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Southland, a book on race relations in the United States from 1930s-1970s

Updated on February 28, 2013

The tale of racism and redemption

The United States has traditionally welcomed all who seek a new life and fresh start. Its very society is a patchwork of cultures and immigration waves from around the world. Unfortunately, not all of those immigrations were voluntary. Southland is a story of what it was like in LA in the 1940s thru 1960s for Japanese Americans who were thrown into camps during WWII as well as for African Americans who rose up and rioted in the 1965 what?. But with all that was thrown at this society, it (what is a belief in a better world) is the story of understanding, hope and belief in a better world. A quick read that would help all of us in today's society, as we continue to see immigration as a worldwide trend that is accelerating, understand what it is like to face a new culture and to be a bit more patient with those that are different.

Image Credit: Spencer Museum of Art

A simple story with some very complex lessons

Nina Revoyr's book Southland, on its most basic level, paints a picture of LA in 1965 as it went through the race riots that rocked the city. But on a deeper level, she tells a much richer story, a story of minorities looking out for each other and assimilation in general into a new culture. She asks the questions such as why some cultures integrate much faster than others, and an ever more pervasive one, why don't more cultures assimilate faster? This story, while almost a decade old, tells a story that is still relevant today as we face the same challenges with new cultures attempting to integrate into society at a faster pace than ever in history. We see the challenges Muslims face as they immigrate around the world, much as the Jews faced as they integrated into international societies. Here is a culture that strongly clings to its religious teachings, its moral guidelines and cultural habits. What we can learn from this book is the power of a people's history and how to be a bit more understanding as we learn how it feels from their perspective to be in a new society.

The story begins with a Japanese American woman, who sees herself as more American than Japanese, as she learns that her grandfather has died. While upset and grieving for the death, it opens up questions of what it was like for Frank, her grandfather, who grew up in a very different age. An age where racial inequalities and slights were just as strong against Japanese as they were against blacks, partly due to WWII. In fact he was sent away from his home, his work and his friends with the onset of WWII; a time in history that most Americans try to forget as a horrible mark on our record. He lived through terrible riots in LA when African Americans lost patience with the system and decided to take matters into their own hands. He lived in a time of anger, distrust of systems, and distrust of new faces.

Yet with all this anger, fear, and distrust there emerges a story of acceptance, trust and rebirth. Frank, a store owner, learned not to fear the new African American neighbors who moved into the Japanese neighborhood, but to welcome them. He learned that he too was once new and accepted them and their culture. In turn, they accepted him as well. Minor everyday miracles such as an African American neighbor offering to watch over his home while he and his family were shipped off during WWII when most other homes were looted (minor everyday miracles what?). We also see the story of him actually serving in the war even as his own country placed his family and friends in internment camps. These are the stories of heroes who can turn the other cheek and see beyond skin color, to see beyond initial actions or impressions, and embody the hope that was (and hopefully still is) the United States; a welcome mat to all.

This book is appropriate, and strongly recommended, for young adults and up. It is an easy and fast read providing historical context with fictional assisted conversations and stories. It is the book of understanding your neighbors and of hope for a better world, for to understand our past helps us prevent its reoccurrence in the future.

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