Refusing Death
Immigrant Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice in LA
Nadia Y. Kim


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Fighting for Breath in the Other LA
chapter abstract

This chapter introduces the book by providing important context (and history) about goods movement and oil refinery pollution, how it has contributed to asthma epidemics and cancer rates, and how environmental justice movements have fought back, such as the Asian and Latin@ women immigrants that I chronicle in this book. Then I focus on the existing scholarship and concepts that my study draws on, such as ecology and transcorporeality, body and emotions (especially related to environmental racism, classism, and EJ movements), race, class, gender, and nativist racism, transnationality, and biopower. I conclude by introducing how I also extend all of these literatures.

1 Neoliberal Embodied Assault
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 addresses the physical and emotional violence of the racial state and racial capitalism under neoliberalism and how it manifests in discourse, power-knowledge, and false choices that prop up environmental injustice. The chapter is rounded out by the Angeleno activists who fight everyday bioneglect in a specifically embodied way, often by way of their own "street science" power-knowledge. At the same time that the activists resist because the state coopted their movement, dismissed their power-knowledge, and exploited them with false and limited choices, they continued to engage the state because most social movements have done so, they did not see alternative systems to tap, had sick and dying loved ones and so felt compelled to tap every resource, and politicians at times made concessions.

2 Emotions as Power
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 conducts an in-depth analysis of the emotional politics unleashed by bioneglecting elites and their institutions in line with a raced, gendered, and classed economy of emotions. This chapter focuses equally on how the activists navigate dominant emotional power and turn it against the system. For instance, by virtue of the mind-body split that originated historically in the Enlightenment and that has served power well since, the mostly White male officials construct themselves as calmly rational, even when they are emotionally aberrant or inappropriate per norms of emotion work. What is more, the officials couple their "non-emotionality" with their discursive knowledge-power, the "superior" mental state legitimized by scientific studies from in-house researchers. And, as the deliberate emotional strategies of the Asian American and Latin@ activists bear out, their demands for normative emotion work, such as empathy and respect, poked holes in top-down emotive strategies.

3 Every Body Matters
chapter abstract

In Chapter 3 I chronicle the nuanced ways in which the Asian American and Latin@ activists, and some of the community-based organizations, conceived of the politics of embodiment, from illness to mobility to bodily adornment to feelings. Specifically, the activists showed me that one of the most significant vectors of embodiment was the ability to be mobile (or not)—not just physically but socioeconomically. The Asian and Latin@ immigrant mothers' focus on academic mobility translated into an inventive and nuanced linkage of the school reform and environmental justice movements. As a result, they creatively blended their clean air activism with organizing for school reform, by asking, How can our low-income youth of color (many from unauthorized families) learn and succeed academically if they cannot even get fresh air or cannot avoid noise pollution at their campus or cannot sit in a classroom without their bodies being hurt?

4 "Our Community Has Boundaries": Race and Class Matter
chapter abstract

I detail how the activists use embodied inequalities to broadly define racism and classism and to politically determine "us" versus "them." Specific attention is paid to how transnational and local factors shape the Latin@ activists' view of classism as the key enemy—and class inequality as the main moral boundary—while the Filipin@-led Asian immigrants pinpoint racism and race inequality as such. They were conveying, "our" bodies are relegated to poverty, made sick, or emotionally assaulted by racism while "their" bodies are healthy because of affluence and Whiteness—and usually both. By definition, this is a moral claim, as the embodied community believes that the generally healthier government and corporate elites neglect and placate them out of the lack of empathy that wealth and Whiteness spawned.

5 Citizenship as Gendered Caring
chapter abstract

In Chapter 5 I continue the focus on the politics of emotion by detailing how emotional support of one's neighbors against the assault of bioneglect—that is, embodied citizenship—constituted the key resistance strategy. As the narratives showed, it was the empathy of a stranger ("We were so impressed that s/he cared"), the provision of resources (itself an act of care), and the lending of an ear and shoulder (the more traditional notion of emotional labor) that inspired them to start a life of activism. From the perspectives of the activists, one of the hallmarks of this embodied citizenship was to vow to never move to cleaner air and "greener pastures," even as their neighborhood killed them; doing so was tantamount to community betrayal and even self-abandonment.

6 politics Without the Politics
chapter abstract

Chapter 6 analyzes the immigrants' unconventional, unbounded, and seemingly contradictory politics that extend from being excluded from political institutions and/or being rendered bit players in the country, and from an embodied focus. Here we also address the activists' contradictory relationship to the state and the motivations behind it. Specifically, it explores two interesting ironies. First, the Latina activists' use of embodied citizenship to fight bioneglect channeled a weak desire to partake in mainstream electoral politics, even if finally given the opportunity to do so; second, a substantial number of the activists—in this case, both Latin@ and Asian American—were progressive and radical on environmental justice and immigration issues but, guided mainly by religion and, ironically, their body focus, were conservative on social issues (while some of PCORE's teachers were promarket and federalist).

7 The Kids Will Save Us
chapter abstract

The final analytical chapter, Chapter 7, spotlights the youth activists and how growing up most or all of their lives in neoliberal, nativist racist America, and with the very asthma that their parents sought to curb, textured their fully embodied and less-assimilationist politics. The youths also keenly grasped race owing to their embodied struggle with bioneglect (neoliberal racism and classism tied to the environment and beyond) as well as to CBE's and PCORE's potent consciousness-raising about racism. Both of these experiences, enshrined by first-generation activism, honed both the Latinx and Asian American youths' open critique of the notion of US assimilation and incorporation itself. The youth cast their disaffection into relief when they demonstrated weaker interest in political processes at any level beyond the local.

Afterword: Toward Bioneglect
chapter abstract

The afterword details how this female-led Asian and Latin@ immigrant movement for clean air problematizes Foucaultian biopower. As his conceptualization could not fully accommodate this LA case, I theorize a newer process—bioneglect—and emphasize how it can be interrelated with resistance, the focus of Refusing Death. While Foucault (and many of his interpreters) gave center stage to the "making live" process by presenting multiple case studies of states (and related entities) optimizing the health of a population in myriad ways, it left readers with a weak understanding of the varying processes, nuances, and vectors of "let die." He also underappreciated resistance. Had he not done so, he would have likely seen that the margins must continually find new ways to navigate the vagaries of neoliberal nativist racist wrath and, importantly, that the Establishment must perpetually find new ways to respond to the "positive power" of the bottom up.