens of loss and failure. It can actually be counterproductive when agitating for government climate action.
MARY: Again, we often hear this victim narrative, you know, “those poor people,” you know, “how can we help them,” you know, “they're sinking, they're drowning.” The Pacific Climate Warriors, you know, we exist to change that narrative. You know, we are not drowning. We are fighting. That's the – that's the mantra we rally behind because we believe that we have the solutions to fight the climate crisis.
Once again, we can listen back to the words of another climate leader. Former Kiribati President Tong, spoke to an interviewer on the UK’s Channel 9 about what Kiribati stands to gain from the 2015 Paris Agreement.
UK CHANNEL 9 INTERVIEWER: But if, if it is a foregone conclusion no matter what happens, what’s the point of a deal now?
ANOTE TONG: Well what’s the point? Well we need to survive. We need to live. We have the right to do that and I think we are owed that by the international community–
INTERVIEWER: But you’re saying that your islands will be overrun regardless of the deal eventually, that you’re already feeling the effects, that the sea levels are rising
ANOTE: Okay. What you’re saying is why are we participating in the whole process?
INTERVIEWER: What is to be gained from this process if that’s going to happen anyway?
VI: This interview felt very jarring to me. I was frustrated by how the interviewer kept interrupting the then-President with questions that implied climate action was futile. While I’m sure it wasn’t the interviewer’s intention, this segment seems to reflect Mary’s warning: treating Pacific Islanders as victims rather than respecting them as leaders, means we give ourselves permission to just give up.
MARY: The media does not paint a great picture. Very doom and gloom, very data heavy, very scientific, heavy. And it really lacks the stories and the spirit of our people.
VI: Anyone in activist spaces knows that this kind of rhetoric can be deadly to progress. Accepting Australia’s fate as the bad guy feels to me like the easy way out. Not only do we betray ourselves, but we betray our communities, and our neighbours. The climate movement can’t sustain itself on despair and nihilism; it needs to be fueled by love and hope. I think that’s what I found so inspiring about the Pacific Climate Warriors: they make me believe in an abundant world.
And this is possible, when you have that kind of love between community, and country. When you build your society in a way that isn’t destroyed by floods, but rather is fed by them. When people’s connection to land is like a proverbial umbilical cord.
MARY: It's warm. Definitely warm. It's a tropical – tropical heat.
This is Mary again, describing her homeland of Samoa.
MARY: If you're in the village, like, you know, you always hear the kids, you'll hear the dogs, you hear like all the livestock, whether you have pigs or chickens or cows. You'll hear the beach, the ocean and you'll often smell food cooking or, you know, fish because the uncles have just gone out to grab some fish for the villages. There's always something happening, but there's also so much time for rest, which is like again, another Indigenous way of being and knowing. It is a simple life, but a beautiful life.
VI: And it’s a life worth fighting for. Protecting the land, the thing that waters us, nourishes us, and gives birth to us. It’s a noble fight.
And so there’s something undeniably inspiring about the Pacific Climate Warriors. Listening to the likes of Mary Maselina Harm, Brianna Fruean, and Anote Tong, they make it so easy to believe, and to hope. I think that kind of message is crucial in these times. We need to dream of climate prosperity. We need to be brave enough to keep going.
SHAYLYN: Hey there, it’s Shaylyn again. Thank you so much for listening to “Home and Away,” by Vi Pham.
That’s all for this episode of Inherited, we’ll return next week with an all-new episode featuring another impactful climate storyteller. And look out this Friday for a special bonus episode — a BTS interview with Vi on her inspirations for this piece and advice for young climate storytellers!
Saina Ma’ase’ for joining us for episode seven! Next week is our final story for this season of Inherited, so make sure to tune in Wednesday, wherever you get your podcasts.
Inherited is brought to you by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists, creating content for this generation. We’re distributed by Critical Frequency, a women-run podcast network founded by journalists.
The story “Home and Away” featured in today's episode, was written, produced, and voiced by Vi Pham, an Inherited season 3 storyteller. Vi would also like to thank Mary, her parents, and 4ZZZ Community Radio, for use of their studio.
I’m Shaylyn Martos, your Season 3 host, and producer. The co-creators and senior producers of Inherited are Georgia Wright and Jules Bradley. Our audio engineer is James Riley, and our audio engineering fellow is Christian Romo. Dominique French and Nyge Turner provided production support, and our intern is Esther Omolola. Our Executive Producer is Amy Westervelt from Critical Frequency. YR’s Director of Podcasting is Sam Choo, and our Sr. Director of Podcasting and Partnerships is Rebecca Martin.
Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR Media:
Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, and Jay Mejia Cuenca. Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler. Other music licensed from APM Music.
Art for this episode created by YR’s Marjerrie Masicat. Art direction by Brigido Bautista. Michella Rivera is our web designer. Project management from Eli Arbreton. YR Media’s Creative Director is Pedro Vega, Jr. Special thanks to Maggie Taylor, Jazmyn Burton, Shavonne Graham, Donielle Conley, and Kyra Kyles.
Please throw us a rating, or maybe even a review, on the Apple Podcast app – it goes a LONG way towards getting these stories out there! You can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter @inheritedpod. If you want to learn more about our show and this season’s cohort of storytellers, head to our website, at yr.media/inherited.
Saina Ma’ase’ for listening, and see ya next Wednesday!
S3E7 BONUS: Interview with Vi Pham
Hi folks, you’re listening to Inherited, a sound-rich, solutions-focused youth storytelling podcast about the climate crisis. I’m Shaylyn Martos, your season 3 host.
In episode seven Vi Pham addressed the complexity of the term “climate refugees” in regards to Pacific Islanders experiencing climate disasters. If you haven’t heard Vi’s episode, “Home and Away”, definitely go take a listen!
Vi and I linked as production wrapped up for the season, to talk about how her legal work influences her storytelling, how she’s grown through this process, and her goals for the future.
Here’s Vi Pham.
Vi: My name’s Vi, my pronouns are she/they and I guess I work in the legal sphere. I am also a radio announcer on my local community radio station called 4ZZZ, and the science show that I announce for is called Know Idea, “know” spelled with a K, so. [Shaylyn: Oh, how cute!] I don't know. Yeah. Keep it funny.
Shaylyn: Could you tell me a little bit about your audio storytelling journey? What brought you to us? What brought you to Inherited?
Vi: Absolutely. So I have been like a radio announcer for a couple of years, so I kind of cover recent research and I just package that into bite size information like two or three minute segments, and I just kind of talk about it on air. So that was really, really fun. That kind of got me involved in the world of audio and the world of reporting. And I was interested in exploring that side more. And I had a friend who did a lot of freelance writing, so she would forward me calls for pitches and things like that. And then one day she forwarded me one, like an email that had that Inherited call for pitches in it. And I just thought, “Oh, that sounds so cool.” It's like audio. And that's sort of climate storytelling, which really aligned with my interests because I was doing a degree in ecology at the time and I just thought, “Oh, that'll be interesting to talk about.” And it's been a really, really fun experience ever since. I'm really glad I found you guys.
Shaylyn: We're glad you found us too. And like, shout out to your friend for being so helpful. You also work in the legal sphere, which is unique for our cohort. You're coming at it from a different perspective from a lot of other folks. So how does your work in migration law in Meanjin influence your storytelling?
Vi: My previous job was actually at a migration law firm, and because my story is about, you know, concepts like migration and home, specifically surrounding like Pasifika communities. Which isn't a community I'm part of, but I was lucky enough to get to talk to someone in that, someone coming from like the Pacific climate activist space.
Migration law firm actually did specialize in Pasifika clients just because the principal solicitor is a Pasifika woman. And so she kind of wants to help out her own community. And it was honestly really interesting writing my story while working in that space, because my story, I guess, is focused on something that's quite big picture. It's like the narrative that Australian media likes to push about the Pacific Islands and how they're just going to be inevitable victims of climate change and there's like nothing we can do about it now. So that's the angle I was coming at it from. I was like, you know, we don't have to just jump to, you know, Pacific people abandoning their homes. Like we can still focus on climate action now, which should be our first priority, not immediately jumping to developing like migration policy for them.
Vi: Or, you know, not focusing on that anyway, at the exclusion of climate action. And it was really interesting because that was kind of at odds with what I do for my job, which was to help a lot of Pasifika people who actually did want to come to Australia. And it's something I would have liked to explore in my story a bit more, but I guess I didn't, I couldn't find a way to like, seamlessly fit it in.
So yeah, at my last job what I actually did was mainly helping people fight visa cancellations. So in Australia we have this like policy where if you're an immigrant and you know you're not on, you know, like a citizen or something, then if you sort of get a prison sentence of more than 12 months, then they can cancel your visa and deport you, which is absolutely insane. [Shaylyn: Ridiculous. Yes. 100%.] Yeah. So our clients would be people who, you know, had sort of come through the criminal justice criminal justice system and were then facing deportation. And we would try and help them appeal their visa cancellations.
Shaylyn: So it does seem that like your work before pitching the story and, you know, during it, was super hands-on, one-on-one, working with a smaller team, working with specific people. And then for this story, you had to zoom all the way out to talk about things from like a national and international perspective. So that’s very, very interesting, Vi.
Vi: Yeah, absolutely.
Shaylyn: Yeah. And I think to continue on that line of thought, your episode Home and Away changed quite a bit from when you first pitched it to us. Our producers mentioned to me that your understanding of the term “refugee” got more complex as you worked on the story. So what caused that shift for you?
Vi: Well, I think that that shift really came from researching the story more because my understanding of the term “refugee”, first of all, it comes from my own story of my family that they came over as Vietnamese refugees following the war in the ‘80s. Right. So it's funny having that perspective, because back then the Australian government was very friendly towards the Vietnamese refugees. And so for me it's something that, you know, I and like refugees have kind of been in the media cycle for years since then, from various other countries. And it's been interesting watching Australian refugee policy get more and more xenophobic and more and more narrow. And also just like the way the media talks about it, become much more of a media issue now. Yeah, I guess in the recent century compared to like when my family moved over. So I really wanted to come at it from that angle of, like, looking at the tightening of, tightening of the frame around refugees.
And Australia also has this arrangement with some Pacific Island nations to indefinitely detain people whose migration status is, you know, still being processed in those like, you know, immigration detention centers in like Pacific Island nations that have that agreement with Australia. And, you know, often refugees can, or other people in immigration detention can, be in those detentions for years and years and years and years. And it's just this really, really terrible arrangement that's been given the name the Pacific Solution. But I think the more I researched it, the more I like talked to other, to actual Pasifika people about it, especially in the climate activism space. I was like, Oh, this… I really need to rethink my entire conception of this because, yeah, my initial conception was like very by the book and very based on, you know, just like what I learned in law school about immigration policy and things like that.
Shaylyn: It really shifted.
Vi: Yeah, it really, really shifted. And I think it was a big, big effort to kind of reframe everything. But I hope it worked out.
Shaylyn: I mean, it did. [laughter] It did.
Vi: I'm really nervous about it.
Shaylyn: Well, and I do have, that goes into my next question for you. I want to preface this with saying that you did a fantastic job. As a Pacific Islander who did a story on climate action in Guahan for last season, I found your piece really relatable. So I'm wondering if you, if you can say anything to other people about just respecting other communities in your work. I think that your episode is a really good example of that. How do you, how do you cover things respectfully, intentionally and equitably?
Vi: I think the important thing for me was just to recognize that I was, you know, writing about another community and speaking about another community that's not mine. And so that comes with an extra layer of responsibility, I think. Like for me personally, because I had to shift my initial vision so much, I think something I really, that was really, really important to me was prioritizing the well-being of that community and honest truth telling for that community over whatever vision I had initially. [Shaylyn: Mm hmm.] You know, just kind of letting go of my ego there and being like, okay, I was completely wrong. I need to completely, like, change tact. Yeah. And it made my story so much stronger, I think really centering Pasifika voices, which really, really helped me switch tracks to – you can probably tell by my story, I rely heavily on accounts from Pasifika climate activists, specifically Mary Maselina Harm, who I interviewed and who was a completely amazing and just I think really, really set the stage for me, I guess, to expand on that and bring in some of some of those insights I was trying to make about law and migration policy into that as well.
Shaylyn: So, Vi, my next question is have you grown in this process with Inherited, and where do you want to grow in the future?
Vi: I think I have been very lucky to get a lot of the counseling and the advice passing on of wisdom from Georgia and Jules, particularly like the workshops they ran with us were so helpful. And I think like, I haven't done this kind of reporting before, I guess on this scale, you know, it was my first one. I was pretty green. It was pretty difficult. But I think working with a team and being accountable to other people with Inherited, I was very, very aware of that reach of my story, that I was going to be talking to potentially an audience that didn't have that familiarity, like you said, with Australian media, with a lot of the local issues, and the funny idiosyncrasies and particularities of Australian policy and our connection to the Pacific Island region. And again, Georgia and Jules were amazing with all the help they gave me. Like I think I turned in like five or six drafts of my script and every single one of them was so different to the last. And then, you know, Georgia and Jules would just send it back and be like, you know, can you change this? Can you change this? And then rework it all over again? Because I wasn't happy with it. So, yeah, I think a lot of my growth comes from, you know, their mentorship, and I'm really, really grateful for that. I think I learned so many amazing skills, even just with using Reaper, even just technical audio skills. Yeah, just from watching them and learning from them. It was really, really amazing.
Shaylyn: Fantastic. Great to hear! Great to hear that you had support. I mean, that’s the whole thing about Inherited because there's no there's like no frickin’ reason in giving someone a platform if you're not giving them the resources and support for them to thrive. That's what Jules and Georgia and I have been talking about this entire process is like, how do we make sure that people actually have the support? And Vi, as we wrap up, do you have anything else for me?
Vi: I think I just yeah, I just wanted to reiterate that I've really, really enjoyed working with the Inherited team such as yourself, Jules, Georgia. Everyone's been so supportive and I think it's a really great platform. I think it's a really great initiative to try and get stories like these out there, because we don't see them or hear them being told a lot of the time, at least not in my part of the world. So it was really, really exciting for me when I saw that call for pitches, I just thought, “Oh, this is something really different. This is something really refreshing.” And I'm so glad I got involved. I just really, really enjoyed interacting with the team and I think, what they stand for.
Shaylyn: Well, thank you so much.
Vi: Thanks so much, Shaylyn.
Shaylyn: Thank you for joining us for this bonus episode! Season 3 of Inherited concludes next Wednesday. For our final episode, storyteller Keerti Gopal takes us to Lanyu, Orchid Island, to hear Indigenous Tao people of Taiwan’s perspective on water, land and resilience.
See you Wednesday, wherever you get your podcasts!
Inherited is brought to you by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. We’re distributed by Critical Frequency, a podcast network founded by women journalists.
For more information about our show, team, and storytellers, visit our website at yr.media/inherited.
See you next week!