Unnatural Causes: Place Matters

Unnatural Causes: Place Matters focuses on the stories of Gwai Boonkeut and other Southeast Asian immigrants, including the Vietnamese and Laotian, immigrating into neglected urban neighborhoods across the United States. Boonkeut lives in Richmond, California where a number of problems have long plagued its residents. Such struggles include the presence of pollutants, unaffordable housing, “poverty taxes”, lack of jobs, increased worrying, and widespread exposure to violence. These environmental dilemmas have been linked to the immense health detriments, such as greater rates of asthma hospitalization, higher rates of diabetes, and lower mortality rates, faced by Boonkeut and his fellow neighbors. These findings support research that suggests that the environment is a large determinant of one’s health and can be a great limiter of one’s health-related choices. The inequalities faced by these residents have become so prevalent that children growing up in such neighborhoods often do not believe they will live past their 20th birthday.

Richmond not only has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, but 50% of its residents pay 30% of their income towards housing, petrochemical companies devastate the natural air, fresh groceries shops are lacking yet tobacco and liquor stores are abundant, and every service is more expensive. These are all traumatizing factors that increase the worry resident’s experience on a day-to-day basis, thereby compounding to increased cortisol and subsequently leading to chronic stress, increased arterial plaque, and a weakened immune system. In the long-term, many of those suffering from these effects may also experience an early death. Many of the struggles faced by those living in Richmond, California overlap with the environmental detriments we have discussed in class. Specifically, it has been shown that those who are surrounded by negative environmental factors reported overall lower quality health compared to those who can afford to live in a nice neighborhood where crime and poverty is scarce. Interestingly, as a response to the many studies that have supported the correlation between environment and health, money has been granted to these areas in order to improve their conditions and create a mixed-income community. The goal of implementing and promoting community gardens, organic foods, and social connectedness was to rebuild High Point in hopes it will raise them up and allow the residents to enjoy the benefits of wealthier neighborhoods. This is particularly interesting because it utilizes the findings from such studies and applies them in practical ways that improve the lives of many, which is something other neglected urban areas should take note of.

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