Ralphs had already left my neighborhood in Gardena — known as one of the most diverse cities in L.A. County — at the time of the ’92 riots. I remember the brightly lit grocery store with wide aisles being replaced by a Payless Foods with cramped aisles where food items like Sunny Delight and Cool-Ranch Doritos all of a sudden were double the price.
I remember a lot about ’92. I was 13 and lived in an apartment with my sister, mom and dad in the black part of Gardena, a trend we started where brown folks were creeping slowly into traditionally African-American neighborhoods.
It was the year before I entered high school. At the time, I attended Maria Regina Catholic School across the street from where I lived. Most of the students and my friends were African-American or Latino. I had to make a choice about which school to go to,
April 29, 1992. For me, at the time an 11-year-old Black child living in a low-income section of Long Beach, that date represents more than a civil disturbance. While too young to clearly understand concepts like oppression, I was old enough to know the profound frustration associated with being poor within an economy that continued to deny the aspirations and dreams of many in my neighborhood.
Those were the years immediately following Reaganomics and the George Bush “read my lips” tax plan. The good ol’ colored people in communities like South Los Angeles, Compton, Watts and Long Beach were supposed to wait quietly and patiently for the day when the free market, through the trickling down of quality jobs, health care and good schools, delivered the gift of liberation we had all hoped for. Unfortunately, with each passing moment, those promises faded deeper and deeper into a dark empty background – with no hope of ever resurfacing.
Ruben Martinez is a professor of literature and writing at Loyola Marymount University; his most recent book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West, will be released in August. At the time of 1992’s civil unrest, he was a reporter for the L.A. Weekly. Martinez spoke to Frying Pan News about his coverage during that volatile week.
Frying Pan News: What was your assignment that first day?
Ruben Martinez: I was at the courthouse in Simi Valley, camped out with Eric Spillman of KTLA – I couldn’t get inside, there were too many people there already. Outside, all the veteran journalists had their lawn chairs and umbrellas — they’d been there for weeks. The spectacle of it impressed me.
Did the acquittals shock the media?
Yes. A really motley crew of people – reporters,
What do I most remember about the uprising of ’92? That certain feeling of powerlessness.
I have so many vivid memories: People swarming the supermarket on Third Street and Bonnie Brae, just west of downtown, rushing out with baskets loaded with diapers and food supplies. Outraged young men standing in the middle of Crenshaw Boulevard near Adams, blocking my way home — at least until I figured out how to go around them. Burning buildings all around where I worked in Pico Union, and where I lived in South Los Angeles. And then the drawings of my five-year-old twins, showing burning buildings and people running for their lives.
I was a 32-year-old mother of three young children, and working as the Executive Director of the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) in Pico Union. I was living in a four-bedroom bungalow house near Crenshaw and Venice boulevards, so between my home and work,
(Editor’s Note: Frying Pan News continues its series about the 1992 unrest with this account told to us by Erin Aubry Kaplan.)
I was living in Inglewood in 1992. When the verdicts came in I was getting a facial — we were all really outraged in the salon. At that time I was teaching adult education courses — basic English and math for GED exams, plus ESL classes. I felt like I had to do something and a teacher friend and I heard there was a rally at the First AME Church. I was excited — I hadn’t really seen this kind of energizing in L.A. before. But as we drove to FAME people were filling up the streets and the energy felt dangerous.
We never made it: This guy threw a trash can into the street and someone tried to stop a motorist. (My father also went to FAME and didn’t make it inside because it was too crowded —