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Ethnic Mobilization among Korean Dry Cleaners


Korean immigrants in the U.S. rely heavily on ethnic resources to start small businesses.  Ethnic resources include business networks and knowledge, start-up capital, and access to labor power that are embedded in networks of family, friends, and co-ethnics.  This paper shows how Korean dry cleaners in Southern California used ethnic resources to mobilize in response to an environmental policy initiated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).  While Korean immigrants used ethnic resources to start dry cleaning businesses, they found themselves working with a toxic chemical.  In 2002, AQMD required dry cleaners in Southern California to convert to costly alternative machines by 2020.  Korean dry cleaners used ethnic-based collective action, particularly the Korean Dry Cleaning Association, as a means of fighting for regulatory concessions.  They also used ethnic resources to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers to facilitate the adoption of alternative cleaning machines in compliance with the regulation.    

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