A Contextualizzation of Nina Revoyr's Southland
English and Literature
Submitted By sallyseko
The three Asian American women I have chosen from the novel to discuss are Jackie Ishida, Lois Sakai and Rebecca Nakanishi. Jackie Ishida is one of the main characters in the “Southland”. She is Frank Sakai’s granddaughter and a lesbian law student at UCLA. Those characteristics are three things that are challenges in the legal community….Asian female law student who is a lesbian. Jackie is given the task by her Aunt Lois of finding answers to questions about her grandfather’s will. Jackie reluctantly sets out to find out why he has left his grocery store to Curtis Martindale and why he leaves $38,000 in cash. Jackie breaks away from concentrating full-time on law school and embarks on this mission. All she has to go on are Frank’s old pictures and his box of documents. As she reminisces about him, she remembers being close to him when she was young. She spent a lot of time with him because her parents were too busy with their lives to care for her. Her mother was in medical school and father was a doctor. Jackie admits to losing touch with him even though he tried to be a part of her life. As she begins her journey to find out who Curtis Martindale was, she is led to his cousin, James Lanier. He is an African American social worker who was still very connected to the Crenshaw neighborhood. He did not know Frank very well, but he was willing to help her because he needed answers about Curtis, too. He eventually he becomes a mentor to her as they work together digging up the answers about Curtis Martindale. During the investigation, Jackie gains insight about her family history and her grandfather’s life. She learns why Frank never made a big deal about being a decorated veteran. His grocery store was a gathering place for customers of all races after World War II. She had no idea about the extent of his commitment to the store and to certain people in the neighborhood. She finds out that the murder of the boys, including Curtis Martindale, was why he abruptly moves away to Gardena after the riots. This among other things, were hidden from Jackie’s mother and Aunt Lois. They had no idea about the tragedy at the store. They did not know that Curtis was their half brother because of the interracial relationship between Frank and Curtis’ mother. This was not acceptable back then. She is not critical of him, but instead she realizes all he has done for people. Jackie feels a connection to her grandfather and her past. Even James Lanier recognized Jackie’s loss from being deprived of her roots. She realizes that the sacrifices that Frank and other family members had made enabled her along with her parents to succeed in life. Jackie was privileged being the daughter of two doctors. She did not have to worry about paying for college and law school. As Jackie progresses on this quest, her relationship with her girlfriend, Laura suffers. It changes from having fun and enjoying each other’s company to being boring. She ends up drifting away from Laura as she spends more and more time with James Lanier. Jackie hides her relationship with Laura from her parents and never comes out to them because they would have to talk about her sexuality. She could not imagine their reaction, so her feeling was “if they don’t ask and don’t tell”. This was common for gay people that were not ready to come out. Jackie decides not to share much about her search for answers with Laura. She keeps her family and personal revelations to herself, even the one where she understands why she has run away from her Japanese roots. She would not date Asians, just white women and Laura was white. Jackie has a fellow law classmate, Rebecca Nakanishi, who she interacts with in the novel. She was the opposite of Jackie in her personality and demeanor. Someone Jackie would not even consider dating because of her non-Asian rule. Even though Rebecca was Hapa, she was still too Asian for her. She could not picture herself kissing Rebecca because it would be like kissing a sister. As Jackie spends more time with Rebecca, she becomes drawn to her because she feels something between them. Rebecca is willing to listen to her findings about her family history. She is more than a classmate. She is a supportive confidant which Jackie was in need of. In the end, Jackie finds the answers they were looking for so there could be justice after all those years of hiding the truth. Finding out more than she expected, leads Jackie to feel that she has an obligation to her grandfather. He had given her so much more than she realized. He love and cared for her. He helped pay for her law school. Her return to him was minimal. James Lanier was a big reason Jackie was able to find the answers she was seeking. It was his connections and what he knew that made the search possible. He was her partner and they become friends while they were a team connecting the dots to the mystery of the will. Her plans to volunteer in his program would result in honoring her grandfather and doing something useful aside from being a lawyer. After all that Frank had done for her, she was “paying it forward”. She was in turn giving to somebody else. Most important, Jackie makes peace with her past and moves forward with her personal life with new priorities. Lois Sakai was Frank Sakai’s daughter and Jackie’s aunt. You meet her at the beginning of the novel as she is left with dealing with Frank’s will after he dies. She initiates the request that leads Jackie on her eye opening journey in “Southland”. Lois was not a typical Asian woman. She was strong, pushy and a nonconformist. She lived with Ted for 12 years. They never married, which went against the institution of marriage. She rebelled against marriage because she saw how her parents said very little to each other. They rarely fought, never hugged and only talked about family and work. The way they acted towards each other was suffocating to her. To her, love should be much more than that. The answers Jackie and James found helped Lois feel more connected to Frank. Finding out who Curtis Martindale was and his relationship to her father, plus why they moved away after the riots was significant for her. It all made sense to her. She had fond memories of the old neighborhood. She loved living there and being around Frank’s friends. She was happy again knowing the truth, a feeling that had disappeared with her father’s death. Her decision to donate the money to James Lanier’s program was based on knowing Frank’s past and about the people he impacted. It was the right thing to do because it was what Frank would have done. He would help someone else. The donation kept the money in the neighborhood she had loved so much. Rebecca Nakanishi was a bisexual Asian law student at UCLA with Jackie. She and Jackie’s race, their sex and sexual orientations made them minorities in the legal community. These characteristics challenged the concept of a typical lawyer. Rebecca was brilliant, good looking, and stylish. She was bold, colorful and blunt. She looked forward to being challenged, but rarely was. She is introduced in the novel as a friend of Jackie’s, but not close. Rebecca liked to pick on her in classes, so Jackie was a little afraid of her. Jackie felt boring in comparison to her. She had flair which was something Jackie lacked. She plays an important role in the novel for Jackie. She is very different from Laura. She does not stifle Jackie, but gets her to open up and share. She listens and cares about what Jackie’s journey. She enables Jackie to move forward with her life and not be restricted by her former rule of dating non-Asians only. Her willingness to be patient with Jackie is what Jackie needs to hear as they begin a relationship together. The pieces of urban history, family memories and personal confessions in “Southland” provide a look into the discrimination and struggle of minorities in Los Angeles. Ethnic, racial and gender differences played a major role in people’s actions, behaviors and perceptions. Even though the Japanese and African American characters in the novel experience prejudice from the relocation camps to racial profiling, they lived in harmony side by side and both strived for the American Dream to make a living and provide for their families.