April-May, 1992: Remembering is a Political Act

We've been reburning L.A. in recent days, partly out of sick fascination with the near-apocalypse of 1992 and partly as magic talisman against those fires ever happening again. Some of the wishful thinking has been self-congratulatory, along the lines of "change" and even "fundamental change" in the hurtful ways of L.A. Most of that relates to "change" in the ways of the Los Angeles Police Department.

No matter how much has actually improved in the culture of the LAPD, it would be a mistake to see the events of April and May 1992 only as a response to an intolerable and degrading practice of law enforcement or -- for that matter -- as something of concern only to neighborhoods in which the LAPD operates. 1992 was a long time coming in and out of Los Angeles. 1992 will be a long time going.

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One of the most interesting considerations of the lingering effects of 1992 is "This Angelic Land" a new novel by Aris Janigian (which I reviewed as part of a longer piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books).

It's a very good book, but more so, it's a necessary one.

When I spoke to Janigian last night (05/04) at his book's keenétzöne -- a sort of Armenian book toasting/blessing -- he was not entirely sure what I meant by "necessary." Of course, "This Angelic Land" has purely literary merits -- vivid characters, humor, an account of the Armenian experience of Los Angeles, a sure eye for observing the city, as well as the book's ironies and philosophic reflections -- but the book's virtue, in this period of memory and (possibly) false optimism, is its fearsome depiction of 1992 as the historically conditioned conflict of exiled tribes over the contested ground that is Los Angeles.

That conflict has been ameliorated by law enforcement changes -- many of them imposed on reluctant police officials -- and by the diasporas of African Americans and Latinos out of the redlined zones that formerly regulated so much of their lives. Even as Los Angeles lost it's comfortable, working-class middle, the region's under-class of service workers and the marginally employed trekked to distant suburbs, where far too many African Americans and Latinos are now being squeezed by foreclosure.

Dislocation and exile have been this city's distempers since 1847, along with amnesia and distaste for history. "This Angelic Land" frames these truths in new and intelligent ways.

It may not be literary praise to call a novel useful, but some novels are -- those that compel our re-immersion in a time we would rather rescript to our advantage. Its resistance to forgetfulness makes it today's necessary book.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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Great post! It was great to see you on the panel and hear your thoughts at LA City Hall -- you always help us Angelenos make better sense of where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.