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LA’s 1st & 2nd-Generation Asian and Latinx Activists on Politics

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Asian American / Asian Research Institute - CUNY

25 West 43rd Street

Room 1000

New York, NY 10036

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In recent decades under runaway neoliberalism, “foreignized” and unauthorized immigrants have increasingly made political inroads by way of grassroots community activism and by sidestepping the need for formal political channels and, at times, even dismissing them. By way of nearly four years of ethnographic observation, 49 in-depth interviews, and extensive document analysis, Kim focuses on one of these growing Asian and Latinx immigrant mobilizations, for Environmental (Health) Justice (and secondarily, immigration and education reform) in industrial-port Los Angeles. Kim finds that much more than curtailing asthma, the activists see their organizing as battling the ethnoracism and classism that they deem responsible for their varied plights and as the crucible in which they forge their belonging under American nativist racism, now at its apex under President Trump.

Rather than simply draw “us-them” boundaries along race and class lines, however, Kim argues that the activists draw political boundaries in terms of an embodied community suffering, in particular, an embodied racism and classism. As such, the immigrant activists fight for their collective that embodies the pollution, sickness, care work, and emotions of their community; they fight against “the (white) healthy wealthy,” a boundary they draw based on who has the power to commit, or benefit from, what Kim calls bioneglect and who thus have healthy, mobile bodies.

While both the Asian and Latinx activists target the state and corporate representatives who emotionally manipulate them as part of bioneglect, they diverge on what the primary cause of their biopolitical suffering is: racism or classism? While their social locations account for part of this divergence, Kim argues that their different transnational lives and lenses too play an underappreciated role. All told, these first- and second-generation Angeleno immigrants are contesting citizenship injustice by forging a new politics of citizenship, one that pivots on inequalities of the body, emotions, and transnational life.

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Nadia Y. Kim is Professor of Sociology at Loyola Marymount University and the 2018 Thomas Tam Professor at City University of New York Graduate Center. Her research focuses on transnational experiences of US race and citizenship inequalities among Korean/Asian Americans and South Koreans in (neo)imperial context and among Asian and Latinx activists for Environmental (Health) Justice as well as immigration and education reform in Los Angeles; she also specializes in race/gender/class intersectionality, cultural globalization, and race theorizing.

Kim is author of Imperial Citizens: Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA (Stanford, 2008), an exploration of how Koreans and Korean immigrants have navigated American (neo)imperial race inequality and ideology since World War II and by transnationally connecting both societies. In addition to garnering two American Sociological Association book awards for Imperial Citizens, Kim has won multiple best article awards, early career awards, and teaching honors. She is nearly done completing her current book, We the Polluted People: Immigrants Remap Race, Class, Gender & the Body to Remake Citizenship (Stanford University Press), which examines how legal Asian and unauthorized Latinx immigrants fight nativist racism by way of a new politics of citizenship, one that prioritizes transnational, communal, embodied, and emotive politics.

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Asian American / Asian Research Institute - CUNY

25 West 43rd Street

Room 1000

New York, NY 10036

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