This month marked the 20 year anniversary of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. It’s weird for me to say that I remember something that happened that long ago, but I do. I remember watching on the television, and being scared, particularly as my cousins were black and I was white, and they’d just moved to Sydney to flee war – what would happen to our family? Well, it seems the crisis was more local than global and while the physical violence dissipated, the scars are left on the consciousness of this city. Even those who have forgiven, I don’t think will ever forget.
This week the LA times, attempted to show the diversity of this beautiful city. In this issue (as seen below), there are six college students born the year of the riots… and they speak on racism in L.A. – each of them is “interracial”. I think mixed heritage is something most people here acknowledge as reality – I’ve laughed with two Los Angelos trying to ascertain which of their own races have ‘superpowers’ – Mexican blood trumps Scottish or Irish, or Cuban – but they were not sure if Mexican trumps Asian. One said, “it’s all about the Mexican, man. If your grandparents are Mexican, then you’re Mexican“. I’ve been informed by a friend that he knows that his family considers itself black only because it celebrates Kwanzaa (the African American celebration around Christmas time). He himself ticked the box ‘Latino’ at school. Why there are still boxes is beyond me, but I respect that it matters for those who have fought long and costly battles for their culture to be acknowledged.
One article that interested me was written by an African-American/German girl who lived in Germany until last year. She talked about the beauty of having two possible approaches – the historical and the future. She believed her “interethnicity” was better equipped to deal with life’s uncertainties, and I imagined that it was because she could ask herself three questions – how does my mother’s family deal with this? how does my father’s family deal with this? and how do I deal with this?
It made me think of the churches that ‘parent’ growing Christians. In my case, I have been a part of three church families (four if you count Lake Avenue here in Pasadena), and thus have a variety of models to draw from. I didn’t ever at the time think I would leave any of those three communities. I didn’t “church hop”, but I gave my utter and complete all at the time, and was a part of them – and was also formed by this process. Dislocation sometimes means being written out of the story, which is OK. It’s life. One of my L.A. friends said “get ready for the frustration of no-one here knowing your history”. But I’ve managed to find some people I do have long history with here, and I thank God every day for facebook, because if I had come across to the USA as early as 2004, I wouldn’t have it. I can sometimes think that dislocated is a weakness – that I am weaker to be away from the Australian churches that made me who I am. I miss them, and I miss the people within them. It’s only natural that the stories and the people move on, and I want that for them.
But I’ve started to wonder whether these memories are not a weakness, but a strength. I have a blend of approaches, a blend of cultures which have formed how I read the Bible and approach various situations. And I’m pretty sure that this is the same for a generation of young people today, who are saying that denominations no longer really represent them. I love the idea of looking backwards into a number of different cultures, and looking forward into the future.