Sunday, April 29, 2012

20th Anniversary of Los Angeles Riots

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, which began on April 29, 1992. The riots themselves preceded the Korean's time in America, as he was an 11 year old living in Seoul. But having immigrated to the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the many scars left by the riots on Korean American community were quite palpable.

The Korean remembers the 10 year anniversary of the riots in 2002. Although Korean American community of Los Angeles sustained the greatest damages from the riots, the memorial coverage of the riots mostly skipped over Korean American community. Then-President George W. Bush visited Los Angeles to commemorate the occasion, but did not visit Koreatown or meet with any Korean American civic leaders. We will see if that will change this time around.

In the meantime, please do check out the top-notch coverage of the LA riots at KoreAm magazine. In particular, make sure to check out the oral accounts of those Korean Americans who were in the middle of the chaos, and the map of the destroyed Korean American businesses.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. Your readers might also appreciate Anna Deavere Smith's reinterpretation/re-enactment of her interview with Young-soon Han as part of her 2005 TED talk available online at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/anna_deavere_smith_s_american_character.html beginning around 12:00 minutes.

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  2. TK, at the risk of seeming argumentative, where are the independent studies that "the Korean American community of Los Angeles sustained the greatest damages from the riots"?

    As I noted here, Korean Americans were not only only a tiny portion of the dead, but they were a minority of the dead in Koreatown. While studies I read in print back in the 1990s put the percentage of damaged/destroyed businesses owned by Korean-Americans at 40%, when they represented 37% of businesses in the afflicted area overall.

    It was terrible. It was terrible to Korean Americans, but it was terrible to a whole lot of people. I guess my beef is with people like self-appointed community spokesperson Angela Oh, who used such rhetoric for self-aggrandizement.

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    1. It shouldn't have to degenerate to a pissing contest of who suffered more. I know you said for argumentative's sake, but that is picking at such a minute technicality given the circumstances.

      "They were a minority of the dead in Koreatown."
      Well, of course they were. They were victims harmed as side effects, literally for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the Koreans been the majority of the dead in Koreatown, the issue would have been bigger than it was, precisely because the victims were completely and undeniably wronged without ground in the first place.

      Given the existence of other "community spokespersons" like Jesse Jackson, I'd say Angela Oh is/was necessary, should the situation ever call for a tooth n' nail styled fight.

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    2. Well, of course they were. They were victims harmed as side effects, literally for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the Koreans been the majority of the dead in Koreatown, the issue would have been bigger than it was, precisely because the victims were completely and undeniably wronged without ground in the first place.

      I'm not sure I'm following what you mean. The other victims in Koreatown were also "innocent" victims, people defending the stores and what-not.

      And my point is not to say who suffered more, but people like Angela Oh are doing exactly that:

      It was very specific to Koreans. Not to Chinese, not to Latinos, not to African Americans. It was just really clear that it was specifically toward Koreans.

      To Angela Oh, Koreans were the primary victims, belying the very thing you say in the first part of your comment. Is that really conducive toward healing? When so many Hispanics and Black bystanders were killed, how can she say that?

      As I wrote here, it added fuel to the fire to have "self-styled Korean-American spokesperson Angela Oh going on Donahue and proclaiming Koreans as victims of history just like African-Americans — completely missing the point of Black complaints."

      I'd say Angela Oh is/was necessary, should the situation ever call for a tooth n' nail styled fight.

      No. Korean-Americans and the communities in which they do business don't need someone to ratchet things up in a "tooth n' nail styled fight." They need bridge builders. Angela Oh crowded out the bridge builders who had been working on this before any building had ever been set on fire.

      Who is necessary is someone who is more interested in solving problems than self-aggrandizement.

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    3. "To Angela Oh, Koreans were the primary victims"
      I am going to assume she claims victimhood in the sense that the Koreans received damage on completely unjustifiable grounds. If she did not, whatever. That does not take away from my main point.

      The main victim the GRAND SCHEME of things from a numerical standpoint may not be Koreans, but the biggest group who suffered unintended consequences was Korean.

      Which leads me to this: the Koreans were regarded as push overs (만만하게 보이다). They were disenfranchised in so many ways, ranging from lack of English fluency to influence in the community (read: 존재감). This was not the fault of anybody; it is just the way it was for them being 1st gen immigrants and trailblazers. Their reality.

      I am certain that contributed in the initial attacks and lootings, and perhaps even more so to the lack of recognition afterwards, as noted by the Korean in the OP. The first hand oral accounts of the victims in the KBS doc also specifically used the phrase "우리가 만만하게 보였던거 같애."

      "Korean-Americans and the communities in which they do business don't need someone to ratchet things up in a "tooth n' nail styled fight."
      You're right, they don't. They need someone to assume position of leadership in the act of defense when and if things are ratcheted up (note the passive tense) to the point of a tooth n' nail fight, because if history and the aforementioned perceived-imagery show anything, the Koreans certainly are not going to be the ones ratcheting up anything.

      We need Angela Oh so that race issue becomes less black-n-white, because as reality as shown, there is a Korean component to it also. Back then, in the disenfranchised and chaotic state, the Koreans needed SOMEBODY to act as a vehicle to represent their voices and interests.
      It is not participation by choice; it is a method of defense.
      Angela Oh is not perfect but I'd rather have her than have nobody. Much like how the Korean store owners would rather own a gun than be armless. This type of behavior is hardwired into our DNA, because not all errors have the same consequences.

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    4. Back then, in the disenfranchised and chaotic state, the Koreans needed SOMEBODY to act as a vehicle to represent their voices and interests.

      Indeed, advocacy is very important. But please let me make this as clear as I can. The choices in 1992 were not between "having Angela Oh" and "having nobody."

      Rather, there already were Korean-American community leaders who had been acting to relieve tensions and build bridges before there was a verdict ("Black Korea" underscored the need for that). Angela Oh pushed them aside so she could take center stage. She ajumma'd those pastors and community leaders so she could grab the mic.

      But she had the wrong message. Instead of acknowledging where Korean business owners had failed and/or could do better while expectting the same of the Black community, she made excuses for the worst of the complaints about kyopo business owners (some of whom had obvious racially condescending views of Blacks) and painted Koreans as the victims.

      She got in the way of reconciliation so she could further her career. There were already people who could far more effectively advocate, and she shoved them aside.

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    5. Fair enough. You clearly know more about her than I do. I will try to remember this.

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  3. I saw a KBS documentary on this 2 days ago where they had a black UC professor who claimed that the Korean-Americans had been doing the wrong thing (implying that they had it coming) because none of the stores in K-Town had any black employees, and thus were not giving back to the "community."

    It was some appalling shit.

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  4. Can you provide a link? Or at least a name to the black US professor?

    On the off chance his view is a bit more nuanced than that, I'd like to hear what he actually said.

    Long before any kyopo immigrant bought a liquor store, an appliance shop, or a dry cleaners in South Central, Compton, Lynwood, etc., this had been a beef of people in heavily African American communities where store owners came in, some charging higher prices than outside the poor neighborhood, hiring few or no local residents, and then taking the money to Orange County or some nice suburb.

    That is a legitimate complaint in cash-strapped communities that are trying to build an economic base.

    It is not by any means a justification for violence. Not at all, even if it can be a factor in tension that ends up boiling over.

    So what exactly did he say?

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    1. I don't have a link. I have a naver blog post with screencaps of the doc.

      http://blog.naver.com/gkh01027?Redirect=Log&logNo=90142099034

      The black woman in question is in the bottom right picture in the third set of images, wearing glasses. I don't have a name or any other detail, regrettably.

      What she said was exactly what I paraphrased above. She was only given a 45 second slot in the doc. I suppose I can note that she did have an air of hesitance about her the whole time, if that should mean anything (it doesn't).

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    2. Actually, I do not know for certain if that woman is the one who said that. It was a black woman, that is all I remember.

      Heuristics at work here.

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    3. Hmmph. You don't know the name so we can't verify her views. She probably gave an interview half an hour long or so but they showed 45 seconds.

      I've been burned by interviewers who took choice bits of what I said and left the mitigating stuff on the cutting room floor, so I'm a bit hesitant to infer that she meant "they had it coming" as if they deserved it.

      At any rate, I am certainly not someone who thinks that Korean business owners deserved to have their lives threatened, their stores destroyed, or their merchandise looted, but I do believe there's a legitimate beef like the one I described above (and which the Black UC professor seems to be saying), so let me ask: do you think that's a legitimate gripe?

      If so, what can/should be done about it? Should Korean business owners be expected to give back to the community where they earn their money? In what way? Should community residents express their disapproval if a businessman from outside (regardless of whether they're Korean, Chinese, Jewish, etc.) just takes the money and runs? If so, how?

      Things have gotten much better over the past twenty years, but before 1992, there were people trying to work on these very things.

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  5. kushibo,

    Angela Oh was a product of the environment of that time. It was a time where a lot of African American spokes people were accusing Korean merchants of purposely setting flame to their own stores, of disrespecting the neighborhood, of being racist, of shooting them in their stores for no reason on national networks such as Nightline. The Korean American community, at that time, did not have a representative to respond back to those allegations. Angela was outnumbered and outgunned by the critics that used pretty much hearsay and rumor to back themselves up. She had to respond in that manner because that's what she was up against.

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  6. I'm sorry, I meant "..purposely setting flame to their stores to collect on insurance money..."

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  7. I travel light. I think the most important thing is to be in a good mood and enjoy life, wherever you are. Cheap flights to Los Angeles

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  8. The president then was george herbert walker bush (bush sr.). George w bush is the son.

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