About a year ago I received a call from a producer of Night Waves, a BBC radio showWeb program. He wanted me to write about the Los Angeles riotuprising. He had been watching the clock; 10 years had passed and it was time for us natives to reminisce. I almost felt insulted. A Brit had to offer me money to remember one of the biggest events in the history of one of the most important cities in the world. Why weren’t we Los Angelenos talking about it amongst ourselves? Were we that unnerved, shell-shocked, that we buried the memories?
I don‘t think that Los Angeles much wants to remember the largest and costliest civil disturbance in the history of the United States. No, it’s almost as though the city has some sort of amnesia, or maybe it‘s fear; fear that what happened then could jump up and bite us again.
But something frightening happened 10 years ago. We lived through it, were scared and furious, considered bailing on Los Angeles, and feared that this explosion of rage was just the precursor of more unrest. We struggled with the realization that we were being written off by the rest of the country; that Los Angeles was a flawed city from the get-go. Had we finally collectively lost it, had a whole city gone tribal? We struggled with the fragmented opinions of hows and whys; the city was too colored, too poor, too vicious, too divided to pull itself back from the abyss of the largest civil disturbance in the history of the United States.
But L.A. resurrected itself. We got along well enough for the economy to blossom once again, and those that fled to greener or whiter climes were replaced with browner or blacker or yellower faces, and the city didn’t miss a beat. It was still too large, too dangerous, too expensive, too smoggy, but we weren‘t going anywhere.
This is home; a home that almost went up in flames. We need to recollect that 10 years later, even if there will be no 10-part documentary on PBS, or Tom Hanks–billed blockbuster re-creating with searing realism the fires of ’92. We can‘t watch the revolution in the comfort of our home theaters; better to search our memories for those jagged shards of experience and remember.
Novelist Jervey Tervalon is editor of Geography of Rage: Remembering the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which has just been released by Really Great Books ($14.95). This essay is an excerpt from the book. Several of the pieces throughout this package are also excerpts from Geography of Rage. They include the stories by Pat Alderete, Lisa Alvarez, Teena and Florentino Apeles, Gar Anthony Haywood, and Luis Paquime. On Tuesday, the L.A. Central Library is hosting a panel discussion and reading of Geography of Rage. See the Readings section of Calendar for more information.