If You Build It
Plans are underway to build the first Korean American National Museum, which has roots in a former museum founded in the 1990s.
by KATHERINE YUNGMEE KIM
It was the evening of the Downtown Art Walk last November in Los Angeles — a once-a-month, self- guided crawl through the gentrifying city center — and several hundred people crowded into PYO Gallery LA, an off- shoot of the widely respected PYO Gallery in Seoul, to see “a celestial space,” a solo retrospective of the late Korean American artist Jin Ho Song, co-hosted with the Korean American Museum.
After a four-year exhibition hiatus, and a history of fits and starts, this gallery-museum collaboration marked the beginning of a new era. On Oct.1, KAM signed a 55-year lease with the City of Los Angeles for a long-awaited permanent site at City Parking Lot No. 692, at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Sixth Street in the heart of Los Angeles’s Koreatown.
“It’s long overdue,” said Dr. Kay Song, KAM Exhibition Committee chair and board member. “We want to build the first Korean American National Museum [to] feature our story— the Korean American story.”
With the new agreement in place, the museum will launch a $5 million fundraising campaign in the spring of 2013 in order to build a 45,000-square- foot, three-story cultural center, according to city documents. The museum has announced such campaigns in the past, but this one seems the most viable, with a site both predetermined and secured. The museum needs to start building within three years, or the land deal terms can change. Continue Reading »
Who Will Lead Korean America?
It’s a question that was heard 20 years ago, when Los Angeles burned and Korean Americans found themselves on the frontlines of the 1992 riots. It’s also one that resurfaces in 2012, as the country’s largest Korean American community faces new battles that could sure benefit from the voice of leadership.
story by JIMMY LEE
illustrations by INKI CHO
IN ARGUABLY the local story of the season, scores of Korean Americans converged on City Hall this past spring, and with their bright yellow “I Love K-town” T-shirts, literally lit up the august chambers of the Los Angeles City Council. They mobilized in numbers unheard of since the 1992 L.A. riots (World Cup soccer tournaments notwithstanding) and engaged in a political process that is as convoluted as it is controversial, no less: redistricting.
As members of the community, largely apathetic about civic affairs in the past, weighed in on how the city should reset its 15 council districts and, in some cases, complained loudly about all that was lacking in the city’s response to Koreatown needs, there were also whispers heard in these halls—that, at the end of this process, there would be a Korean American vying for a seat in one of these newly drawn council districts. The whispers proved partly true: Not just one person, and not just two, but three Korean Americans would eventually announce their candidacy for the 2013 race for the highly coveted Council District No. 13: John Choi, a former member of the city’s Board of Public Works; BongHwan Kim, general manager of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment; and L.A. Fire Department Deputy Chief Emile Mack. (As of this writing, Kim announced he was dropping out of the race to take a job in San Diego.)
Now instead of rallying behind one person to be the first Korean American elected to the Los Angeles City Council, we would have to choose.
Welcome to Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where it’s not uncommon for church members to splinter off and start their own church, and where there are often 10 chairmen of one board.
“We have a unity problem,” said David Ryu, a longtime local political staffer and one of the organizers in the Korean American community’s redistricting efforts. “There’s division because all the [community] leaders can’t agree.”
How K-Town Lost, and Won
Politics is dirty. Local politics is dirtier, and redistricting is as dirty as it gets. This spring, Koreatown fought back. The neighborhood will never be the same.
by EUGENE YI
The disbanding of an ad hoc political commission is a bit like the end of camp. Take the case of the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission. For its three-month existence, the 21 appointees of the commission spent hours together, often late into the night, poring over maps, gutting through accusatory public testimony and bickering, as they redrew the boundaries of the 15 council districts in the City of Angels. On Feb. 29, 2012, after they’d voted to approve the map that would be the fruit of their labor, each commissioner was given two minutes for some final thoughts. The arch-top windows lining the sides of the chamber had long gone dark, and nostalgia emerged as the commissioners reflected on the process.
“Hearing from … the Koreatown neighborhood council, I’m never going to forget that. Never going to forget everyone standing up at the same time in solidarity. That’s an image that’s going to be burned in my mind,” said commissioner Antonio Sanchez.
“I can still see, in my eyes at night, everyone sitting there with the white sashes across their chest,” said commissioner Ken Sampson, sounding haunted by the beauty-pageant-style protest sashes worn by hundreds of Koreatown protestors as they delivered their message: keep the neighborhood whole, and put it in a district where they could potentially elect a Korean American to the City Council.
Instead, the commission’s final map would leave the neighborhood’s political power split, as it has been for decades. For most, it wasn’t a surprise. There are few parts of American democracy as nakedly political as redistricting, the decennial process that redraws electoral districts to reflect the latest census data. The term gerrymandering has been around for 200 years, and incumbents have long used redistricting to fortify their access to money and votes. There are winners, there are losers, and often, there are lawsuits. This year, Koreatown lost, and Koreatown is talking lawsuit. Continue Reading »