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Ann Kaneko
Ann Kaneko

Ann Kaneko

The Pain of Convenience

With so many conveniences in our modern world, we sometimes fail to ponder the adverse effects they may cause. Might convenience for many be inconvenient for others? Ann Kaneko, documentary filmmaker and storyteller, examines the impact of the ever-growing factory, warehouse, and logistics system in Southern California's Inland Empire, where billions of square feet of industrial spaces owned by companies like Amazon dwarf human-scale well-being concerns. 

Ann's project aims to help residents grapple with the development of open lands for warehouse use, which leads to the ill effects of constant semi-truck traffic, emissions, and noise. This, in turn, results in severe environmental pollution, health issues, housing shortages, and decreased economic mobility. The loss of land also diminishes the communal culture of these areas.

Residents feel underrepresented and taken advantage of by developers, business leaders, and governmental agencies willing to sell out for the promise of revenue and infrastructure. While expansive factory and warehouse complexes disrupt the local quality of life, the community has no seat at the decision-making table. 

Ann Kaneko

Through personal engagement and workshops with residents, Ann is helping affected communities express the ongoing issues caused by this industrial system. Her approach creatively activates civic participation through music and song—an engaging way to encourage residents to share their experiences while learning how to compress real-life stories into popular song formats. 

Ultimately, Ann hopes to develop a collection of songs with residents who become the writers and performers. These songs unpack the factory and warehouse industries' exploitive impact on the Inland Empire's mostly BIPOC communities. A catchy tune may garner more attention than a well-written letter and stick in the ears of business leaders and policymakers. It also affirms the pain and difficulties that these communities face as their homeland transforms into an industrial wasteland. This approach hopes to change the business of convenience/inconvenience and commerce. 

We spoke with Ann Kaneko about this project and her motivations to pursue it.

Our conversation begins here, edited for clarity.

How did you become aware of the issues you're exploring in this project? 

I've always been interested in the complexities and histories of land and land use, especially in Southern California. I grew up in Chino, California, in the western part of San Bernardino County. I went to school there in the 1970s and 80s, so I have a long view of the Inland Empire (I.E.) and how it has changed. Back then, air pollution was a horrific problem for all of Southern California, but especially in the I.E. since LA smog settled over the valley’. 

In 2022, I partnered with Cathy Gudis, U.C. Riverside Professor of Public History, and  PBS SoCal to create The Empire of Logistics. It was a mapping project that detailed the one billion square feet of warehouse space carpeting the region—and it’s still growing. The project explored the human and ecological costs of how we get our goods, as well as the market forces that structure the supply chain. I was also shocked by the environmental injustices this system causes and the impact on the surrounding BIPOC communities. I contributed to an article that looked at the changes happening to dairy lands in Chino and Ontario.

As a country, or maybe even as a planet, we are addicted to instant gratification via commerce. The Inland Empire has the largest concentration of warehouses in the world. It's the staging area for goods from China, the East, and the whole of North America.

 

What else did you want to explore after writing the PBS SoCal article? 

That research made me want to examine this issue on a more local level, and that's how this project was born. It's part of a larger project I'm working on- a documentary film that also highlights the stories of residents.

I wanted to continue investigating land and land use and their connection to consumption. The massive warehouse spaces and the logistics needed to run them are about consumption—a lot! On top of that, there are severe impacts on the environment and humans as well.

Over the past few years, I've done some work investigating health impacts on workers, partnering with  Warehouse Workers Resource Center (WWRC). My documentary film looks at the impacts of this gargantuan industry. I've been struggling to figure out how to present it. I don't want it to be trauma porn. I want to show the lives of the people affected with the dignity they deserve.

 

“Music and songs written by the community allow the project to address tough topics…and can help us look at these issues with honesty, humor, and irony.”

Is that how songs and music became part of your storytelling process? 

Yes! I have a great love for music. I was introduced to Dr. Xóchitl Chavez, an ethnomusicologist who teaches at U.C. Riverside and uses a collective songwriting practice as a form of dialogue. She learned this practice from Martha González and Quetzal Flores, who, in turn, learned it from Mayan communities in Chiapas.  We collaborated on a music workshop in Bloomington, CA. After a phone conversation with her, I knew this was a way I could work with several communities, writing with these communities to write these songs. Through workshops, I am able to give back to the community while also documenting this experience. Documentary filmmaking is fraught with ethical issues, when outsiders come into a community, extracting stories and highlighting trauma in a sensationalist way, and this is a pitfall I was definitely trying to avoid. I want this process to be empowering and for  people to feel happy and excited about this process and sharing their stories.

 

Ann Kaneko

Music and songs written by the community allow the project to address tough topics like the loss of culture, air pollution, well-being, health, quality of life, capitalism, etc. Music is a familiar format and can help us look at these issues with honesty, humor, and irony.

Ann Kaneko

How has the workshop process been going?

The workshops have really been amazing. I have felt welcomed by the community and have really gotten to know them and the issues facing them. The intent of these workshops is about promoting dialogue, and I think they have, indeed, accomplished this. It has been very fun and meaningful for groups and orga nizers to participate, and I have been able to build relationships with many participants. I have also gotten to engage in the complexity and enormity of this situation. I am very humbled, learning and sharing with participants the real pain and stress that they are suffering. This is often tough and, at times, very overwhelming. But overall, I have been so grateful for this opportunity which is helping me to envision a larger film project.

What is your hope for meaningful change?

This is a very difficult question. The changes have been huge, and I often feel powerless, witnessing such enormous change. However, I do hope to convey to audiences the necessity to understand the impacts of their consumption on these communities and uplift their valiant resistance. I don’t think development is inevitable, and government officials need to be held accountable and must understand that they must protect their vulnerable citizens from these unwanted changes.

Learn more about Ann Kaneko here.

Ann Kaneko

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