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Eezu & Marlene
Portrait of Eezu and Marlene
Photo taken by Abby Shen
Interviewed in March 2023

Eezu Tan and Marlene Baquiran are climate activists who run monthly ‘climate email writing gatho’ in Erskineville, Sydney to help mobilise concerned citizens to write to the government about climate action. They incorporate educational materials into these sessions, often inviting experts on climate to give talks and participate in Q&A with their attendees. All of this is done in a super informal and accessible setting for the average person - in their living room!

Eezu Tan is a proud Malaysian-Australian. She was born in Sydney, grew up in Malaysia for the next 7 years before moving back to Sydney. Eezu currently works as a Product Manager at Cecil, a startup focussed on creating a data platform for teams to restore nature. Outside of Cecil and running this climate letter writing group, Eezu is currently writing a play titled “My Big Fat Asian Wedding”. A play inspired by her dad’s kidnapping, it explores the idea of ‘saving face’ in Asian culture whereby secrets are kept from family members and loved ones in order to protect them. She currently has plans to get it on stage in 2024.

Marlene Baquiran is a proud Filipino-Australian. Marlene is currently a Business Operations guru at Vow, working to make actual, cruelty-free, environmentally-friendly cultured meat real and delicious. Prior to this, she was a management consultant at Bain and software developer. She’s extremely passionate about affordable and accessible healthcare especially around mental health, as well as deep technology, particularly in sustainability. Her passion in sustainability is well reflected in running these monthly climate-letter writing sessions with Eezu.
The origin behind these climate-letter writing sessions
In 2021, Eezu came across Climate for Change, Australia's first environmental organisation focused on helping people have conversations about climate change with their peers. One of their initiatives is ‘Climate Conversations’ where a host invites friends to their home, and a facilitator from Climate for Change comes over to present information, answer questions and facilitate a discussion about climate change. Eezu did just this in mid-2021. A dozen of her friends came over to her house, and they learnt from the facilitator that one of the most effective ways to take action is to engage with politicians on climate issues by writing letters.

Come April 2022, Eezu and Marlene invited 4 friends over to their place and started writing letters to local and key politicians. This was the first ever climate-letter writing session. They’ve been hosting these sessions every month since then, and through word of mouth, the number of people they host have grown from 4 to around 25, with more than 60 unique attendees. 

Since starting this a few months ago, they have written over 200 letters and received responses from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Minister of Climate Change and Energy, and have been published in local papers.  
I’ve known Eezu and Marlene for some time, through mutual friends and from being a part of a social Slack community for Asian Australians called Re-woven. They are both climate activists, reflected in both their personal and professional lives, and in general such good humans who are actively building towards an inclusive, equitable and sustainable future.

This monthly 'climate email writing gatho' that they host is the best example of an inclusive grassroots movement around environmental activism. Both Eezu and Marlene have a bias for action, and embody the value of ‘if you are passionate about something, do something about it’. I believe this mentality is extremely important and underrated, especially when addressing the big issues of our time. It’s easy to be politically apathetic, and uncertain about what to do, for such an all-encompassing issue like climate change, but Eezu and Marlene are showing us that we can always be making change, even from an individual level.

I also appreciate their clear focus on inclusivity. Eezu and Marlene continually post about their 'climate email writing gatho' on their socials, and highlight how you do not need to have any experience in writing to politicians, or any expertise in the climate space to join them. All you need is an interest, and to rock up.

I hope their story inspires you as much as it did, me.
What led to each of your passions in climate change, and what motivated you to take climate action in your own hands?
Eezu: Climate change has always been an issue at the back of my mind growing up. It became a much more pressing issue to me over time after witnessing the 2019-2022 Australian bushfires, the flooding after and just seeing the previously incumbent Liberal government’s inaction on climate change. 

Back in high school I did a speech on greenwashing which happened to end up in the local paper. In 2019 I changed my diet, became a pescatarian and started attending climate protests. In 2021, I began to think about what more I could personally do. And so I spoke to my brother as someone who's also passionate about the issue, who told me to look into Climate for Change, an organisation that advocates for and helps everyday Australians take climate action. It was from there that I learnt that writing to politicians was the most effective action an individual could take to make any change in climate action, which led to the origination of these monthly letter-writing campaigns that Marlene and I now hold. 

Marlene: I think the first touch point for me was when Eezu and I were introduced to Kua as a part of our 180 degree consulting project at UNSW. Kua is essentially a climate positive company that sells specialty ethically sourced green coffee from disadvantaged smallholder farmers. That really inspired me in not only understanding how important climate change is as a problem space, but in introducing me to a different political and economic paradigm of the circular economy. 

Over time, I went to a few youth conferences like the Sustainability University Leaders Symposium and things similar to that, and I ended up developing a real passion for the food sustainability space and the impact that I could have there. Not only does it tackle climate change, but a huge aspect of creating a sustainable food system is in creating inclusivity and that emotional change to prompt people to change individual and ingrained habits. 

Two books that have really galvanised me to want to take climate action are ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, and ‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein. From these books, I learnt how massive the issue with the food system is at scale and how deep it goes into personal and cultural roots, extremely complicated things that I find super interesting. From my own personal experience, I grew up in a Filipino family where it’s so normal to eat a whole pig. When I went vegetarian I was wrestling with a lot of internal contradictions and found difficulty in changing my own behaviour influenced by my culture and childhood.

So food sustainability has been very interesting to me for a while. When Eezu came to me with the idea of the letter-writing sessions, I was very open to the idea, especially the idea of being able to include people in something that they otherwise wouldn’t feel empowered to do. I really like that aspect of what we do - in showing people how they can make a difference, and in a really easy way too.
What are some key issues that your climate letter writing group has written to MPs about, and how do you properly educate your attendees about these issues? 
Eezu: We've written about the Climate Change Bill which basically legislates Australia's emissions reduction target to 43% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Greens have negotiated this in good faith to ensure that this is a minimum target, allowing future governments to increase the target in the future as well. 

Another issue we've written on is a Safeguard Mechanism, which basically targets the top 215 polluters in Australia. We wrote to MPs about this in our last session, to ensure that there is high integrity to what that reform will look like.

The most recent example is what we’ve been writing to MPs about in the lead up to the upcoming state election. In March, we emailed some state candidates in our local area asking them about their climate policies, to signal to them that their constituents really care about the climate and that we will vote for someone who can represent those interests for us.

Marlene: That pretty much covers it. Another issue we often write about are any oil and gas projects - where we voice concerns about not wanting to invest in these kinds of projects. 

In terms of properly educating our attendees, it helps that before Eezu and I start the preparation for each session we’re also very uneducated about these topics. We get a lot of support from Climate for Change where we’ll use a lot of their pre-built resources and check out their articles and content. In addition to that, we’ll do extra research on our own to create resources and form a balanced understanding of the topics we’ll go through in each session. Although Eezu and I definitely aren’t experts, we can still break down issues and explain them in simple terms in a way that an everyday person would understand. Whenever people correct us, we always accept it and understand these corrections. 

It’s also important to note that our attendees all have different interest areas within climate change - some people are really interested in politics, others may be interested in energy transition and all have some kind of knowledge to contribute. Our sessions always have an evolving body of knowledge, based on the people who come. 
What do you think about Australia’s current national conversation around climate change, and what needs to be done to improve it?
Eezu: I believe that the current climate conversation is too polarising. If you care about the environment, then people label you as a “greenie.” I think we've gotten to the point where it's so obvious how climate change doesn't just affect the environment, but everything in our lives. For example, extreme weather as a result of climate change damages property and critical infrastructure, impacts health and affects mobility.  

Climate change impacts so many areas of our lives, so it baffles me so much when politicians diminish the impacts of climate change and don’t consider its importance. I hope that all parties can develop some form of climate policy in recognition of the way that it will impact all sectors of society.

Marlene: The conversation is very different on different levels. When I look around at my immediate circles, people are pretty progressive and open minded, which may be different to other circles of people our age. 

The biggest difference in conversation is between the people who are in power in parliament and those belonging in big corporations, to the rest of the population. Australia’s economy heavily depends on our fossil fuels, natural resources and livestock to the point when people bring up the conversation of climate, the first response from politicians is always about the economy and to think about it first.

In my opinion, Australia could be doing so much more to invest in other technology that will take us away from depending on these natural resources so heavily, which aren’t sustainable at all. It’s a tricky topic given that there’s so much economic dependence on these resources, and this conversation needs to happen more in places of political power. Take Singapore as an example - they actually have a lot of policy oriented around sustainable innovation. It’s fascinating, since they're such a tiny and high-density country, they have a really large sense of immediacy of the climate problem so they invest extremely aggressively into sustainable foods in a way that we wouldn’t conceive of in Australia because we have a huge interest in traditional farming, both locally and as a major export.  

We need to figure out how we can move away from certain dependencies sooner rather than later, and that starts with changing the current national conversation around climate change. 
What resources would you recommend for someone who wants to get deeper into the climate action space? 
Marlene: There’s a huge wealth of resources out there to get educated on climate change - in both the problems and solutions. 

Personally, my top recommendation is to go find and look at art that speaks to the issue of climate change - it can instill a more emotional mindset change that non-fiction can’t do as well. Three years ago, when I was in Switzerland I saw Olafur Eliasson’s Symbiotic Seeing. It means to see yourself as a human being existing in a greater ecosystem, who can affect and also be affected by the ecosystem. 

That’s very different to our default consumerist mindset, where we see the outside world as a set of almost infinite resources for us to consume transactionally. When you think about transactions and utility - very linear and simplified concepts - it's very hard to see the downstream and systemic impacts.

Seeing that notion translated and conveyed in Eliasson’s art was very powerful. In the first room that you walk into, there’s a gaseous atmosphere that creates this beautiful cloudy texture and streaks on the ceiling. The idea is that the artwork and the way it looked was directly impacted by the people in the room, their body temperature, how they were moving around and how your release of carbon dioxide into the air changed the atmosphere above you in real time. 

I'd also say that another thing that has been most impactful to my climate journey is just having personal conversations and friendly debates with other people who are really passionate about it.

Eezu: I would recommend Work on Climate’s Resource Starter Packs. Work on Climate was created by two people who left Google HQ and wanted to help other people starting in their climate journey. They have a bunch of different resources aggregated under topics - climate justice, climate tech, climate financing, community organising - I think it's a nice way of thinking about the solutions to the climate crisis which extend beyond the very standard ways of thinking about solving the climate change.
Where are you hoping the ‘climate-letter writing session’ goes in the near future?
Marlene: These sessions have definitely grown beyond just the letter writing - which we never planned for. The numbers have just gotten bigger and bigger to the point that my living room is overflowing! So Eezu and I are being a bit more strategic with what we want these sessions to be - are we prioritising education, or making connections, or the impact itself? It’s something we’re working on based off of people’s feedback and what happens in each session. 

I would also love for these sessions to create the space for other people to do something of their own - to start letter-writing in their own time, or go out and speak to politicians or start their own session.

I love how we have a strong sense of community, as people have become familiar with each other in these sessions. If a community was a seedling, and we could propagate that with encouraging others to start their own community, that would be an easy multiplier of impact. 

on culture and identity
What has your relationship with your Asian Australian identity been like, and how has it evolved?
Eezu: So I’m Chinese-Malaysian. I was born in Sydney, but grew up in Malaysia until I was seven, and then continued my schooling here. Being Asian wasn't something I was proud of, so I didn't really want to be particularly associated with it growing up.

Growing up Asian in a Western society, there would be subtle incidents of racism. I remember in Year 2, there was a fight between the boys’ group and the girls’ group, and one of the boys came up to us and said “at least we don't have an Asian in our group.” It was obviously targeted at me, and I was quite taken aback as a 7 year old at the time. It didn’t hurt me per se, but I always accepted as reality that Asians were less high on the social hierarchy. 

I’ve only embraced my Asian identity more in recent years. I’ve got more Asian friends now. I also went to UNSW which has a lot of students from Asian backgrounds, and it allowed me to be and feel more comfortable with who I was when socialising, or even in the classroom where my high school teachers used to mix me up with the one other Asian kid in the grade. Those kinds of experiences definitely made me feel like I was just reduced to my race, and a large part of my identity outside my race was erased.  

Marlene: Similar to Eezu, I was never really proud of identifying with my Asian identity growing up. I tried to make it a less salient part of my identity by focussing on other things such as achievements, which ironically plays into the model minority concept. 

I think because I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of Filipino community, which is the case for a few of my Filipino-Australian friends, I had a mix of shame and also superiority of not being a part of the community. The lack of community also allowed me to dissociate from that part of my identity. I also attended a high school that was majority Asian, mostly East Asian. Although there was a lot of cultural overlap, there were still cultural differences that my peers assumed were true for me, which I couldn’t relate to, which led me to feeling like I was always on the margins. It’s complex, being a South-east Asian or Filipino within the Asian Australian subgroup  since there are so many similar but different experiences.

As an adult, I always believed that my cultural identity never influenced me in a significant way. Through the journey of understanding myself - going to therapy, talking to friends - I’ve found that to be less and less true. It was almost wishful thinking. 

A moment where I realised that I had never divorced myself from my cultural identity was when I read an interview of Lindy Lee’s who is an Asian Australian painter. A lot of Lee’s work is in relation to her Asian Australian identity and reclaiming notions that she didn’t relate to as a kid, but does now as an adult, such as Taoism or Buddhism. 

In the interview Lee said how for most of her artistic career, she was determined to recreate the Western artistic canon such as Renaissance paintings. She recalled this one moment where she was asked to talk about her art on a panel and declared “I’m doing these paintings because I’m declaring that I belong to the west”. In that moment, she realised that anybody who has to declare that they belong, doesn’t actually. 

That resonated with me so much - when growing up, I'd resisted defining myself in a way that I would be perceived as the cultural norm. But I was always swimming upstream. If something is natural to you, you don’t have to try so hard. It should be apparent and a part of you.  

All these things helped me accept being Asian Australian. It's not about choosing either or, it’s really a unique combination and perspective in cultures that’s rare and special. 
What is a significant cultural memory of yours?
Marlene: I don’t have a specific cultural memory - I think because my family didn’t maintain many roots or connect to the Filipino community. Something that I really love and feel connected to, and feels like a huge part of Filipino culture is, the love of music and making music - it’s what I grew up with in my household.

We had 10 different guitars in our six person family. There was always some kind of music being made - someone jamming on the guitar on the staircase and others joining in harmonising or improvising, whether it's from around the corner, in the kitchen, or sitting on the stairs. It was always spontaneous, and a natural part of our day. 

I think it’s a Filipino thing - we have a love for karaoke and singing, and I know so many Filipinos would have played the guitar at some point. I think Filipinos are pretty shameless about spontaneous singing, jamming and playing music and I love the shamelessness. It’s so fun.

Eezu: A significant memory would be making Tāngyuán 汤圆 with my grandma in Malaysia. They’re these glutinous rice balls that you roll up. We made them in a bunch of different colours, like pink, white and blue, then boiled them to create this sweet, syrupy kind of soup. It’s a really nice memory and connection to my Chinese-Malaysian culture.
What is your favourite food from your culture?
Marlene: I get most excited about any kind of Filipino pork such as lechon, a whole spit-roasted pig, or crispy pata, traditionally deep-fried pork leg. It’s all about the crispy skin and fat - I know that in a lot of Asian cultures, people take the fat off the meat -  Filipinos are really not about that, for better or for worse. Lechon with this sweet and source appley sauce is amazing and always a sign of a really festive time. 

Another dish that is very nostalgic to me is pancit palabok. It’s a Filipino rice noodle dish made with shrimp sauce and a bunch of other seafood, chicharron (pork rind) sprinkled on top, spring onions and egg. I used to get a whole takeaway for $5 at Blacktown Station. My dad would bring it to me on his way from work. Before my dad passed away, I would always bring it to him on my way home from school, so this dish has always signified warmth and love to me. It’s a dish that’s more close to home.

Eezu: Probably my grandma’s chicken soup which had goji berries in them, which she told me would be good for my eyes. Joke's on her, I actually have very bad eyesight. That doesn’t take away from how delicious the chicken soup is though!

I almost got a tattoo of the Chinese characters of chicken soup 鸡汤 (pronounced Jī tāng) on my body, but then decided against it because that was the year I became pescatarian. 
Who is an Asian Australian that inspires you, and why?
Eezu: Alice Pung. She’s a Cambodian-Australian author and writer based in Melbourne. She wrote a book called Laurinda which is about this Asian Australian school girl who transfers from a public school to a private school on scholarship, and the books unpacks a lot of big topics like racism and classism. The book really spoke to me because it was very similar to my experience moving from a public selective school to an all girls private school - I definitely had a culture shock from how different those worlds were. 

It was the first book where I felt so seen, because the protagonist was also an Asian Australian student, going through something very similar to me. As an author, she inspires me and makes me want to create stories that highlight the Asian Australian experience and help celebrate these experiences too. That’s why I'm writing a play at the moment centred around this Malaysian-Australian family, where this very Eastern idea of ‘saving face’ plays a huge role in it. 

In high school, I actually emailed Alice Pung after reading the book telling her how much I loved it and how it resonated with my experience. She wrote back a really long email saying thank you. And then a few years later when I saw that Laurinda was being adapted into a play at the Melbourne Theatre Company, I went down to Melbourne to watch it. I also emailed her again to congratulate her, to which she then invited me over for lunch. So it was really great to get to meet my childhood hero, and a very full circle moment. 

Marlene: One of my best friends, Andrew Vo. Publicly he’s done a lot to bring together an Asian Australian community in Sydney and even in other cities. He’s nurtured this space to share stories, and for people to unpack all these complex, wonderful and strange things that come with identity and belonging. He does this on a community level, but even as friends, we’ll be unpacking experiences together or drawing patterns from family history. Being friends with someone like him opened me up to the idea of going to therapy and thinking more deeply about how my culture and family history influences where I am today. I’m a much more vulnerable person thanks to him.