#YPP2020 Spotlight | Why Intersectionality and Lived Experience are Critical for Systemic Change

Adriana Laurent describes herself has a queer, cis-gender, Afro-Latina mixed-race woman with a multitude of passions that include (but not limited to) climate change, gender, racial justice and intersectionality. She grew up in Honduras, moved to Germany for school, and then made her way to Vancouver six years ago to study at UBC. She has a degree in Global Resource Systems with a specialization in Environment and Sustainability in Latin America.

In this #YPP2020 participant spotlight, Adriana shares with us why she approaches her passions and policy work with an intersectional lens through her own lived experience and the wisdom of understanding the complexities of oppression.

LEVEL: Why did you apply to the youth policy program? What drives your interest in public policy?

AL: What really drives my interest in public policy is to understand how decisions are made. I’ve been in activist circles since I came to Vancouver and it often feels like decisions are being made outside of where movements start and that can be really frustrating.

I’m really interested in how policy change and lived experience are connected and I want to learn how I can influence those decisions. I want to learn about the existing avenues for change making, to better understand how to make changes within the “system” and how to push for new policies from outside the “system”. I think a lot of transformational change comes from grassroots organizing and I also want to learn how change happens within institutions.

LEVEL: You’ve shared that you’re passionate about social justice, climate change, and food security. Can you tell me more about that? What led you to these interests?

AL: I can start with my lived experience: I’m a mixed Afro-Latina so the connections between race and gender are super apparent because of the intersection of my own identity. The way I see that connecting to climate and food is also through lived experience. When I was growing up in Honduras, my community was already feeling the impacts of climate change. We felt it in the form of hurricanes or droughts which have devastating impact on my community and our food systems. The piece on migration also connects quite clearly: More often we’re seeing that folks are being forced to migrate or being displaced because of climate impacts and this is something my community is being really impacted by. A lot of the times those who are forced to migrate because of climate change are often women and children. Over and over again we see how the most marginalized communities are being disproportionately impacted by climate change and we need an intersectional lens to address the root causes of these issues.

LEVEL: And so what are the issues you want to see systemic change in?

AL: For my policy project, I’m trying to work on providing an avenue for migration for climate migrants and refugees in Vancouver. There are no current pathways for climate migrants and refugees to migrate to Canada. There isn’t any international recognition or protection for climate migrants on a global level. I’m trying to find ways to create policies to make it possible for people to migrate safely due to climate change.

More broadly speaking, I’m really interested in climate justice and in particular, how climate change is impacting marginalized communities. I bring a global perspective because of my experience but also see how other BIPOC communities in Canada are facing similar issues. I definitely see myself working on these issues for the rest of my life.

LEVEL: Given your interests and your current work in public policy, why does it matter to have young people’s voices around the table?

AL: I think it’s really important to have youth voices in decision making because we need to have the agency to make decisions about our future—we want to be able to shape the future we want to see. When it comes to climate change, we’ve seen a lot of youth-led movements and a huge reason for that is because we’re going to be the ones that will feel its impact.

It’s also important for youth, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) youth, to create our own tables; to set the ground rules and understanding for our own decision making. From my own experience, I know that working within the system can be frustrating. We need to create our own tables and make it as wide and open as possible. Current decision-making tables just aren’t open.

LEVEL: And what do you mean by making it “wide and open as possible”?

AL: Within BIPOC communities, there are also other ways to be marginalized, whether we talk about sexuality, immigration status, gender—to be able to take an intersectional approach is important. We don’t want to further harm people or replicate systems of oppression. That’s important to me. The key is that it shouldn’t be a percentage of the population to have their say but a democratic process so the community can make decisions that are impacting their community and that must center folks with lived experience. There has to be an intersectional approach to understanding lived experience and that includes understanding how multiple oppressions are connected to each other. There’s BIPOC women, queer BIPOC, etc. There’s a lot of different people that need to be involved in that future building.

LEVEL: What has the experience of being part of this public policy program meant for you?

AL: Something that’ll always stick with me is that we’re all decision makers. We’re all involved in policy in some shape or form. Just because we don’t have a Master’s degree in public policy or we don’t have a job title with policy in the name, doesn’t mean we’re not involved in this. Policy is for everyone and that includes BIPOC youth. It always feels so inaccessible and it shouldn’t be. The biggest takeaway for me is that I do deserve to be there, and others deserve to be there too.