Annotation: Tamaka K. Nopper’s “The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction” (2007)

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “The Productive, Political Power of Love in Nina Revoyr’s Southland.”

Nopper, Tamara K. “The 1992 Los Angeles Riots and the Asian American Abandonment Narrative as Political Fiction.” CR: The New Centennial Review 6.2 (2007): 73-110. Print.

In this essay Nopper asserts that the popular abandonment narrative, which presents Korean Americans as victims of state neglect during the 1992 LA riots is a political fiction manufactured to accentuate the particularity of this minority group’s experience. She emphasizes that this narrative is more emotionally charged rather than supported by historical fact and has been often employed by activists as evidence of how Asian Americans were abandoned because of their racialization as outsiders in the US nation-state, “unwittingly caught in the cross hairs of black-white antagonism” of which they bear no direct relation or responsibility (73). Nopper suggests that the abandonment narrative can potentially perpetuate a harmful evasion of how Asian Americans do in fact possess complex relations with whiteness and blackness. She further asserts that the popularity of a narrative focused on Korean American trauma and victimization as simply a continuation of the historical legacy of anti-Asian racism in the United States ignores important historical divergences, where the government response to the 1992 LA riots was much speedier and more efficient compared to the earlier 1965 Watts riots. Nopper further discusses how the abandonment narrative problematically obscures the state’s actual fixation with containing blacks and the violence and destruction they are often accused of and associated with. She essentially calls for a shift from the conventional Asian-centric perspective of the 1992 LA riots to one that focuses on the treatment of blacks. Nopper ultimately argues that Asian Americans and their personal property were collateral damage to vigorous state efforts to “control and contain black people” (93). While I appreciate Nopper’s attempt to recover and expose the “forgotten” history of anti-black racism during the 1992 LA riots, as she deconstructs one “grand narrative” she runs the risk of re-instituting another in its place.

She essentially suggests that rather than a misguided privileging of the Asian American experience we should privilege the treatment and experience of blacks. Rather than asserting which minority group bears greater historical relevance to the 1992 LA riots, I believe that it is more productive to examine how the histories of these two groups intersect and overlap as they are subjected to and struggle to resist oppression. Nina Revoyr’s 2002 novel Southland is particularly successful in this respect as if offers a nuanced, palimpsest account of history through three generations of the Ishida family as these people live through the Japanese internment during WWII, the 1965 Watts riots, the 1992 LA riots straight into the contemporary 21st century America. Revoyr depicts the story of Jackie Ishida, a Japanese American law student, who is initially disinterested in and disconnected from her family history, but eventually uncovers the complex origins of her roots and how she is deeply tied to members of the black LA community.

Annotation: Karen Weyler’s “A Speculating Spirit” (1996)

Peer-Review: 0

This is an annotation for a paper I am currently writing on Martha Meredith Read’s Margaretta. See my prospectus here.

Weyler, Karen A. “‘A Speculating Spirit’: Trade, Speculation and Gambling in Early American Fiction.” Early American Literature 31.3 (1996): 207-242. Print.

In this article Weyler argues that popular American novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries play an important role in shaping “public economic discourse” (208). These works not only attempt to reconcile competing desires for material improvement with republican values, but also contribute to the “gendering of the American economic system” by figuring trade as a uniquely “masculine prerogative” (208). Weyler therefore draws a distinction between male and female responsibilities in the new nation. She asserts that while women are charged with remaining “sexually and emotionally chaste,” men have to confront the challenge of being “economically virtuous—meaning that they must balance self-interest and public interest” (208). Ultimately, it is this conception that men need to acquire capital through “virtuous trade” that pervades the politco-economic philosophy of early American novels. Weyler asserts that in response to the inherent problems within trade, namely, the selfish individualistic “ethics” it proposes as well as the material “importation of luxury goods,” novelists of the period strove to distinguish virtuous trade from “gambling, speculation, or inheritance” (210, 208). These authors emphasized the importance of “industry” for achieving successful business ventures and represented the “productive fruits of trade” as not only individualized gains, but patriotic symbols of “America’s trading freedom” (223). These qualities, among others Weyler describes, allowed novelists to set virtuous trade apart from the quick, often self-destructive profits gained through gambling, speculation or inheritance. Her article therefore provides unique insight into the way early American novels represent the nation’s role within the international market, but my research on Margaretta; or, The Intricacies of the Heart offers an opportunity to intervene in Weyler’s argument. Whereas she concerns herself with texts in which males dominate the global economy and trade is largely successful for industrious characters, Read’s novel diverges from these conventional narratives. In Margaretta we are introduced to a chaotic and unpredictable international market, in which males, regardless of their diligence or honorable intentions, emerge as victims of trade. Ultimately, it is this masculine colonial economy that our heroine successfully infiltrates to rescue her lover from the whims of the market, thereby implying a vital role for women in the circum-Atlantic world.