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.