04 • 30 • 2021

Activist Spotlight: Rane (Nguyen Thi Yen Ngoc) Stempson With the Newport Oregon Chapter

By Surfrider Foundation

This Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are celebrating our activists, friends, colleagues and like-minded organizations from within the Surfrider network. Throughout the month, we will recognize those who inspire us and celebrate the achievements they've made to help protect our ocean, waves and beaches, while supporting beach access for all.

Q: Please give us a brief introduction about yourself. 

I’m Rane (Nguyen Thi Yen Ngoc) Stempson, a Vietnamese American born in Los Angeles. I’ve had the opportunity to live in and visit all 50 states and over 100 countries but I call the Pacific Northwest home. I have spent the last 25+ years in the technology, education, government and nonprofit industries, working to make a difference in solving big challenges. I worked for Microsoft for 15 years in a number of roles in sales, development, marketing and research. My last role focused on researching social issues and how technology can help solve those issues. I have also worked on the challenge of growing the most diverse next generation of computer scientists to solve our greatest challenges. 

After sustaining a number of concussions and ultimately living with traumatic brain injury, I had to leave Microsoft and take a few years off and focus on my health. I found what helped my health the most was being on the Oregon Coast, being near the ocean, the waves and the calming atmosphere of our water wildlife. What helped me heal was all the time in the outdoors walking and hiking, then once I had my balance back running, paddling and any type of outdoor activity I could still safely do. I then had my local community ask me to start a consulting business and help rural America and small businesses solve diversity, equity and inclusion challenges. When not working, I am super passionate about being in the outdoors (hiking, camping, running, paddling, swimming, surfing, skiing, you name it I do it…) and conserving our outdoors for the next generation. 

I spent a lot of time volunteering for a number of organizations in the environment and mentoring the next generation of leaders. After a few more health episodes, I finally took my husband’s advice and retired and sold my business. We bought a camper van and took the next 15 months to explore national parks, monuments, recreation areas and forest service lands across the USA. I feel so blessed to be able to spend every day in the outdoors and connecting with mother nature at the beach, in the mountains or in the desert.

Q: What is your current job or role in your local chapter?

Membership Coordinator. I also lead activities with youth and our members who live more inland in Central Oregon.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?

When we purchased our beach house in Newport, Oregon, we wanted to get involved in the local community and meet fellow activists and surfers. So in 2015, we joined Surfrider and volunteered for cleanups and meetups and beach events. I later volunteered to help with social media, marketing and outreach to grow younger members. I then started presenting at schools and getting people in Central Oregon (our second home) excited about supporting Surfrider since a large number of our community loves to surf our River Wave and surf our mountain slopes. The run off in Central Oregon ends up in the oceans along the Central Coast. So I organized a huge Conservation Summit and Surf competition with lots of local partners and river/ lake cleanups and a ride share from Central Oregon to the Central Oregon coast.

Q: How has your unique experience as someone from the Asian American community framed your perspective as an activist and as part of the Surfrider network?

Many times, I have been the only Asian and younger woman at events. If you don’t have good self-esteem, you may wonder ‘do I really belong here?’ When you show up and no one looks like you it is hard, you need to put yourself out there. Once you do, most of the community is wonderful and friendly and open but we typically have to put ourselves out there first. No one reached out to me and asked, ‘you want to join our group?’ There are our amazing activities, events and it can help the next generation of Asian Americans. I have many Asian friends who care about the ocean and environment but never knew there was a Surfrider Foundation or what the organization stands for. I take the time to serve as an ambassador, reach out to other Asian organizations and see how we can get the community more connected and involved.  

Q: Do you have any experiences where the Asian American and environmental movements have intersected?

I feel the environmental movement and climate change challenges are similar to the challenges of the Asian Community. People feel we need to take care of the environment and climate change is important but many are not really willing to change behavior that much to make the difference we need. People see that there is racism and there are challenges for the Asian community but the perception seems to be it’s not as bad as other groups and we don’t hear about it much so we really aren’t going to do much. People don’t think about the fact that many Asian American ancestors were brought to America as slaves working on the railroad. That Asians owned farms, property and businesses but when WW2 came around and Japan bombed Pearl Harbor many Japanese Americans and many other Asian ethnicities were ripped from their homes, businesses and property and put in internment camps and died from harsh conditions and never got their land, property or businesses back.

Asians can tend to keep quiet, conform, don’t shake things up and just fit in. I do think Asian Americans' struggles tend to be discounted because we are known for our good attributes: being smart, savers, volunteers in our community, a large percentage in upper middle class, technology experts, good at math, good at school, professional careers and you don’t hear too much about the trials and tribulations until recently. It is easy to ignore this group and I think it has accidently been ignored by the environmental movement and community. I think this is a great article people should read to better understand Asians and the environment

Some things to consider about the Asian Community:

  • Self-defined Environmentalists —Asian American voters care about protecting our air, land, and water, and may be even more inclined to call themselves “environmentalists” than other voters statewide.
  • Support for Government Leadership — Asian Americans often believe strongly that government should take an active role in protecting our air, land, and water, and these voters support environmental regulations and laws to protect natural resources.
  • Willing to pay — Asian American voters may support policies to protect our air, land, and water—even when it comes with a price tag in the form of higher revenue or fees.
  •  Language matters — Asian American voters responded differently to wording, both in English and in Asian languages. For example, the term “environment” ranked lower on the issue priorities list than “protecting our air, land and water.” As an environmental issue of importance, “global warming” resonated strongly with Asian American voters and ranked much higher than “climate change.”

Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

Water quality, plastic pollution, natural gas and pipeline in our ocean, getting younger generations more activated

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

  1. Started the first Conservation Summit:
  2. I have led and volunteered on a number of beach, river and lake cleanups
  3. I sit on the National Surfrider Justice Diversity Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee
  4. I co-chair the Training and Learning Justice Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee at the National Level
  5. I have help lead a number of panel discussions like: women in conservation, how we can better support the next generation in science and environmental learning in a new virtual world
  6. Assist in creating a toolkit for chapters to empower them and better support Justice Diversity Equity and Inclusion locally in Surfrider
  7. I’ve managed an intern on how to lead water quality activism in Central Oregon connected to our Central Coast and ocean.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?

Being part of the Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work Surfrider is doing nationally to help the volunteer network and empower our members to learn at their own rate. Working with a team of dedicated volunteers who are creating a toolkit and virtual learning that helps our chapters do a better job connecting marginalized communities with our work.  

Q: What's been your experience being a surfer and/or ocean enthusiast as someone from the Asian American community?

I love all activities around the ocean, whether it is paddling, surfing (unfortunately with TBI I can no longer do), swimming or snorkeling. I love the ocean and all the interesting wildlife, however I’m disappointed by all the pollution. I try and spend as much time enjoying the ocean and cleaning the beaches so others can enjoy as we sustain the important ecosystem. I feel my personal experience as an Asian is no different than anyone else who is passionate about the ocean and water sports but maybe how people experience it may be different.

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?

In order to continue to enjoy our amazing streams, rivers, lakes and oceans, we must protect them. Surfrider is an amazing volunteer activist network where you can find like-minded people trying to save the planet for generations to come. We just need to do a better job telling people about this great organization that they can get involved in, I am told repeatedly it’s the best kept secret.  Let’s not make it a secret anymore.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share with our network about your journey?

Looking forward to meeting you at a beach nearby while on our trip around the country! Catch me paddling on your shores or picking up trash on the beach! Stay psyched Surfrider!