New Essays in Ecofeminist Literary Criticism

By Glynis Carr | Go to book overview

[Not by Politics Alone]: Gender and
Environmental Justice in Karen Tei
Yamashita's Tropic of Orange

Julie Sze


Introduction

THE environmental justice1 movement emerged in the 1980s in the United States as documentation of environmental racism and community-based actions against environmental racism reached a critical mass.2 This social movement came to national prominence after reports documented that people of color in the United States suffer disproportionately from environmental pollution and from unequal protection from the effects of this pollution. The environmental justice movement is a political movement concerned with public policy, as well as a cultural movement concerned with issues of ideology and representation. Environmental justice challenges the mainstream definition of environment and nature based on a wilderness/preservationist frame in foregrounding race and labor in its definition. It places people, especially racialized communities, and urban spaces at the center of what constitutes environment and nature.s

This study defines the field of environmental justice studies, examining the importance of cultural analysis to environmental justice by looking at Karen Yamashita's Tropic of Orange. Fantastic literature by women of color—such as Octavia Butler's African American science fiction—is particularly suited to the literature of environmental justice. I will look at Yamashita's magic realist novel as a case study in 1) how to [read] environmental justice perspectives on immigration and labor, and 2) garbage and consumption within the contemporary environmental justice movement, as well as within historical exploitation of nature and peoples. Set in and along the highways of Los Angeles, the novel highlights the global physical geography of neoliberalism. In particular, women's bodies and labor

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