On the second day of the 1992 riots, Woodrow Wilson High in Long Beach was the scene of a terrifying event, in which “about 200 students were involved in a racially motivated brawl,” The Los Angeles Times reported at the time. The Long Beach Press-Telegram called it a “lunchtime melee,” an explosion of Southern California’s racial tensions in microcosm.
But, as the journalist Héctor Tobar recently wrote in The New York Times Magazine, there was never a riot at Wilson High.
Tobar’s article comes on the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, a week of civil unrest that followed the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King. But his story about Wilson High, a diverse high school in the suburbs, puts forth another view of Los Angeles, “a city where people lived in tense coexistence, but coexistence nonetheless.”
Tobar was a 28-year-old reporter at The Los Angeles Times when the riots began. He recalled interviewing families on their front stoops on Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles when he noticed a column of smoke rising in the north.
He followed fire engines to the Pico-Union neighborhood, where people were ransacking stores. He saw two men pummel a bystander, and witnessed a shooting.
“It was just this incredible chaos, and lots of sporadic, cruel violence,” Tobar told me. “It devolved very quickly into something very scary.”
By the end of the riots, more than 1,000 properties had been damaged, thousands of people arrested and over 50 people killed. It amounted to some of the worst civil unrest in American history, a moment that shaped race relations in Los Angeles and beyond.
Yet, Tobar and other journalists have pushed back against viewing race relations in the city purely through the lens of friction. The Los Angeles Times columnist Frank Shyong recently wrote about the region’s Black and Korean communities, pointing out that “stories of harmony receive far less coverage than tales of conflict — today and in 1992.”
Which brings us to back to Wilson High. In trying to learn about the mini-riot that happened at the school, Tobar discovered that there had been some fighting on campus, but nothing as severe as had been reported.
He became interested in life at the school itself, which he got his first glimpse of in the 1992 yearbook. Black, white and Latino students ran together on the cross-country team and lined up for a portrait of the varsity football squad. The children of Southeast Asian immigrants played on the badminton team.
It reminded Tobar of the Los Angeles in which he had grown up, a place that eluded neat narratives about race and, as he wrote, revealed “the peculiar ways in which Angelenos construct multiethnic lives together.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Carlos Machado, who recommends North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve in Butte County: “There is a carpet of flowers everywhere you look, and the waterfalls are something to behold.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
On the last day of April, California hit a major milestone: For the first time, renewable sources met nearly 100 percent of the state’s electricity demand.
Two-thirds of the energy was provided by solar power, The Desert Sun reported. Environmentalists who have pushed for years for the state’s power to come from renewables celebrated the news.
“California has shown that, for one brief and shining moment, we could do it!” said Laura Deehan, executive director for Environment California.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Bagel variety (five letters).
Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.