“South L.A. Revisited, 25 Years After the Rodney King Riots”
The New York Times
By: Héctor Tobar
April 28, 2017
“What do you say to the immigrant families?” a young Latina asked me when I visited students at Locke High School in Watts this month. “Does this country still want them?” she wanted to know. “Do they still have a future here?”
The answer I had to offer students like her was that they should have faith in their own abilities to transform Los Angeles and the United States into better places to live. And they had already started.
With the help of 826LA, a nonprofit group focusing on youth literacy, Locke students had just written a book about the legacy of the 1992 riots, an event that unfolded before they were born. They interviewed black, Latino and Korean-American residents about that experience, and offered their own descriptions of daily life in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
“I don’t think people understand what it feels like to move from hell to a place in between,” writes one of the students, Jonathan Lopez, a Salvadoran immigrant, “because for me L.A. isn’t heaven, but it’s also not hell.”
For another student, Alejandra Vasquez, finding a home in South Los Angeles after journeying from El Salvador also meant being reunited with her father after nine years of separation.
“Nobody says the way is easy, that we would never have problems,” she writes. “But behind all this there is something good, a better life.” She takes solace, she said, in a saying her mother repeats often: “There is always calm after a storm.”
In South Los Angeles, there is calm, an uneasy one given the ever-present threat of gun violence and rumors of immigration roundups and raids.
The city will not be consumed in flames again soon, but like other troubled parts of the United States, it burns a little every day. It smolders with seething resentments. The people there know they deserve better, but their most common act of resistance is simply to work hard, plant gardens and watch them grow.
Héctor Tobar is the author of the novel “The Tattooed Soldier,” which culminates with the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and a contributing opinion writer.
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Credit: Gary Leonard/Corbis, via Getty ImagesPhoto