Photograph by Bill Brown
I’m guessing that the cover of the magazine caught your attention. We needed to immediately convey that this isn’t a typical issue. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 riots, and we’ve been thinking hard about how to acknowledge that. We wanted to explain the factors (for those who were here and those who were not) that led to the uprising, to assess where matters stand regarding race relations and the progress we’ve made since then. But how do you get your arms around such a big, complicated topic—the most complicated I’ve tackled at the magazine—that is impossible to sum up with any one piece? It required a multiplicity of perspectives, which is why we devoted the feature section of this issue to the question: What does race mean in Los Angeles?
We look backward with writer and NPR commentator John Ridley, who brilliantly contextualizes the L.A. of 1992, and we learn the stories of six people who were changed by the riots. We look at the city today, exploring through essays how diversity has long been a source of fear and inspiration here (you can test your own cultural competency with our quiz). And we look at the city of tomorrow, hearing from six multiracial students born in 1992 about how race does and doesn’t define them.
Which brings me back to the cover. We didn’t want it to just catch your eye; we wanted it to make a statement, too, and if there’s an undercurrent to this issue it is this: The city has a different complexion than it did 20 years ago. It is more Latino and less white, more Asian and less black. It is also much more of a blend, and that ever-expanding group inspired us to produce three different covers for this issue, each a portrait of an Angeleno born to a mixed-race couple (go to page 10 to view the complete set). I see in each of their faces the future of L.A.
What divides us also unites us and can be our greatest strength. My belief in this may have its roots in my childhood, when I was growing up in the Valley and my best friend was a Japanese girl named Enna. We spent so much time with one another’s families that strangers asked whether we were adopted. Remember, it wasn’t all that common in the late 1970s to see an Asian family teach a white girl how to use chopsticks at a Korean barbecue or, in turn, for a white family to bring a Japanese girl to a Mexican restaurant. For Enna and me, being exposed to the other’s culture didn’t create distance; it fueled our curiosity. Merely understanding cultures won’t make up for the higher rates of unemployment and the substandard schools and living conditions that can cause a city to combust. But the more we learn about one another, the more progress will be made in bridging the gaps, and facilitating that learning is one of my missions as the editor of this magazine.