Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Nadia Y. Kim's "Refusing Death"

Nadia Y. Kim is Professor of Sociology and of Asian and Asian American Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She is the author of the award-winning book Imperial Citizens: Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA.

Kim applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Refusing Death: Immigrant Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice in LA, and reported the following:
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that page 99 nearly encapsulated the main argument of my book. I found that the Asian and Latina immigrant activists who fight against environmental racism and classism in LA see the state’s weak regulation of pollution on them as not just physical neglect but emotional violence against them. We see that in my interview with Miguel, a youth environmental justice activist from West Long Beach, a mostly low-income Latinx immigrant community (with a large undocumented populace), who lives right next to diesel-spewing entities (Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach), freeways, railyards and to toxic oil refineries; not only does he note the deleterious physical consequences (“asthma,” “cancer”), but the emotional ones (“very scary”). I began our exchange inquiring about what he regularly tells the officials of the government agencies and oil corporations.
Miguel: … for the clean air,…I would tell them that every time we look up, there are refineries next to [us residents]. Then they are trying to do the railyard extension and that’s going to be worse: fuel-burning trucks are going to stop by here more often, and it’s going to pollute the air. There are a lot of people with asthma there and one of my cousins ended up being diagnosed with cancer …. It was a scary thing.
In this way, Miguel and the many activist women and mothers who are concerned with familial (and community) health teach us that we cannot think of environmental problems as just nature or global warming. Rather, we must think of how Latinx and Asian immigrants and other groups of color suffer physically just so we can buy all the goods that China and other manufacturing nations cart on diesel-plumed ships to our non-manufacturing society – that these millions of goods require refined oil to be made and to be delivered through our country’s ports, to then be delivered to the Sam’s Clubs/Costcos, Walmarts, Targets, Best Buys, grocery stores, car dealers, furniture stores, etc., across the USA. Goods movement thus causes not just asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, cancer, obesity, and premature death, but also depression, stress, anxiety, anger, and related emotional states of frustration, demoralization, and exhaustion. As such, governmental regulatory agencies and corporations not only wield power by making communities of color feel negative and life-shortening emotions but by normalizing their own institutional apathy as normal and proper; in the process, they often paint the mothers and activists in particular as “hysterical” when these immigrants tear up or yell in ways commensurate with their suffering:
[Scholars] Hochschild…and…Ahmed say…: Emotions…are always social structures that connect individuality to the collective and are [forms] of power embedded in social systems, institutions, and cultures, not mere ephemeral forms of visceral embodiment. The activists whom we have met thus far point us to why emotive structures matter in the political sphere at all.
Because of the gravity of institutions imposing unnecessary physical and emotional suffering, I further note on this page that the 2018 decision by the state not to expand the Interstate-710 freeway was ironic: that the immigrants celebrated this, whilst knowing that the situation was so bad that the state deciding not to expand freeways into their communities was something they had to deal with (and celebrate) at all.
Visit Nadia Y. Kim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue