Tag Archives: koreatown


Slate Asks What Donald Sterling’s Love Of Koreans Reveals About Racism

Tuesday’s column on Slate about Donald Sterling, the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner, reveals what his “fondness” of Koreans means to the broader pattern of racism in America.

Sterling, 80, was suspended indefinitely by the NBA recently after the recording of his remarks to his girlfriend about his disdain on blacks and how he didn’t want her to bring them to Clippers game caused a public outcry.


In 2002, Sterling was sued for allegedly discriminating against black and Hispanic housing applicants at one of his apartment buildings located in Koreatown district of Los Angeles. Sterling had changed the name of the building to “Korean World Towers” and decorated the building with Korean flags. He even allegedly tried to force black and Hispanic tenants out of the building, saying they “smell and attract vermin.”


To Sterling, the column suggests, Koreans were the “ideal” tenants. He allegedly said that Koreans “will live in whatever conditions and still pay the rent without complaint” and told one of his former non-Asian female employees that she should “learn the ‘Asian way’ from his younger girls because they knew how to please him.”

The column’s co-authors, Hua Hsu and Richard Jean So, wrote that Sterling’s preference for Koreans and Asian Americans fits into the typical pattern of racism in America:

Why did Donald Sterling love Koreans? At a basic level, he was buying into the myth of the “model minority”: the perception that Asian-Americans, compared with other nonwhite minorities, are innately intelligent and well-behaved.

This will all sound very familiar to Asian-Americans, cast as the put-upon overachievers, whose head-down, by-the-bootstraps stoicism has resulted in remarkable educational andfinancial attainment. The “model minority” myth persists in part because it is cited as evidence that the system works. It makes for a great story—the plucky, determined Asian-American succeeding where others have failed. But the ultimate beneficiaries of this racial typecasting are the people who invoke the model as a bludgeon against others. Sterling’s admiration for his Korean tenants is actually a kind of scorn. After all, he still subjected Korean tenants to the same degrading treatment as everyone else—the only difference is that the Koreans seemed willing to take it.

Above all, Sterling saw the world in terms of winners and losers (“I like people who are achievers,” he once noted), and he used this logic to categorize racial groups along a sliding scale of desirability. For Sterling, Koreans never merited the decency of being looked upon as individual human beings. Rather, they were a faceless bloc, a group of indistinguishable “achievers” that did nothing more than provide the contrast that enabled his contempt for blacks. This is the lesson of Donald Sterling’s racism: A hierarchy that flatters those at the top and demeans those at the bottom can only serve to distract us from noticing the one shuffling the rankings.



Inaugural K-town Night Market Draws Thousands

article and photos by RUTH KIM

Korean American comedian Walter Hong quipped, “We’re in Koreatown right now, but I feel like I’m a minority!”

Playing event emcee, Hong was addressing the vastly diverse crowd who made their way, by the thousands, to the inaugural K-town Night Market, which took place April 18-19 at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus in the heart of L.A. Koreatown.

Reminiscent of the popular 626 Night Market and night markets across Asia, the event featured a host of famous food trucks, food booths, merchandise vendors, a carnival area, as well as live performances.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Danny Park, one of the founders of the K-town Night Market. “We’re trying to bring that old night market to L.A., you know? We want to celebrate the diversity of Koreatown, but also celebrate Korean culture, too.”

Park certainly got what he wished for, with an estimated turnout of 80,000 people who attended the market over the two days.

The streets surrounding the Robert F. Kennedy campus were bustling with pedestrians on April 19, when this KoreAm reporter made her way there. A seemingly endless line from the entrance stretched along Catalina Street toward Wilshire Boulevard, as people queued up to enter the market grounds. Despite some complaints of long food lines, the wait did wonders working up the appetite, and there was plenty of food to go around. Headlined by Season 3 winners of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, Seoul Sausage, the food truck lineup offered a diversity of cuisines and also featured seasons 1 and 2 Great Food Truck Race winners Grill ‘Em All and The Lime Truck, respectively.

“It’s been really fun for me to be kind of personally involved in this project because it hits close to home. We call Koreatown our second home,” said Yong Kim, one of the three founders of Seoul Sausage, which served as the event’s food truck curator. “It’s something that we planned a long time ago, and it’s finally happening. People are really excited about it, and we are, too.  Everybody that we wanted [for the food truck lineup] agreed to do it, you know, so it’s just been really fun, personally.”

While the food trucks were assembled on one half of the event grounds, the other half was occupied by additional food vendors in booths, including Korean American chef Brian Huskey of Top Chef fame at Table 13, IOTA Café, Orochon Ramen and 8 Korean BBQ, to name a few.  Attendees could grab a bite to eat while they shopped the vendor booths selling K-pop fan gear and other items, and enjoyed the live performances on stage.

Tagged on social media as #KTOWNCoachella, Friday’s lineup boasted the musical talents of K-pop stars such as YG Entertainment’s Lydia Paek, K-pop star Z. Hera, Chad Future, The Fu, and Shin-B. Saturday’s stage was headlined by K-town native and hip-hop artist Dumbfoundead, DJ Zo, Korean American rapper DANakaDAN and Grammy-nominated producer Scoop Deville.





April Issue: Will LA’s Korean American Community Back City Council Candidate John Choi?

John Choi addresses supporters after the primary for the L.A. City Council District 13 seat.

The Race Within the Race

A Korean American has never been elected to Los Angeles’ city council. After a primary that saw the community split over two KA candidates, John Choi has advanced to the runoff. But will the community now unite behind him?

story by JIMMY LEE and EUGENE YI | photographs by JIMMY LEE

A pathetically low 20 percent of registered voters in the City of Los Angeles made it to their localpolling place in last March’s primary election for the next mayor of the second largest municipality in the country.  While interest citywide was abysmal, the race for the empty seat on the Los Angeles City Council representing the 13th District, which includes Hollywood, the hipster trifecta of Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park, and the northeastern sliver of Koreatown, was being closely watched by Korean Americans.

Among the 12 vying for the seat were two Korean Americans. The hopeful whispers among Korean Americans became nearly audible: Could one of us finally ascend to elected office in L.A., the spiritual capital of Korean America?

We’re halfway to finding out, now that one of the two, John Choi, has made it past the primary and will face Mitch O’Farrell in the runoff election later this year.

This local race, for many in the Korean American community, marked a major milestone in its political coming of age. Finally, in 2013, there was a local election with no false pretenders—no one like Andrew Kim, a lawyer who seemingly ran for every political office during the 1990s and early aughts, including City Council.  With minimal to nonexistent campaigning, Kim’s efforts were largely seen as a joke—the races were mere opportunities for him to plaster his name all over Koreatown with posters.

Rather, for the contest for District 13, it looked like there were going to be three legitimate KA contenders, each with extensive — albeit varied — experience in Los Angeles city governance. BongHwan Kim was the head of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after years of leadership positions at various nonprofits. Emile Mack, a deputy fire chief, ran on his compelling backstory as the Korean adoptee of African American parents, and as a firefighter during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. And Choi, whose resume includes stints with the mayor, a councilman and the city’s Public Works Commission, was a relatively unknown but well-connected, young lawyer who had amassed the biggest war chest of any candidate in the race.

By the end of 2012, Kim had exited the race and taken a job in San Diego, leaving Choi and Mack to split the votes of Korean Americans. Coincidentally, both held their respective campaign kickoffs on the same Saturday in January, allowing a few reporters to do an easy compare and contrast.

Mack held his kickoff in a dilapidated second-floor office of a building on an anonymous stretch of boulevard between downtown and Pico Union, an area just barely feeling the effects of the gentrification of surrounding neighborhoods.  It was difficult to find the door.  About a dozen people showed up to a small office. About half were a diverse set of clean-cut college students, and the other half were heavily tattooed young Latino men. After a rally-the-troops speech by an elderly Korean American lawyer, the group set out to canvass.

Choi’s event took place in the street-level cornerstorefront at an intersection in East Hollywood, close to trendy cafes and bars. Hundreds showed up, including community leaders, union members wearing purple SEIU (Service Employees International Union) T-shirts, and a healthy sampling of politically active Korean Americans, many of them familiar from last year’s fight over the redistricting of the council’s boundaries.

Both candidates, along with Filipino American Alex de Ocampo, had been invited to a Korean American Democratic Committee (KADC) event to field questions from the organization’s board.  Some board members who declined to be identified said they were unimpressed with Mack’s answers, while Choi and de Ocampo provided more polished responses (though both Choi and Mack apparently whiffed at a softball question regarding favorite restaurant in the district, while de Ocampo did fine. Not surprising, since Ocampo grew up in the district, while Choi and Mack both moved there to run.)

A few weeks afterward, the board of KADC, one of the primary organizations involved in the redistricting battle, endorsed Choi over Mack.

“We thought he had the most relevant experience, instead of just in one department, and we also felt his future was brighter in allowing or helping the Korean American community, not just with allocating resources but also with allocating and identifying other KAs to get elected to office,” said Matthew Yang, executive director of KADC.

The endorsement by the organization, made up of mostly 1.5- and second-generation Korean Americans, reflected an overall trend among the community’s voters.

“Younger Korean Americans are supporting John [Choi], but then, when it comes to the first-generation Koreans, I heard quite a few people are supporting Emile [Mack],” said Yonah Hong, a local community activist. “I hate that our community is split.”

John Choi talks to a resident about his candidacy.

Mack said this reflected some of the fissures in the community that had emerged during last year’s highly contentious—and headline-making—redistricting debate. At the redistricting commission’s first few public hearings, a relatively united Korean American community appeared, calling for Koreatown to be drawn into a single council district to maximize its political clout.  But after early draft maps showed the neighborhood still divided, some disappointed second-generation advocates started publicly airing some dirty laundry regarding Koreatown’s cozy relationship with City Council President Herb Wesson, who represents most of the neighborhood, and counts on Korean Americans for a third of his political contributions. Unproven allegations included stories of small business owners being strong-armed into donating to Wesson.

An old rift emerged in the community, as many prominent Korean Americans with business interests in Koreatown—primarily first-generation immigrants—had long-established relationships with Wesson. Mack said when he first decided to run for office, he had sought the help of two Koreatown figures: Grace Yoo, the outspoken executive director of the Korean American Coalition, and Chang Lee, the former head of the Koreatown Chamber of Commerce with the perfect salt-and-pepper high-and-tight coiffeur, as well as with the rumors of a close relationship with Wesson. Yoo went on to become one of the leaders in the redistricting fight, while Lee worked in the background to smooth over relations with Wesson and publicly decried the activists’ efforts.

Mack ended up siding with Lee.  And the former candidate thinks that cost him the support of many second-generation Korean Americans.

DURING THE FINAL weekend before the March 5 vote, Mack and Choi did what candidates do when running for local office: canvass the neighborhood, pleading for votes.

And on March 2, Mack was joined by his wife Jenny and their 3-year-old Miya while walking door-to-door in East Hollywood. Mack has a disarmingly personable demeanor, and the sight of father and daughter canvassing together could win over any voter’s hearts. But with Mack getting little attention from the mainstream press, Mack’s hopes were faint, especially with a crowded field of 12 candidates.

Meeting people and getting “to see people’s beliefs and hopes” made the whole campaign experience worthwhile, said Mack after the election.

Being in the conversation was not an issue with John Choi, who had raised the most money of the 12. Multiple articles in the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly had emphasized — and criticized — Choi’s support from labor unions, which helped to finance his campaign. The implication was that he would be in labor’s back pocket if elected, and these stories were clearly a source of irritation while he canvassed the neighborhood of Atwater Village on March 3.

Then, as if on cue, the next house was answered by a man who told Choi that he won’t get his vote because of the labor support. To other Atwater residents, he spoke passionately on how his relationships with the unions would be helpful when it came time to mediate the city’s budget problems.

“I can’t just be pro-labor, or else I know [the other councilmembers] won’t take me seriously,” said Choi.

Emile Mack canvassed neighborhoods with wife Jenny and daughter Miya in tow.

It’s understandable where Choi’s sympathies lie, since he worked for one of the biggest unions in the region, the County Federation of Labor, as its economic development director for two years. For him, union backing meant having the support of the firefighter, construction workers and the health caregivers who make up these groups, and Choi was proud to have it. They would help him nab second place, with 4,008 votes, and a spot in the runoff.

For his election night victory speech, Choi relayed the story of a female union member who worked at a downtown hotel.

“She told me, ‘I bought a house because I had a good job; I had a union that fought for me. I had hope and a dream and hard work,’” said Choi.  “That’s the story of why I’m running for city council. That’s the kind of opportunity I want to create for everyone in the 13th District and the entire city of Los Angeles. That’s the story of my family.”

Emile Mack finished 10th, with 845 votes. A few days later he was back at his job with the L.A. Fire Department. And he had no regrets.  “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Mack, who has no plans to run for office again.

Mack will endorse Choi. “His political background will benefit us” living in the 13th, Mack said of his former opponent. But more importantly, Mack wants the primary competition to be a precursor to other Korean Americans getting elected. “One of the reasons why I decided to run was for [more] Asian American representation,” he said. “Seeing the two of us going the distance in the primary, I hope, will show other Korean Americans that they can run for office, too.”

If Choi wins on May 21, he will be the first Asian American on the City Council in 20 years. Michael Woo, a Chinese American, once held that same District 13 seat.

He faces a tough runoff, though.  His opponent, Mitch O’Farrell—who used to work for former 13thDistrict Councilman Eric Garcetti, now a mayoral candidate—won the primary with 4,530 votes. But with endorsements from the likes of Mayor Villaraigosa and the L.A. County Democratic Party, Choi boasts some powerful backers, too.

Without a national election to spur interest, the runoff will likely have a similarly low turnout as the primary. It’ll be a game of inches, not feet. It is, in short, the kind of race that a small and vocal minority group can sway. Whether the Korean American community unites behind Choi and plays this role in the election remains to be seen.

This article was published in the April 2013 issue of KoreAmSubscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

L.A. Koreatown Walking Tour

Attention lovers of all things Korean food!

KoreAm contributor and food blogger Namju Cho will be leading a FREE walking tour of some of L.A. Koreatown’s best eats this Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.

Starting at the venerable Hodori minimall at Olympic and Vermont, she will share her favorite spots alongside Ktown’s main arteries: Olympic and Western Boulevards.

We’re talking jjajangmyun, dakgalbi, kalguksoo and much more! Register today for the free tour as space is limited. http://foundlakoreatown.eventbrite.com/

Wear comfy shoes and bring some cash to sample snacks and food!


Friday's Link Attack: K-Town Crash, Dia Frampton, NK-SK Talks

Tow truck crashes into Yoshinoya restaurant in Koreatown; 6 injured
Los Angeles Times

A large tow truck crashed through the front window of a Yoshinoya restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown on Thursday, injuring six people, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The truck is halfway in the restaurant,” said eyewitness Mirna Lopez, who works at the dental clinic above the restaurant.

Lopez described a chaotic scene. She said a couple employees suffered injuries and one woman was thrown across the restaurant.

She said she overhead the truck driver apologizing for the crash. He told customers and employees at the restaurant that his brakes failed.

Dia Frampton keeping busy with ‘Voice’ tour, planning solo debut
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Dia Frampton is currently writing songs for her debut solo album, according to the article.

“To be honest, I was a little bit desperate,” Frampton says of her decision to audition for “The Voice.” “With the band, I never would have thought I would have gone to TV. But we’d released our record, and it had come and gone. I was still living at my parents’ house. It got to the point where we were like, ‘Well, let’s go on tour this fall,’ and our guitar player would be like, ‘I have a job and I need to keep it. I can’t go out on tour and make $100 a week.’ It was kind of the same thing with Meg. She has a jewelry business right now, and she’s like, ‘I can’t stop making jewelry. This is how I pay my rent.’

Seoul Sets Terms for Resuming Talks With North Korea
New York Times

North Korea must suspend all activities at its nuclear facilities and allow United Nations inspectors to verify the freeze before six-nation talks can restart to discuss economic and other rewards for the country in exchange for ending its nuclear weapons programs, the chief South Korean nuclear negotiator said on Friday.

Forever 21’s cheap chic
Financial Times (U.K.) (registration req’d)

The retailer, famed for its cheap clothes and fast-changing fashions, sells nothing priced over £40 and shuns sales, believing “the first price should be the right price”. The Oxford Street store is the third of 20 it is opening across Europe, and with three outlets planned in China later this year Forever 21 considers itself a “global retailer”, joining the ranks of H&M and Zara. It poses a clear threat to UK chains New Look, Primark, Peacocks and Matalan, which are struggling to increase sales as consumers trim their spending.

Leadership Hall Of Fame: W. Chan Kim And Renée Mauborgne, Authors Of “Blue Ocean Strategy”
Fast Company

We continue our examination of the business book Blue Ocean Strategy with an interview of authors W. Chan Kim And Renée Mauborgne. We explore their motivation for writing the book, and why more companies are using their strategies.

Winning Scaffold Design Provides Lift Above, Movement Below
New York 1

The Department of Buildings unveiled Tuesday the winning design from an international competition to create a new standard of scaffolding in the city.

Known as the “Urban Umbrella,” the design was chosen through the agency and the American Institute of Architects’ “UrbanSHED International Design Competition.”

A total of 164 different scaffolding prototypes were sent in by architects, engineers, designers and students from 28 different countries.

The winning structure was submitted by New-York based designer Young-Hwan Choi, who teamed up with city-based design firm Agencie Group to take his creation to the next level.

Amateur Video of Recent Mudslides in South Korea

Speak Now: Go West, Young Man

Over the years, KoreAm has documented the impact of the 1992 Los Angeles riots on ours and other communities, and urged an understanding of lessons learned. As we count down to the 20th anniversary next year, iamKoreAm.com will be running a riot article, image or testimonial in this space every week until April 29, 2012. Some will be taken from our pages, while others will be excavated from our own personal archives. We welcome your submissions—first-person memories (no word limit), pictures, poems and (photographed/scanned) artifacts—for this project, too. Please email them to julie@iamkoream.com with the subject line ‘Riots Spot’. Many of us were mere children in 1992, but 19 years later, we have voices. We can speak now.

Here’s an article from KoreAm‘s May 2009 issue.


by Sung Min Yi

FIFTY thousand Koreans are singing “Go West,” and they’re keeping me awake. I presume it’s the Pet Shop Boys’ version, though it’s hard to tell.

To explain: World Cup 2002. Korea Republic vs. Poland. My parents had warned me that they would wake me up at 4:30 a.m. PST to watch The Game, and I’d blithely agreed to it. And now, here I am, swaddled like an invalid on the couch while my parents are clapping, chanting, burning with religious fervor, their faces aglow, the living room lights still mercifully off. So, here we are and there they are. Fifty thousand plus two Koreans trying to will our team to victory through the power of song.

“Go West,” despite its Gay Liberation associations, has proven remarkably robust in its afterlife as a soccer chant. But for me, the song evokes my uncle, who’s been dead for about 10 years. I thought my mother would have the same reaction, but at this moment, she registers nothing but absolute absorption in the fate of the Reds. My waesamchon. We never saw much of my extended family growing up. So my memories of my uncle are that he owned a series of liquor stores in Los Angeles during the ‘80s and ‘90s, had a pool and cable TV and looked like an Asian John Ritter of Three’s Company fame.

We went to his place twice a year, for New Year’s and the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Our goal was always to perform the ancestral worship ritual as soon as we got there. Everyone rushed to cook the food, stack the fruit, set up the table, the portraits and the incense, and then, the ceremony, with its bowing. Lots of bowing. Afterwards, my uncle left to open the store. Waiting for him to return was always worthwhile because he gave the most saebaedon. But he insisted on working a full day, so part of the ritual always included the interminable wait.

I remember the fever of boredom as we waited, checking the clock, learning to despise the Rose Parade for its wastefulness. Sometimes I wondered how his day was going. The first time we went to visit him at his store, I remember scouring the aisles with my brother, trying to find the single most delicious item we could, while my mom talked to him. We’d inevitably leave with a blade of watermelon Jolly Ranchers, and then it’d be years between visits, always a different store by then, in a different part of town. I’m not sure if the stores themselves got progressively more rundown. I don’t remember if they were in worse parts of town, either. But I remember a rack of second-tier porn titles like Orientail, and people buying loosies, and my uncle, smiling Ritter-esque over it all, unfazed.

Soon Ja Du. Latasha Harlins. Menace II Society. When all the “Blacks vs. Koreans” stuff started happening, the only concrete action I took was a personal boycott of Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album. I never really imagined how it might be affecting my uncle, that customers might be approaching him with newfound swagger, demanding credit or threatening him, giving him looks like he should get it, like all the f—ing Koreans, exactly what you people deserve. We didn’t hear from him until April 30, the second day of what would become known as the L.A. riots. When he finally called, I remember sitting on the stairs, listening while my mother talked on the phone in the kitchen. He’d stayed on his roof all night, shooting into the parking lot when anybody got too close.

I imagined the reddened sky silhouetting his tense body, perched on the roof above a pockmarked parking lot, a blatantly cinematic image that filled me with pride. Everything was fine, my mother said he said. Everything was fine. A year later, two thieves rushed into the store, took $200 he had in the register and ran for the door. One of the thieves stopped, turned and shot him in the chest. We didn’t even have time to visit the hospital. My mother got the call in the evening, just after I’d gotten home from school, and she just sat there, gray, shrinking. I hugged her and she cried into my T-shirt. I tried to stay as still as I could.

The police said there was little hope of catching the thieves. Continue reading

Speak Now: LA Riots A Hard Kick In The Head

Journalist K.W. Lee speaks at an Asian American Journalists Association panel in 2010.
Photo credit: Hyungwon Kang

Over the years, KoreAm has documented the impact of the 1992 Los Angeles riots on ours and other communities, and urged an understanding of lessons learned. As we count down to the 20th anniversary next year, iamKoreAm.com will be running a riot article, image or testimonial in this space every week until April 29, 2012. Some will be taken from our pages, while others will be excavated from our own personal archives. We welcome your submissions—first-person memories (no word limit), pictures, poems and (photographed/scanned) artifacts—for this project, too. Please email them to riots@iamkoream.com. Many of us were mere children in 1992, but 19 years later, we have voices. We can speak now.

Here’s an article from KoreAm‘s September 2010 issue.

18 Years and Counting

Korean Americans have made great strides since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but how will we leverage those gains to head off the fire next time?

By Peter Hong

A few minutes before a community “town hall” meeting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots was to start, the panelists fretted over whether they would outnumber the audience. Soon enough, though, the small hotel meeting room in Hollywood filled up with a couple dozen members of the Asian American Journalists Association, which was hosting the event last month at its national convention, and their guests.

Many, if not most, of those in the audience were young children in 1992. Looking at the sparse and youthful crowd, I thought, “You may well have your own Los Angeles riot soon enough.”

I was about their age in 1992, and I remembered how an historical curiosity for them was for me a defining, life-shaping event.

This was actually the second time AAJA held a town hall on the riots. The last time, in 1993, hundreds packed a large auditorium for something like a massive therapy session. There was plenty of shouting and some tears, with the whole horrible mess still fresh in everyone’s hearts and minds.

Anger and determination were the emotional byproducts for a few years after the last flames went out. News organizations pledged to diversify their staffs, politicians and business leaders promised to elevate living conditions in the inner city, and some Korean Americans in school or the early stages of their careers made their own vow: “Never again!”

In my case, I decided to return to Los Angeles from my fledgling reporting career in Washington, D.C. I’d planned to spend a career reporting on national politics, but the riots awakened Continue reading