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A Myth of the First World: Neoliberalism, Neocolonialism, and Environmental Justice in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange

by Summer Gioia Harrison
2 Apr 2016 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: NeoColonial Politics of Sustainability [13] | Article

A Myth of the First World: Neoliberalism, Neocolonialism, and Environmental Justice in Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange

The myth of the first world is that
development is wealth and technology progress.
It is all rubbish.
It means that you are no longer human beings
but only labor.
It means that the land you live on is not earth
but only property.

In the foundational environmental justice text, Noxious New York, Julie Sze argues that studies of environmental justice must work to “understand the cultural and ideological roots” of both the “inequality” generated by “neoliberalism and globalization” and “local and racial resistance” to this inequality.[2] The “cultural and ideological” analysis of neoliberal accounts of globalization that Sze calls for is especially important for environmental critiques given that the rhetoric of neoliberalism and globalization often co-opts the language of “nature” to depict market practices as inevitable. Thomas Friedman, for instance, equates the unavoidable rise of economic globalization with the rising of the sun. “I think it’s a good thing that the sun comes up every morning,” he writes, “but even if I didn’t much care for the dawn there isn’t much I could do about it. I didn’t start globalization, I can’t stop it.”[3] Similarly, William Orme compares NAFTA’s inevitability to that of the weather: “To be ‘for’ or ‘against’ greater North American trade is much like being for or against the weather. Like it or not, the continent’s economic integration is fast becoming a reality.”[4] At the heart of neoliberal accounts of globalization, then, lies a “narrative of progress” which presents globalization and free trade as “evolutionary, inevitable, and beneficial.”[5] Thus, emphasizing that neoliberalism has not “nature,” but “narrative,” at its core is a crucial part of the environmental justice project for literary scholars. Opening neoliberalism up to critique as narrative enables us to analyze the complicity of its rhetoric in the perpetuation of inequality, reveal its “naturalness” as an ideological cover designed to privilege the powerful, trace its cultural and ideological roots to discourses of colonialism, and perhaps even begin to re-write it.

Given the environmental justice movement’s dual critique of corporate neoliberalism/neocolonialism and of so-called “mainstream” or “wilderness-centered” environmentalism this essay asks: How might environmental literature critique neocolonial narratives of the environment and labor without advocating a nostalgic return to “nature” or “wilderness”? Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel, Tropic of Orange, is a compelling example of how literature can challenge the narrative of global progress by linking contemporary neoliberalism with its colonial roots, and by positioning it in alternating local and global contexts. These strategies, I will argue, allow the novel to stage an effective critique that highlights the human and environmental exploitation omitted from this progress narrative, revealing a network of linked oppressions across time and space. Instead of advocating a reactionary return to an idealized “nature,” Yamashita proposes a kind of “globalization from the bottom,” based on an alternative network of linked resistance that draws on minority histories and marginalized spaces to promote environmental justice and sustainability.

The novel situates this critique by charting the political landscape of L.A. and the nearby U.S./Mexico border region in a post-NAFTA, globalized era of media saturation, increased immigration, and the intensification of labor and environmental exploitation. Tropic’s multiple plots, presented by no less than seven main characters, culminate in two epic events that dramatize the novel’s strategies for resistance. A series of massive car crashes and the growing unrest of marginalized populations of immigrants, homeless, and ethnic poor leads to the radical occupation of an L.A. freeway. Meanwhile, Arcangel, a mythical indigenous “everyman” figure born at the moment of colonial “discovery” in 1492, transports the Tropic of Cancer (attached to an actual orange) across the U.S./Mexico border, literally dragging the southern hemisphere and thousands of immigrants into L.A. to witness a symbolic confrontation with NAFTA.[6] In explicitly linking the environmental and economic legacy of colonization in the Americas with the contemporary plight of the urban poor and undocumented populations in L.A., Yamashita novel suggests that neoliberalism is a continuation of colonialism which substitutes “elements of political, economic, and cultural control” for “the traditional mechanism of expanding frontiers and territorial control.”[7]

In the ending’s dramatic wrestling match, Yamashita pits “Supernafta,” a super-hero embodiment of the policy, against Arcangel’s alter ego “El Gran Mojado” (the Big Wetback), who is described as a luche libre version of Subcommandante Marcos, leader of the anti-NAFTA Zapatista movement.[8] Supernafta’s pre-match speech to the mostly undocumented immigrant crowd presents NAFTA as an unqualified generator “progress” and “freedom.” “What’s the future?” he asks, “It’s a piece of the action! And that’s what progress is all about. . . . Before any one of you can be truly free, you need to have enough money to do what you want. The only way that’s gonna happen is to free the technology and the commerce that make the money go round.”[9] Supernafta’s rhetoric conflates “free trade” with personal freedom (being “truly free”), thereby masking the human and environmental costs of “free trade” with a universal narrative of “freedom” for all, reflecting David Harvey’s argument that “neoliberal utopianism . . . presumes that personal and individual freedom is best assured by strong private property rights and the institutions of a free market and free trade.”[10] The novel exposes this narrative as a “myth of the first world” which simplistically claims “that development is wealth and technology progress.”[11] Demystifying this rhetoric, El Gran Mojado explains that “It means that you are no longer human beings / but only labor. / It means that the land you live on is not earth / but only property. / It means that what you produce with your own hands / is not yours to eat or wear or shelter you / if you cannot buy it.”[12] His reply thus links Supernafta’s narrative with the contexts it both ignores and relies upon: human, environmental, and economic exploitation.

However, neither El Gran Mojado nor Yamashita advocate responding to this intensified commodification of labor and land with an idealized concept of nostalgic pre-globalized nature. In fact, the novel begins by depicting one character’s failed attempt to do just that. Gabriel, a Chicano newspaper reporter living in L.A., begins building a tropical “hideout” in rural Mexico as an escape from the commodified city. What his girlfriend describes as his “back to nature thing” is structured by a “romantic impulse” to create a “sensation of timeless vacation.”[13] However, the novel reveals that this pastoral escape from consumer culture is actually predicated on consumption—he designs the place based on “photos torn from slick architectural magazines.”[14] Moreover, far from escaping globalization, Gabriel’s “tropical hideout” is thoroughly infiltrated by the global market—from its imported fixtures to the “exotic northern trees” he insists on planting even though they “couldn’t survive in this climate.”[15] Further demonstrating that his “timeless vacation” cannot actually escape global forces, his housekeeper attributes the growth on one of these sickly trees of an out-of-season “aberrant orange,” the magical orange of the novel’s title, to “global warming.”[16] Perhaps most importantly, Gabriel’s “romantic impulse” elides the political and ideological consequences of his “back to nature thing.” It relies, for instance, on exploiting the labor of his housekeeper—he originally thinks he’s “doing her a favor” by letting her work for him and later realizes that he is “part of the net of favors and subtle harassments” that oppress her.[17] Moreover, Yamashita juxtaposes Gabriel’s exotic fruit trees with the uneven distribution of trees in L.A., demonstrating that access to nature is structured by class and race in ways Gabriel’s hideout elides. While the wealthy Westside is marked by lush shade trees, the low-income ethnic neighborhoods of East L.A. have scraggily palms because, as one character explains, “poor people don’t get to have no shade.”[18] Thus, the novel immediately calls attention to the problematic use of appeals to the natural as a discourse of legitimation, a way to justify social inequality and the status quo.[19]

Given Gabriel’s failed “back to nature thing,” the novel seeks an environmentally sustainable way of critiquing and resisting the linked environmental and economic injustices of neoliberalism.  Political geographer Edward Soja has shown that while the environmental justice movement has successfully added “locational bias” to “more conventional notions of racial, class, and gender discrimination,” it usually focuses on “negative environmental impacts” or “outcomes” rather than on “the processes producing them.”[20] This emphasis on “highly localized and unique cases” has led to the movement’s general lack of “awareness of the interactive and multiscalar geographies of place-based discrimination.”[21] Yamashita’s text encourages precisely this type of awareness by linking specific “outcomes” like rainforest destruction in Brazil or urban decay in Los Angeles with “processes” like colonialism, neoliberal globalization, and racism. In so doing, her work creates an explicit “awareness” of how environmental injustice operates on interacting geographic scales. While maintaining the richness of specific “highly localized” cases affecting particular people and places, the novel at the same time positions those cases in “multiscalar” contexts. In fact, this is one of the critical contributions of literary narratives to the environmental movement. Literature’s ability to dramatize the relation between “outcomes” and “processes” in multiple contexts represents an important contribution to the primarily sociological and scientific orientation of the environmental justice movement. “Environmental justice needs literature,” argues Sze, to “better understand why and how” the exploitation of humans and the environment are “linked, historically and systemically.”[22]  Yamashita’s novel not only encourages an understanding of this exploitation, but proposes two complementary political responses to neoliberalism’s environmental injustices: spatializing history and historicizing space, both of which demonstrate that linking neoliberalism with its colonial roots and local effects with global contexts is essential to an environmental justice critique.

Spatializing History: “History Traveling” and Arcangel’s Border Poetry

When Yamashita describes Arcangel in an interview, she says, “he is many things, but perhaps he is also history, well history traveling.”[23] In the context of the novel, Arcangel is “history traveling” in at least two senses. First, as a mythical character born on October 12, 1492 (the day of Columbus’s landfall), he has since traveled throughout the Americas witnessing important political events. Second, the novel’s seven days chart Arcangel’s pulling of the Tropic of Cancer across the U.S./Mexico border, literally causing the history of Latin America to “travel” northward through space. If the neoliberal narrative of globalization, represented by Supernafta, is “only concerned with the / commerce of money and things,” the poems Arcangel writes throughout the novel serve to contextualize the abstract function of “commerce” by highlighting its effects on environments and human bodies.[24] Arcangel’s poetry seeks to name, often in the form of epic lists, everything that is concealed or forgotten in the neoliberal narrative. His poems not only reference a dizzying array of historical moments and places but also serve to “spatialize” this traveling history by examining its effects on particular geographies and bodies. By spatializing history, Arcangel is able to define the exploitation of land and laboring bodies as urgent environmental justice issues, and to propose a sustainable model of resistance that links struggles across multiple locations.

Arcangel’s poetry accomplishes this spatializing of (neo)colonial history by, for example, linking abstract commodities –and the labor that produces them—to their origins in specific places. Combating the market view of products as neutral “placeless” items of exchange, he references their loaded spatial, political, and historical contexts as part of a larger pattern of third world exploitation. When he remembers “Haitian farmers burning and slashing cane, / workers stirring molasses into white gold,” he connects the history of slave labor on sugar cane plantations with current exploitations of labor that result from policies like NAFTA.[25] A vision of “Guatemalans loading trucks with / crates of bananas and corn” is juxtaposed to an image of a “mother in Idaho peeling a banana for her child” while “lines of laborers” are “gripping soiled paychecks at the local bank.”[26] Described in this context, the seemingly innocent act of a mother peeling a banana for her child is seen as a link in the chain of labor and environmental exploitation that characterizes the uneven distribution of power among first and third world, or Global North and South, spaces. Referencing the anti-colonial treatise Open Veins of Latin America, Archangel recalls Eduardo Galeano explaining that “industry was like an airplane. / It landed and left with everything– / raw materials, / exotic culture, and / human brains– / everything. / Everybody’s labor got occupied in the / industry of draining their / homeland of its natural wealth.”[27] According to this transactional model, all facets of Latin America—including land, raw materials, culture, labor, and even human thought—are objects ripe for exploitation by first world countries. “In exchange,” notes Galeano, “they got progress, / technology, / loans, and / loaded guns.”[28] These are the supposedly beneficial exports of NAFTA-model international trade, what one character sarcastically calls “gifts from NAFTA.”[29] Countries like the U.S. export the myth of “progress”—as increased technology, consumerism, and militarism—across the border while concealing the human and environmental costs of importing “raw materials,” “exotic culture” and “human brains.” Archangel’s poetic traveling history demonstrates how the ideology of colonialism leads directly to contemporary political, human rights, and environmental abuses.

In another long poem that lists all of the forgotten things now crossing the border with Arcangel’s orange, he links the exploitation of laboring bodies with the bodily perils of colonialism and the contemporary U.S./Mexico border. “Then came the kids selling Kleenex and Chiclets” in the street, accompanied by maquiladora factory workers (“the women pressing rubber soles into tennis shoes” and “the men welding fenders to station wagons”), and “all the people who do the work of machines: / human washing machines, human vacuums, human garbage disposals.”[30] However, when Arcangel encounters a group of immigrants just after crossing the border, they warn him that he’s considered “nothin’ but a lazy old freeloading mes’kin around here,” emphasizing a paradox of the neoliberal model that simultaneously needs and rejects immigrant labor.[31] The suppressed history of colonialism, figured through disease and death, now comes hurtling across the border along with the people: “then came smallpox, TB, meningitis, E coli, / influenza, and 25 million dead Indians.”[32] Arcangel relates the impact of colonialism on indigenous bodies to the bodily dangers encountered by immigrants at the contemporary U.S./Mexico border. As he approaches the border, Arcangel knows it “wait[s] with seismic sensors and thermal imaging, / …barbed wire, infrared binoculars, / INS detention centers, border patrols, rape / robbery, and death.”[33] In fact, Arcangel figures the border itself as a violent weapon used against immigrant bodies when he states that government officials “held the border to his throat like a great knife.”[34]

Despite the obvious environmental and economic impacts of the border, the neoliberal narrative suppresses this difference in its advocacy of “borderless” trade. For example, when Supernafta tells Mexicans that “[they] are North too,” they respond by asking, “what’s the good of being North when it feels, looks, tastes, smells, shits South?”[35] Far from erasing the border between North and South, free trade has accentuated the disparity. In fact, “profound differences in industrial regulation as well as wealth distribution” make the “topographical contrast” at the U.S./Mexico border “look more distinct today than a century ago.”[36] Even “Martians” would be able to recognize this border, says Arcangel: “they would swim nude in Acapulco, buy sombreros, ride burros, take pictures of the pyramids, build a maquiladora, hire us, and leave.”[37] Supernafta’s simple assertion that NAFTA makes Mexico “North too” conceals the border’s material impact on lands and bodies. “Environmental justice activism,” argues Yanoula Athanassakis, “has long pointed to the absurdity of national boundaries as they alternately claim and mine resources” while “disclaiming and disowning the resulting issues of human rights violations and toxic dumping.”[38] Arcangel’s literal dragging of the South into the space of the North illustrates the permeability of national borders that can stop neither pollution and “progress,” nor revolutionary ideas and transnational coalitions.

In order to combat this oppressive narrative, Arcangel constructs a “traveling history” of resistance to environmental injustice. He traces this resistance tradition not to classic western environmentalist figures like John Muir and Henry Thoreau, but to political revolutionaries like Che Guevara and “ecomartyrs” like Chico Mendes, who was murdered for trying to prevent clear-cutting in the Brazilian rainforest. While Supernafta’s progress narrative conceals these power dynamics, Arcangel’s traveling history allows him to situate the labor exploitation and environmental degradation of contemporary practices like maquiladoras within a wider history of oppression and resistance. His poetry links the “hidden and cheap” labor of maquiladora factory workers with the colonial practice of “human slavery,” and the environmental effects of unsustainable colonial mining in Cerro Rico with the “scorched land” of Brazilian rainforests produced by multinational corporations. As the mythical embodiment of traveling history, Arcangel remembers being with “Sitting Bull at Custer’s Last Stand,” with anti-colonial leader Simon Bolivar in Venezuela, and with Haitian slaves “burning and slashing cane.” Thus his model of traveling history suggests that only by linking, for instance, human and environmental rights movements in Latin America, Native struggles against colonialism, and African-American resistance to slavery and discrimination can we construct an effective—and politically sustainable—narrative of resistance. While Yamashita is decidedly a critic of the commodified rhetoric of harmonious “multiculturalism,” the kinds of linkages made in Arcangel’s poems suggest the need to chart a “pan-revolutionary” history that includes the struggles of multiple populations in multiple locations.[39] If, as Rob Nixon suggests, “the neoliberal era has intensified assaults on resources,” it has “also intensified resistance, whether through isolated site-specific struggles or through activism that has reached across national boundaries in an effort to build translocal alliances.”[40] Yamashita’s novel shows the difficulty, and the necessity, of building this kind of embedded, alliance-based resistance that gains sustainability, if not consistency, through the linking of disparate political struggles across spaces and histories.

Historicizing Space: Layered Geography and the Mapping of L.A.

Whereas Arcangel’s poetry argues for a “traveling history” of the Americas that spatializes history, the parts of the novel set in L.A. demonstrate the parallel imperative for a “layered geography” of the city, a way of historicizing the city’s space. Describing her aim in writing the novel, Yamashita notes that, “what in part I try to say is that the city is a layered geography traversed and negotiated every day by different people.”[41] Because “every new group of immigrants appropriates the given structures and infrastructures to take ownership of a new home,” the “city is thus forever changing, but it is home, and this also means that home is not fixed but changing.”[42] Among the “layers” of L.A. are “historical layers,” “layers of people who are homeless, people who are very close to just the trash in the city,” the “layer of immigrants and illegals and those questions,” and the “babel of Los Angeles.”[43] As Yamashita asserts, “geography is not just the land; it’s the people.”[44] Defining geography in this way allows Yamashita to avoid a “naturalized” portrait of the city’s inequalities, and instead to bring our attention to the complexity of human spatial layers in a city where the most vulnerable populations are also the most invisible. Just as Arcangel’s poems worked to spatialize the “placeless” history of neoliberalism/colonialism, the notion of “layered geography” serves to contextualize the ahistorical neoliberal narrative of the city within its social and environmental history.

Given its aim of adding historical depth to geography, Tropic engages in a critique of maps’ possibilities for both suppressing and revealing the layered histories of the city. The novel frequently references maps of L.A., including maps of gang territories, maps of urban renewal projects and freeways, imagined maps, the satellite-tracked maps of organ traffickers, and even the L.A. Thomas Guide. As one character says, “there are maps and there are maps and there are maps.[45] However, the novel demonstrates that all maps are not created equally. Maps are not neutral records of “reality”; rather, they are both representations of power and objects that create and reinforce power. These maps function in the text as narratives in their own right that can either reinforce or challenge the neoliberal geography of the city.

Yamashita’s narrative approach highlights the role of maps in perpetuating an unjust urban geography in order to show how acts of re-writing and re-mapping are necessary for creating social and environmental justice in an era of globalization. To accomplish this, the novel juxtaposes de-contextualized and contextual models of mapping. De-contextualized maps, which represent space as fixed and ahistorical, reinforce the capitalist logic of neoliberal globalization that perpetuates discriminatory urban geographies. These include the maps of gang territories, freeway construction, and gentrification projects that the novel critiques. In contrast, Yamashita proposes a form of contextual mapping that sees space and time as elastic, palimpsestic, porous. This model, embodied in the concept of “gente-fication” (as opposed to gentrification) and in detailed imagined maps of the city through time, involves attending to the “layered” histories of particular places, making the exploited visible and providing them access to histories of resistance that can be recuperated from physical and imagined places as tools for reshaping oppressive geographies.

The novel’s critique of de-contextualized maps begins when Gabriel hands Buzzworm, an African American community organizer, a 1972 map which outlines the territories of street gangs in the city.[46] Buzzworm, who has made it his personal mission to get the “true” stories of his impoverished East L.A. neighborhood into the media, relies on newspaper reporter Gabriel to “tell the story. Point is there’s people out here. Life out here.”[47] As a figure especially concerned about representations of the ethnic poor in his community, Buzzworm has a visceral reaction to this map. He studies the document, following “the thick lines on the map showing the territorial standing of Crips versus Bloods,” and then shakes his head, asking “Even if it were true, whose territory was it anyway?”[48] The problem with this map is that its “thick lines” oversimplify the communities’ social geography, reducing a complex nexus of human life to the abstract shapes of rival gang territories. Rather than acknowledging either the socio-economic conditions that contribute to gangs or the majority of community members in these areas that do not belong to gangs, this map portrays East L.A. as a landscape of violence and fear. Buzzworm cites his own family history, in which his grandmother sacrificed even food to make house payments so that he would one day own a home, as an example of the map’s blind spots. Thinking of his home, he wonders, “Was this his territory? According to the map, it was in Crips or Bloods territory.”[49] By representing the community solely through the prism of gangs, the map erases the hard-won history of community building by impoverished minorities in East L.A. While the gang map inevitably reflects indices of race and poverty, it does not acknowledge how these factors relate to the existence of gangs, but instead makes a simple causal link between gangs and crime.

The de-contextualized logic of the gang map is replicated in maps which chart the freeway expansions and gentrification projects that profoundly impact low-income ethnic communities in the city. The maps of Buzzworm’s neighborhood have been drastically affected by such development, and he notes that many families must now “locate the old house somewhere between Mrs. Field’s and the Footlocker. . . . or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, or Union Station, or the Bank of America, Arco Towers, New Otani, or the freeway.”[50] “Gentrification . . . plays a pivotal role in neoliberal urbanism,” argues Neil Smith, because “it serves up the central- and inner-city real-estate markets as burgeoning centers of productive capital investment: the globalization of productive capital embraces gentrification.”[51] Buzzworm highlights the neoliberal function of developers’ maps which design the city’s spatial contours to serve the desires of wealthier populations and corporations without taking the historical contexts of his community into account. “Somebody else must have the big map,” he muses, “or maybe just the next map. The one with the new layers you can’t even imagine yet.”[52] Not only do developers’ maps, then, ignore “old layers” of community history and material need in their rush for profits but they also control the “new layers” of the “next map” which run roughshod over poor ethnic neighborhoods.  “Where was his house on this map?,” Buzzworm wonders, “Somebody’s parking lot? Somebody’s tennis court? Or just the driveway to some gated community?”[53] Gentrification, in these terms, means replacing houses like Buzzworm’s with spaces of consumerism, luxury, and security—spaces from which people like Buzzworm are explicitly excluded.

Tropic’s critique of these maps suggests that political re-mappings must include both the history of spaces and imaginative visions of future layers that offer an alternative to exploitative profit-driven models. Low-income families, “bought out” at rock-bottom prices, are displaced in the city’s supposedly beneficial plans for “urban renewal” which could be more aptly described as projects of “urban removal.” These displaced people wonder how things might be different “if they’d a known then every square foot of that land was worth millions. If they’d a known the view’d be so expensive. If they’d a known.”[54]

Crucially, Buzzworm connects these struggles of low-income communities for affordable housing with the history of land grabs during the colonization of the region. Elitist gentrification in his own neighborhood starts him thinking about the removal of “Mexican rancheros and, before that, about the Chumash and the Yangna. If they’d a known.”[55] L.A. sits on the ancestral homeland of the Tongvas (Gabrieleño) people, whose largest village, Yangna, was located near the much-beleaguered L.A. River in the heart of present-day downtown at City Hall.[56] The Chumash people lived primarily from the northern edge of L.A. County up to Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands. Both tribes were culturally and physically devastated by European germs, violent conflicts, assimilation efforts, and land grabs that began with Spanish colonials in the late 18th century, though both survive into the present day. Figuring settler colonialism in southern California as a form of rapacious gentrification and redefining the land-based struggles of various displaced groups as a continuous history of capitalist colonialism allows Buzzworm to critique the contemporary gentrification maps’ rhetoric of “renewal” and “progress” as an ongoing process of racialized oppression.

In opposition to these predatory gentrification practices Buzzworm posits the alternative concept of “gente-fication.” This model, generated not from the top down but from the “gente” or “folks” themselves, was the “sort where people living there become their own gentry. Self-gentrification by a self-made set of standards and respectability. Do-it-yourself gentrification.”[57] While some jokingly call Buzzworm’s plan “This Old Hood,” linking it to the television show This Old House’s restorations of mostly upscale homes, his proposal speaks to the social and environmental health of the neighborhood. Do-it-yourself “gente-fication” calls for different ethnic groups to work together in an effort to “restore the neighborhood. Clean up the streets. Take care of the people. Trim and water the palm trees.”[58] Progress, in this sense, equates not to an increase in consumer luxury and security from undesirables, but to an increase in “caring” for people and environments. The enlargement of community self-determination in “gente-fication” rejects the neoliberal narrative of progress and its attendant values and instead remaps the neighborhood according to the community’s human and environmental needs.

As a strategy for resistance, this model of “gente-fication” works locally in the novel to oppose the de-contextualized maps of L.A. officials who plan on widening a freeway that runs through the neighborhood—and freeways in this novel are characterized as contested spaces where class, race, and environmental conflicts play out. Buzzworm recalls a neighborhood meeting about a freeway expansion where “city bureaucrats” unveiled “their poster boards and scale models. Everything in pastels, modern-like. Made the hood look cleaned up. Quaint. Made the palm trees look decorative.”[59] Bureaucrats ironically depict the impoverished neighborhood in the guise of a wealthy suburb, including what Buzzworm later describes as “Westside thangs” like a “fascination with . . . pastels” that belie real conditions of poverty and urban blight.[60] While this map of the “hood” seems superficially parallel to Buzzworm’s vision of “cleaned up” streets and maintained palms, it is really designed to make that vision impossible. The bureaucrat’s “quaint” and “clean” hood is merely the fictional backdrop to the expanded freeway—their plan not only includes no proposal to improve the neighborhood but actually relies on creating more poverty and urban decay in order to justify further reclamations. By strategically leaving houses abandoned and disrupting pedestrian transit, the project—whose use of immanent domain rests on perceptions that it reclaims urban wastelands for public benefit—in effect creates its own self-fulfilling prophecy.[61] The novel defines urban policies based on segregation and gentrification as environmental justice issues, not only because of the increased pollution, poverty and crime they bring to already vulnerable populations, but because they create a divided landscape which is socially and environmentally unsustainable. Whereas gentrification seeks to clean up poverty and blight by shifting it to other areas, gente-fication addresses the root causes of these issues. Furthermore, because gente-fication is based on a procedural model of justice which prioritizes giving neighborhood people access to decision-making power, not just equal access to “decorative” stuff, it is inherently more sustainable as a political strategy.

New Maps: Reimagining L.A.

While the historically de-contextualized maps of developers and government officials serve to maintain unequal power relations under the guise of helping the ethnic poor, Manzanar’s contextual model of mapping, like Buzzworm’s gente-fication, reveals linkages between spatial and historical layers in order to empower this misrepresented population. Manzanar, a homeless Japanese American man named after a WWII internment camp, conducts “symphonies” from the sounds of the traffic on a freeway overpass. Whereas Arcangel has a mythical capacity to connect different parts of Latin America in a comprehensive traveling history, Manzanar’s “superpower” seems to be the creation of dynamic layered maps of a single place, L.A. Although Manzanar never produces actual “paper” maps, Yamashita imbues him with an uncanny ability to imagine maps of seemingly infinite complexity. He can see maps, for example, of natural features of the landscape and man-made infrastructures, maps of labor, homelessness, immigration, race, and wealth reaching back through history—“all spread in visible and audible layers”).[62] In so doing, Manzanar’s maps exemplify Yamashita’s political strategy of historicizing city space and linking neoliberal configurations of urban geography to environmental injustices. The “uncanny thing,” however, “was that he could see all of them at once, filter some, pick them out like transparent windows and place them even delicately and consecutively in a complex grid of pattern, spatial discernment, body politic.”[63] Although the “complexity of [these] layers should drown an ordinary person,” Manzanar notes, “ordinary persons never bothered to notice.”[64] Thus he both seeks to complicate maps of the city and to increase awareness of its layers. Unlike the gang map or the pastel scale model of the freeway and surrounding “hood” which obscure the spatial and social history of the city in its idealization of urban progress, his re-imagining of L.A. highlights these unacknowledged contexts.

While Manzanar’s uncanny perception of space would seem impossibly complex to actually implement, his model, like the novel itself, emphasizes the need to approach the city as a layered site of multiple contexts. Moreover, the palimpsestic image of maps as “transparent windows” suggests that these layers are not distinct and fixed but interrelated and contingent. Gómez-Peña relates this concept to the political role of “artists and writers” to “reinterpret, remap, and redefine”: “we see through the colonial map of North, Central, and South America, to a more complex system of overlapping, interlocking and overlaid maps. Among others, we can see Amerindia, Afroamerica, Americamestiza-y-mulata, Hybridamerica, and Transamerica—the ‘other America’ that belongs to the homeless, and to nomads, migrants, and exiles.”[65] In an electronically posted “dialogue” between Yamashita and scholar Ryuta Imafuku, Imafuku explains that their “agenda” is to “try to discover a new map behind the old map.” If “complicit ideologies” including imperialism, neoliberalism, nationalism, and a “narrow-minded ecology movement favorable only for the world’s elite” underlie conventional maps, then seeing the “old map as representing these interrelated ideologies” allows us to “think critically and clearly about the need for a new map.”[66]

Here, in a demonstration of the importance of the imaginative power of literature for environmental critique, Yamashita creates for the reader an image how such a “new map” might appear. Looking out from his regular post on an overpass of the Harbor Freeway, Manzanar sees “mapping layers” that begin not with the visible landscape before him, but “within the very geology of the land.”[67] These geological strata include “artesian rivers running beneath the surface, connected and divergent, shifting and swelling,” and the “complex and normally silent web of faults—cracking like mud flats baking under a desert sun, like the crevices in aging hands and faces.”[68] Still “below the surface,” he observes the “man-made grid of civil utilities” including natural gas pipelines, water and sewage tunnels, and electrical lines.[69] Manzanar describes these spatial foundations of L.A. not as neutral features of the city’s map, but as ideologically-laden constructions which underlie environmental injustices. The “great dank tunnels of sewage” and “cascades of poisonous effluents surging from the rain-washed streets into the Santa Monica Bay” and the L.A. River, for example, highlight the normally invisible transit of toxic waste through the city[70]—a hidden environmental “cost” which disproportionally affects the homeless, many of whom are regularly “washing in and even drinking from the sewer effluent which flows down the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River.”[71]

As a conductor of traffic “symphonies,” Manzanar pays special attention to systems of transit—linking them to a history of colonialism and labor exploitation that resonates with L.A.’s contemporary transportation politics. These maps of transportation contextualize his critique of what Soja calls L.A.’s “unjust metropolitan transit geography” which favors “the wealthier, multi-car owning population in the suburban rings” over the “massive agglomeration of the immigrant and more urgently transit-dependent working poor in the inner core.”[72] Railroads, a major technology of colonization in the American west, are given particular attention. These “steam locomotives cut a cloud of black smoke through the heart of the West,” bringing both environmental and human destruction.[73] Such transportation systems, posited as carrying progress and civilization to the wild West in the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, allowed “Yankee pirates” to arrive with “cotton linens” and leave with “smuggled cow hides and tallow.”[74] Manzanar highlights the role of transportation systems in colonialism’s economic and environmental consequences, noting that once “Yankee pirates” gained physical access and a source of water in this desert region “nothing could stop the growing congregation of humanity in this corner of the world.”[75] This historical layer of L.A. ironizes the ongoing demonization of undocumented immigrants in California by contextualizing it within a history of the invasion of these same lands by “undocumented” Yankees. Manzanar’s map of L.A.’s transportation history links the colonization of indigenous lands and the past exploitation of immigrant labor with the contemporary space of the freeway which perpetuates this ideology of exploitation/exclusion.

Whereas the de-contextualized maps created by developers and police exacerbate social and spatial divides, Manzanar’s contextual maps not only “represent” disadvantaged peoples but demonstrate their ability to actually generate new spaces and maps. L.A.’s colonial past and neoliberal present structure its social and spatial “grid,” a grid which Manzanar says has “spread itself with particular domination.”[76] However, because these dominating “grids” are human constructions, they can be changed. As Arcangel arrives in Los Angeles along with “hundreds of thousands” of immigrants and the “entire continent” of South America, characters begin to notice an “elasticity of the land and of time,” noting that “to everything there seemed to be an eerie liquid elasticity” or “folding [of] space.”[77] During the freeway occupation, Manzanar experiences a similar “uncanny sense of the elasticity of the moment, of time and space,” and it is then that he senses “the grid was changing.”[78] By “folding” the spaces and histories of Latin America into those of Los Angeles, the novel re-contextualizes both, bringing the South into contact with the North and colonial history into contact with the contemporary era. Yamashita’s depictions of space and time as “elastic” and “foldable” enable both her to juxtapose different locations and historical moments to illustrate the “uneven” experience of globalization for marginalized populations and to emphasize the ability of social action to alter social and physical geographies. The radical occupation of L.A.’s Harbor Freeway, to which the final section of this essay turns, similarly transforms the grid. As this impromptu community develops, Manzanar “began to sense a new kind of grid, this one defined not by inanimate structures or other living things but by himself and others like him”—that is, L.A.’s “others”—the homeless, immigrants, and ethnic poor.[79] This new grid inverts the neoliberal narrative of profits and property, remapping L.A. from the perspective of its most vulnerable populations.

Re-framing the Freeway: State Violence, Colonialism, and Coalition-Building

Arcangel’s poetry demonstrated the need to create a “traveling” or spatialized history of resistance to neoliberalism/neocolonialism, while Buzzworm’s notion of “gente-fication” and Manzanar’s layered maps demonstrated the corresponding need to historicize urban space in order resist the social and environmental injustices perpetuated by de-contextualized representations. Both strategies reflect the novel’s model of linking spatial and historical contexts to disrupt the neoliberal narrative of global “progress.” In order to demonstrate the implications of this coalitional/contextual approach for staging political resistance, the novel grounds these strategies in a moment of protest and resistance on an L.A. freeway

After a series of explosive crashes results in “an entire mile of cars trapped between two dead semis,” L.A.’s Harbor Freeway becomes the controversial site of a temporary community and, later, of a violent government attack. Although this impromptu community begins when the fires drive homeless people from their make-shift camps and into the owner-abandoned vehicles, it quickly develops into a diverse coalition of supporters including African and Asian Americans from the low-income neighborhood surrounding the freeway, Salvadorian refugees, and eventually the Latin American immigrants who arrive with Arcangel. However, although the scene suggests the need to create alliances between multiple ethnic and national groups, the novel explicitly critiques “multiculturalism” as a narrative that masks the exploitations propagated by neoliberalism. Supernafta, for example, draws on a rhetoric of multiculturalism as he addresses his speech “to all the children of the world,” to “that multicultural rainbow of kids out there,” and “upon saying children his eyes became slightly droopy like a puppy dog’s.”[80] This false affect conceals the fact that multiculturalism, as Yamashita notes in an interview, has been “appropriated by [multinational corporations like] Coca Cola” not to promote actual co-operation but to sell products.[81] While the rhetoric of multiculturalism—appropriated to reinforce neoliberal values—masks oppression, the novel’s model of coalition suggests that cross-cultural alliances can function to disrupt this oppression.

This disruption of the neoliberal narrative is literalized when the progress of commuter traffic flow is blocked by the protestors on the freeway as they attempt to create a space in which neo-liberal values lose their sway.  Their appropriation of Wonder Bread and Snapple from an abandoned delivery truck, for instance, redefines these commodities in terms of human need rather than the transactional market economy. As the days wear on, the protestors even create a makeshift recycling program which makes sure that “bottles, cans, and plastic” are properly separated, signaling their awareness that social justice for marginalized populations cannot be separated from environmental concerns and sustainable consumption.

Although the freeway occupation physically disrupts neoliberal “progress” the disruption is only temporary, and the novel suggests that in order to be politically effective it must also disrupt media representations of the event. The commercial media defines the event as a marketable form of entertainment. One station, for example, simultaneously airs its coverage of the crisis in the freeway canyon with a “disaster” movie called Canyon Fires, effectively equating the real crisis with its simulacrum. This simultaneous broadcast of “commercial time” and “live action news” creates a marketing situation in which “the station couldn’t lose.”[82] When the coalition gains temporary access to the news cameras, however, their broadcasts focus on the population’s needs rather than its marketability. In a “special report” called “Life in the Fast Lane,” a homeless man tells how he “pulled the guts” out of a “rusting Cadillac” to turn it into an “urban garden” that will “do some good feedin’.” As one member puts it, the coalition creates “TV from the bottom. Aspirations of the lowest bum on skid row. Lifestyles of the poor and forgotten.”[83] Although they ironically end up producing the “hottest property on the net,” they do succeed in temporarily disrupting conventional media representations and making the needs of the “poor and forgotten” visible.[84]

However, when the government responds to the occupation with a brutal attack, sending “gunfire [ripping] across the valley of cars . . . strafing the freeway along its dotted lines,” the “utterly violent assumption” at the heart of the neoliberal progress narrative is exposed. In the midst of the attack Manzanar remarks on the “horror” of this “assemblage of military might pointed at one’s own people.”[85] The state functions not to protect its people, this scene suggests, but to protect property and ensure the global flow of commodities, thus re-inscribing the neoliberal narrative. However, just as Arcangel connects the violence of the U.S./Mexico border with a larger history of colonial oppression, so the freeway occupants define the attack within a “traveling history” of U.S. imperialism. Manzanar watches as the “coordinated might of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, the Coast and National Guards, federal, state, and local police forces looked down as it had in the past on tiny islands and puny countries …and descended in a single storm.”[86] Another coalition organizer asserts that the attack in effect replicates the Vietnam War for the many homeless veterans who are “suddenly returned to familiar scenes of fear and bloodshed.”[87] Although the occupation ultimately collapses under the government’s violence, the novel suggests that it represents an important experiment in imagining alternative spaces and histories. While this rebellion itself is not sustainable, the ideas driving it point to the urgent need to reconceive our economic values through the lens of environmental and human rights, redefining urban sustainability from the point of view of the most vulnerable populations.

The novel’s approach to environmental justice reflects Yamashita’s belief that interesting art is not “purely” aesthetic but is “encumbered” by such worldly matters. In an interview she acknowledges she has “been criticized for [her] political bent,” adding that because of it one agent even “refused to represent” her.[88] Still, she says, “I can’t think of any work that interests me that can be engaged with as purely an aesthetic experience. You or I can step into a Zen rock garden or stare into field of irises, but the stepping in or staring away is an act of repudiation or leave-taking. The world encumbers me/us.”[89] Tropic, as a deeply “encumbered” text, suggests that literature which acknowledges the material effects of narratives like neoliberal progress, rather than “staring away,” can engender an awareness in readers of the political contexts which structure narratives. In so doing, the novel answers Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s call for artists and academics not to speak “for” others, but to “amplify” the voices of “those who have been victimized by neoliberal globalization, be they indigenous peoples, landless peasants, impoverished women, squatter settlers, sweatshop workers or undocumented immigrants.”[90] The novel’s approach—its inclusion of multiple voices and narratives, and its attention to spatial and historical contexts—illustrates the power of environmental literature to respond to the neoliberal “myth of the first world” not through a nostalgic escape from “globalization” but by revealing linked histories of oppression and creating linked practices of resistance.


1. Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange, (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997). [↑]

2. Julie Sze, Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice, (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2007). The neoliberal ideology of unregulated “free” markets emphasizes the virtue of privatization, property rights, and “progress” in general, thus working to erode social services, labor rights, and environmental protections. [↑]

3. Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). [↑]

4. William Orme, Continental Shift: Free Trade & the New North America, (Washington D.C.: Briefing Books, 1993). [↑]

5. Mark A. Laffey and Jutta Weldes, “‘Antiglobalization’ Protests and the Future of Democracy,” The Asrudian Center: International Politics, IR Theory, Economics, Philosophy, [↑]

6. The Tropic of Cancer, the northernmost line over which the sun appears directly overhead, runs through Mexico and, in the novel, specifically through character Gabriel’s vacation property. The novel’s eponymous orange, grown on a tree that sits on this line, becomes attached to the Tropic itself, allowing Arcangel to drag Latin America into the U.S. by carrying the orange northward. [↑]

7. Subhabrata Banerjee, Vanessa C.M. Chio, and Raza Mir, “The Imperial Formations of Globalization,” in Organizations, Markets, and Imperial Formations: Towards an Anthropology of Globalization, eds. Subharbrata Banerjee, Vanessa C.M. Chio, and Raza Mir (Northhampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009), 8. [↑]

8. Almost certainly a source of inspiration for Yamashita’s final scene, Guillermo Gómez-Peña also describes resistance to NAFTA in terms of a “great end-of-the-century wrestling match” where “Round One” pits the “neoliberal formula of a continent unified by free trade, tourism, and digital high-technology” against “indigenous, campesino, environmental, and human rights movements” (170). Guillermo Gómez-Peña, The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems & Loqueras for the End of the Century, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1996).

Marcos and the Zapatistas declared war on NAFTA when it went into effect on January 1, 1994. As Adamson et al. note in the Environmental Justice Reader: “by calling into question global institutions such as NAFTA, which favor large multinational agribusiness at the expense of small subsistence farmers, the Zapatistas brought the urgency of the issues at the center of the environmental justice movement into international prominence and demonstrated that disgruntled groups of women, farmers, indigenous peoples, or urban city dwellers have the power to confront large governments, corporations, and even global steamrollers such as NAFTA or the World Trade Organization.” Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, “Introduction: Environmental Justice Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy,” in The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy, eds. Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein (Tucson: U of Arizona Press, 2002), 5. [↑]

9. Yamashita, 257. [↑]

10. David Harvey, Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 8. [↑]

11. Yamashita, 260. [↑]

12. Yamashita, 260. [↑]

13. Yamashita, 23, 6, 5. [↑]

14. Yamashita, 6. [↑]

15. Yamashita, 10. [↑]

16. Yamashita, 11. [↑]

17. Yamashita, 224. [↑]

18. Yamashita, 32. [↑]

19. For more on the social and environmental implications of naturalizing as a tool of power, see Noel Sturgeon’s work, which points out that Western culture has a long tradition of naturalizing “social differences and economic systems” and of presenting “inequalities and hierarchies as natural orders.” Noël Sturgeon, Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and the Politics of the Natural, (Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2009), 12. [↑]

20. Edward M. Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice, (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010), 53-4. [↑]

21. Soja, 53. [↑]

22. Julie Sze, “From Environmental Justice Literature to the Literature of Environmental Justice,” in The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy. eds. Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein (Tucson: U of Arizona Press, 2002), 173. [↑]

23. Ryuta Imafuku and Karen Tei Yamashita, “The Latitude of the Fiction Writer: A Dialogue,” (July 1997). [↑]

24. Yamashita, 133. [↑]

25. Yamashita, 145. [↑]

26. Yamashita, 145. [↑]

27. Yamashita 145.

Galeano’s book uses the metaphor of Latin America as a human body with rich “veins” of resources, such as silver, coffee, fruit, and rubber, which, through centuries of colonial and neocolonial abuse have gradually drained their wealth into Europe and the United States. Interestingly, this book was given to President Barack Obama by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2009, rocketing it to best-seller lists. Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, trans. Cedric Belfrage, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997). [↑]

28. Yamashita, 145. [↑]

29. Yamashita, 161. [↑]

30. Yamashita, 200. [↑]

31. Yamashita, 212.

Furthermore, Archangel explicitly references the political history of Mexican labor and immigration in the U.S.: “the deportation of 400,000 Mexican / citizens in 1932, coaxing back of 2.2 million / braceros in 1942 / only to exile the same 2.2 million / wetbacks in 1953.” Yamashita, 198.

Following the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1939, as many as one to two million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported or harassed into leaving the U.S. as part of the a program known as “Mexican Repatriation.” Just as the Great Depression’s unemployment rates prompted Repatriation, so the sudden labor shortages during WWII prompted the U.S.’s Bracero Program, which began in 1942. These “braceros,” who totaled more than two million over the course of the program, were manual laborers brought to the U.S. to work in agriculture and on railroads. However, the same workers were then maligned as “wetbacks” after the WWII era production boom had ended. Like the Repatriation before it, “Operation Wetback” (started in 1954) used raids, harassment, and scare tactics to pressure migration. [↑]

32. Yamashita, 200. [↑]

33. Yamashita, 198. [↑]

34.  Yamashita, 198.

In 1994, the same year NAFTA was enacted, the U.S. launched “Operation Gatekeeper.” Enabled by a doubling of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s budget, this policy dramatically increased the militarization of the California/Mexico border in particular. By 1997, the year Tropic was published, the number of border agents and fences had doubled, and the number of underground sensors had tripled. In what Subcommandante Marcos calls the “giant planetary hypermarket,” it is “only commodities that circulate freely, not people.” Subcommandante Marcos, “The Fourth World War,” 1999, [↑]

35. Yamashita, 132. [↑]

36. Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination, (Malden, M.A.: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 82. [↑]

37. Yamashita, 132. [↑]

38. Yanoula Athanassakis, “L.A. and T.J.: Immigration, Globalization, and Environmental Justice in Tropic of Orange and Sleep Dealer,” Journal of American Studies of Turkey 30 (Fall 2009), 91. [↑]

39. In fact, Arcangel himself embodies this kind of pan-cultural connection, since his speech combines “Latin mixed with every aboriginal, colonial, slave or immigrant tongue.” Yamashita, 47. [↑]

40. Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). 4. [↑]

41. Elizabeth P. Glixman, “An Interview with Karen Tei Yamashita,” Eclectica Magazine 11.4 (October/November 2007), [↑]

42. Glixman [↑]

43. Imafuku [↑]

44. Te-hsing Shan, “Interview with Karen Tei Yamashita,” Amerasia Journal 32.3 (2006), 132. [↑]

45. Yamashita, 56. [↑]

46. The gang map, which Gabriel tore out of a book called “Quartz City or some such title,” is actually from Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, a social history of Los Angeles originally published in 1990. Yamashita, 80.

Yamashita says that “Mike Davis’s map made [her] think about other possibilities for defining those territories,” and that Tropic is an effort to expand and update Davis’s project by bringing in “places and things that may not have been mentioned before,” thus creating a map that’s not necessarily “more real, but more ample and complex” (Gier and Tejeda). Jean Vengua Gier and Carla Alicia Tejeda, “An Interview with Karen Tei Yamashita,” Jouvert: A Journal of Postcolonial Studies 2.2 (1998).

While the impulse to complicate such maps is well founded, the map in question is not Davis’s creation—it was actually designed by the LAPD and included as part of Davis’s history of gang formation. Davis’ own book makes a scathing critique of racial profiling of Black and Latino youth by police, racist drug laws, and institutionalized spatial segregation in the city, as well as charting community efforts to resist these injustices. That this map did not originate in a history book, but was released by the 77th St. Division of the LAPD to the media in 1972, makes it all the more important in terms of Buzzworm’s concern with media representation of his community. In fact, almost forty years later the LAPD still publishes these gang maps which can now be viewed by the public on their official website ( Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, [1990], (London: Verso, 2006). [↑]

47. Yamashita, 111. [↑]

48. Yamashita, 81. [↑]

49. Yamashita, 81. [↑]

50. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

51. Neil Smith, “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy,” in Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe, eds. Neil Brenner and Nik Theodore (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002), 99. [↑]

52. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

53. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

54. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

55. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

56. Yangna “was a center for commerce, governance, and religious ceremonies, and it is the birthplace of Los Angeles.” KCET Los Angeles, “LA River: Chapter Four Yangna,” [↑]

57. Yamashita, 83. [↑]

58. Yamashita, 83. [↑]

59. Yamashita, 82. [↑]

60. Yamashita, 175. [↑]

61. This episode likely draws on the freeway and gentrification projects that displaced nearly 22,000 working-class families in the Bunker Hill neighborhood between the 1950s and 1970s in order to build Los Angeles’s new Downtown. In an effort to ensure the “security” of this area, Davis notes, “virtually all the traditional pedestrian links to the old center, including the famous Angel’s Flight funicular railroad, were removed” (230). The removal of pedestrian pathways in favor of automobile traffic, insular buildings without street frontage, and a general lack of public space, works to deliberately exclude ethnic and poor populations. The early Crips, for instance, were “incubated in the social wasteland created by the clearances for the Century Freeway—a traumatic removal of housing and destruction of neighborhood ties that was equivalent to a natural disaster.” Davis, 298. [↑]

62. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

63. Yamashita, 56. [↑]

64. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

65. Guillermo Gómez-Peña, The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems & Loqueras for the End of the Century, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1996), 12. [↑]

66. Imafuku [↑]

67. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

68. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

69. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

70. Yamashita, 57. [↑]

71. Davis, 234. [↑]

72. Soja, x.

Specifically, Manzanar remembers a time before the “V-6 and double-overhead cam” when transportation was dominated by “the railroads and the harbors” (237). He positions these modes of transit within a history of exploited ethnic labor. These “first infrastructures” were “built by migrant and immigrant labor,” creating the “initial grid on which everything else began to fill in” (237). L.A. was literally built from the ground up by ethnic laborers whose contemporary counterparts are still excluded from its resources. [↑]

73. Yamashita, 237 [↑]

74. Yamashita, 237 [↑]

75. Yamashita, 237 [↑]

76. Yamashita, 237 [↑]

77. Yamashita, 149, 119, 253. [↑]

78. Yamashita, 200, 213, 239. [↑]

79. Yamashita, 238. [↑]

80. Yamashita, 257. [↑]

81. Wendy Cheng, “Karen Tei Yamashita: A Twist on the Mix,” Interview, Loggernaut Reading Series, (2005). [↑]

82. Yamashita, 125. [↑]

83. Yamashita, 192. [↑]

84. Yamashita, 192. [↑]

85. Yamashita, 239. [↑]

86. Yamashita, 239. [↑]

87. Yamashita, 239. [↑]

88. Cheng. [↑]

89. Cheng. [↑]

90. Boaventura de Sousa Santos and César A. Rodríguez-Garavito, Law and Globalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005), 30. [↑]

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