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Alex Mireles STACC English 100 Prof.

Kuroki 20 November 2013 Essay 3: Southland The Japanese American community has had a long and conflicted history in the American landscape. Like many of the minority communities in America, the Japanese faced periods of injustice. In Nina Revoyrs novel Southland, the injustices that Japanese Americans faced in Los Angeles are highlighted through the story of the Sakai family. In addition, the novel explores injustices within the African American community, specifically in the Crenshaw District. The Crenshaw District became a hub for these two communities to form bonds that would surpass generations. Historical events like WWII and the Watts riots, as told by the characters of Southland, show how the two communities grew together. It is within this historical neighborhood the Revoyr creates an intertwined narrative of Japanese Americans and African Americans coming together during a time of racial tension in Los Angeles. This is where Revoyr sets her story and the unique stories of each character takes place. The distinct stories of the characters have the power to change the sympathies of an individual. This impact can be seen in one of Revoyrs main characters, Jackie Ishida. Jackie, a UCLA law school student, lives in her own unaware, selfish world where real world realities like racism and violence do not exist. After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Frank Sakais unexpected death set in motion a series of discoveries that changed Jackie forever. Frank, Jackies grandfather, left behind a mysterious will that would uncover truths about the Sakai family and their old neighborhood. When her aunt Lois gives Jackie the task of solving the

mystery of the will and the unknown beneficiary, Jackie feels it is a burden. However, as she uncovers clues her attitude changes. Racism, segregation, hatred things she thought was in the past starts to hit close to home. She begins to see the importance of community and history in a racially tense world. As Jackie gains knowledge of the different communities in Los Angeles and her own family history, her new found empathy and her acceptance of her own Japanese American identity reflects her personal growth. At first, Jackie is introduced as a young, sheltered soon-to-be lawyer who has little knowledge of her family history. Jackie remembers her shallow grief on the night of her grandmothers funeral, years before the death of Frank: The night of the funeral, as the rest of her family cried, shed wondered what was wrong with her.(49). She never felt a sense of closeness to anyone in her family, with the exception of her aunt Lois. The familial distance is a combination of her mothers cold nature and the entire familys avoidance of the past. It is as if the Sakais do not speak to each other about anything uncomfortable. The family is keeping a troubled past in the past for a reason. However, this hush-hush attitude has created a sheltered and nave person like Jackie. Moving forward, Jackies shallow and privileged nature is revealed. When she begins to look for the mysterious beneficiary of her grandfathers will, Curtis Martindale, she is forced out of her privileged world. She finds help in her search with James Lanier, Curtis cousin and an active member in the Crenshaw community. As she sits in the waiting room of the Marcus Garvey Community Center in Crenshaw she observes, Hers the only face that wasnt black or Latino. Out of place here. A stranger. A foreigner.(56). She sees herself as different. She could never have anything in common with the people in this neighborhood. Also, her demeanor shows how detached she is from the lives of these underprivileged people. Lanier thinks to himself

upon meeting Jackie, She had the air of someone who never questioned her right to anything.(67). Jackies shallow and privileged nature is more than obvious to those around her. The air around her oozes with entitlement because she has never had to endure the hardships of the people in this community. In addition, Jackie does not accept her Japanese American heritage. This can be seen in the women Jackie finds attractive. In a lecture regarding Southland, Revoyr suggests that Jackie is attracted to the Lauras of the world; they are white, privileged, and as far away from her Japanese heritage as possible (Revoyr). On the other hand, she cant stand the idea of being with someone like her friend Rebecca. Rebecca is half Japanese, confident, and opinionated (57). Her attraction to her girlfriend Laura and her dislike for girls like Rebecca represents her own selfloathing. She is so turned off by Rebecca that she is slightly afraid of her and could only take her in small doses.(57). This suggests that Jackies self-loathing is so strong that it reflects in her romantic relationships. She is so uncomfortable with her Japanese side that she cannot even see another Asian as attractive. However, Jackies time spent with Lanier and people from the old neighborhood start to change her. Lanier shares with her the story of his fathers emotional abandonment and what it was like not being loved by his father (146). She thinks to herself: Everyone, it seemed, had something awful in their livessome death or misfortune that shaped them. But she had nothing; her life had been flat and textureless as a starched white sheet. And while shed always considered herself lucky to be so blessed, now she felt that she was somehow not real (146). She has never really looked deeply into someone elses world. It makes her uncomfortable, but for the first time Jackie feels a true connection that she has yet to understand.

Also, the stories of Japanese Americans and African Americans in the old neighborhood make Jackie see bonds between two communities that begin to harbor empathy inside her. She learns that Curtis and three other boys were murdered during the 1965 Watts uprising. The Watts riots happened during a time of racial tension in America. The Dictionary of American History describes the event: Angry mobs assaulted white motorists, shattered store windows, and looted shops throughout the night. When dawn brought tranquility, police mistakenly declared that order had been restored. But that night Watts was in flames. Rioters armed themselves and passionately shouted, "Burn baby burn" and "Long live Malcolm X." Fires raged for four more days (430). It was the oppression of the African American and Japanese American community that brought these people together. Both had endured times of racial tension, segregation, and discrimination in America. For example, the Japanese also faced legal segregation during WWII. An article in American Decades states that on the west coast roughly 120,000 Japanese were relocated to internment camps like Manzanar from 1942 to 1945 (The Internment of Japanese Americans). During the time of internment the Sakai family was relocated to Manzanar. It is Franks black friend Victor that watches over the Sakai property during the war. The sufferings of different communities start to hit close to home for Jackie. Suddenly, the people in these neighborhoods are almost like family. The relationships between Frank and his friends paint a picture of two worlds fusing together because of a deeper understanding. Like her parents and grandparents, the people in the neighborhood have stomached loss, hatred, and oppression that she now relates to. Before this mysterious will, Jackie could not see past her own experiences, but now her empathy extends beyond the old neighborhood. She feels empathy toward others that have

endured an injustice. Lauras boss, Manny Jimenez a candidate for mayor, ignores the injustice being done in the case of the Thai workers. Jackie is upset at Lauras lack of concern for what is, to Jackie, a major wrong being done to these people. She couldnt believe that the same person she knew back then could rationalize the current situation.(226). Much to her surprise, Jackie sees Lauras attitude as inconceivable and unattractive. Jackies growing knowledge of her own familys struggles and other minorities has changed her. Lauras nonchalant attitude towards the Thai workers rights being violated irks something inside of Jackie. She now sees things through a point of empathy for all those who have been wronged. Finally, Jackies acceptance of her Japanese American culture comes at the end of her journey in solving the crime. At first, she and Lanier are convinced that a well-known white and racist cop, Nick Lawson, is guilty of murdering the four boys. Nick Lawson is the obvious suspect because he has a history of violence and spends his shifts tormenting the young boys in the neighborhood. When Robert Thomas, a black cop, is revealed as the murderer it leaves them feeling angry. On the night they confront Thomas Jackie feels they are each left to fend for themselves with their anger, their dissatisfaction.(330). Jackies anger and dissatisfaction stems from a place of bewilderment. She has come so far in her journey of self-acceptance of her Japanese heritage. She cannot understand a self-hatred as deep as Thomas for his own race. A black cop killing four black boys was horrible, but in a way it was how Jackie needed to end her journey. It is the final piece she needed to reflect on to fully understand and accept her Japanese American culture. Now she could never turn her back on her culture and be like Thomas. Ultimately, Jackies personal growth depended on her understanding of history. Her shallow, unaware character kept her from looking into the past. This journey transforms her from shallow and unaware to understanding and empathetic. Now Jackie accepts her Japanese

American roots to the point of finding Rebecca attractive at the end. Her familys past and her new friendship with Lanier have affected her view on communities coming together. She realizes why the history of communities like Crenshaw is crucial to understanding Los Angeles in present day. Revoyr suggests that to better understand who we are now, we must look back first (Revoyr). Jackie could not have become a whole person without understanding her family history and the history of different communities.

Works Cited Revoyr, Nina. Pathways Student Conference. Pasadena City College. Pasadena, California. 14 Nov. 2013. Revoyr, Nina. Southland. New York: Akashic Books, 2003. Print. "The Internment of Japanese Americans." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 5: 1940-1949. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. Wilson, Paul J. "Watts Riots." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 8. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 430-431. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.