Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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L.A.’s Korean American Candidates Wage Uphill Battles

The candidates at a Korean American Democratic Committee fundraiser held on Feb. 18. (Photo by Jimmy Lee)

by JIMMY LEE

In a positive sign of the growing diversity of the candidate pool in Los Angeles city politics, two Korean Americans threw their names into the ring for seats on the L.A. City Council this year: David Ryu and Grace Yoo, both of whom are hoping to advance beyond the March 3 primary election.

Ryu, 39, and Yoo, 43, both first-time candidates, are running for two different offices: Ryu in Council District 4, which extends from the Miracle Mile and Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley, and Yoo in the 10th District, which includes most of Koreatown and parts of South Los Angeles.

Both candidates face long odds in their respective races. But if one, or both, can make it into the runoff election in May and win, a momentous feat will have been achieved in Los Angeles. There has been only one Asian American councilmember in the history of the city: Michael Woo, who was elected in 1985, and left office in 1993 to run, unsuccessfully, for mayor.

When it comes to the track record of Asian Americans being victorious in local politics, “L.A. stands out as a sore thumb,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. and a longtime observer of local politics. “You see this emergence of a whole generation of successful Asian American politicians [statewide], and I think it will come to L.A. It’s just a matter of time.”

But is 2015 the year when a Korean American can finally inspire a large swath of the populace and get elected in Los Angeles—a place often considered the epicenter of Korean America—and become a de facto leader of its diverse Korean American community? The answer remains to be seen, as of press time.

In 2013, there were three viable Korean American candidates for City Council—the problem is, they all ran for the same 13th District seat. (One of them, John Choi, would eventually make it past the primary consisting of a 12-person field and into the runoff election, but lose to Mitch O’Farrell.) Although they won’t be splitting the Asian American electorate this year, Ryu and Yoo, both of whom have long histories serving the Korean American community, have an entirely different set of obstacles to overcome.

Ryu, a longtime political staffer to former L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke and the director of development and public affairs at a local nonprofit hospital, joined a wide-open field of 14 candidates for the seat being vacated by termed-out Councilmember Tom LaBonge. Some of Ryu’s opponents have extensive political experience or longstanding ties to the area, such as LaBonge’s former chief of staff, Carolyn Ramsey, and Steve Veres, a staff member in state Sen. Kevin de León’s office.

Ryu is not as well-known a figure in the district, since most of his work experience has been focused in South L.A. As a result, since joining the race last fall, Ryu has taken a very direct approach to getting acquainted with the 4th District electorate. “By the time March rolls around, I’m going to have knocked on 8,000 doors,” Ryu told KoreAm in an interview back in January. “I can potentially shake hands with every single person who’s going to vote for me.”

It’s paid off, as Ryu has been one of the top fundraisers in his race. But more so than total dollars amassed, Ryu said he’s proud of the fact that he has solicited the most individual donations among his opponents, in amounts of just $5 or $10 (the limit per donor is $700).

“I don’t have big people [like unions or developers] pulling my string,” said Ryu. “Who am I responsive to? I’m truly responsive to the community.” (L.A. City Council candidates are not required to list the names of donors for contributions of $99 or less.)

Part of Ryu’s message has focused on his background growing up poor in Los Angeles in an immigrant Korean family, and overcoming those odds, thanks to public education and government assistance. In stump speeches throughout his campaign, Ryu has told the story of how ashamed he felt as a child when his highly educated parents had to apply for food stamps. “I want to do service. I am a product of public institutions. This is how government works. It doesn’t work well all the time,” he said. “I believe we can change it. If I didn’t believe in it, why would I be in [the race]? If I thought this didn’t work, why not just quit and just go make money?”

In contrast with Ryu, Yoo—who resigned as the executive director of the Korean American Coalition in Los Angeles, a role which she held for 10 years, to run in this year’s election—is up against a singular, daunting opponent: Herb Wesson, the 10th District incumbent.

A former speaker of the California Assembly and currently the Council president, Wesson, 63, is widely considered to be one of the city’s most powerful politicians. He was cast as the villain by Korean American activists in the L.A. redistricting battle three years ago, when the city’s voting maps were redrawn to dilute parts of Koreatown’s electorate. Yoo, along with Ryu, was one of the most vocal dissenters of the process.

“I would say [the redistricting battle] was a large factor as to why I’m running. It came down to city elected [officials] not listening to what the community wanted,” said Yoo, who also spearheaded a federal lawsuit to void the latest boundaries. 

“I said enough is enough. The incumbent hasn’t done what he’s supposed to do,” she told KoreAm.

(Editor’s note: On Tuesday, in a 26-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall dismissed the lawsuit, saying she found no evidence that race was “the predominant or only motivating factor” in the map-making process.)    

A perception among some election observers, though, is that Yoo is running against Wesson because of the redistricting fight. “I think she’s running more of a message campaign,” Sonenshein said. “It’s an extension of the lawsuit.”

The fact that Yoo would choose to challenge Wesson—there is only one other candidate in the race—signals to experts that her motive is more than just to oust the council president.

Sonenshein said that a candidate could run to “raise an issue and keep it in the eyes of people, and to mobilize a bloc of voters for future efforts” and still be “successful without winning.”

“Running for office is an unparalleled opportunity to have a chance to talk to the public and one’s own community,” he said.

But Yoo is adamant that she is in this race to win it. “If I didn’t believe I had a chance to win, I would not be running. There’s no reason to put myself under this strain,” said Yoo, adding she would feel guilty asking friends and family for money if she wasn’t confident of her chances. “I’m running for City Council now because I realize I can help people in an even greater way by becoming a City Council person.”

Yoo and Ryu both have a common supporter in Paul Song, a Korean American physician and also executive chairman of the grassroots leadership development organization Courage Campaign. Song, a regular donor to political campaigns, was a vocal opponent against L.A.’s 2013 redistricting.

“It was less about … the Korean community being unfairly misrepresented [than] that, in general, it [went] against the whole democratic principle,” Song told KoreAm, of the redrawn districts. “And seeing how Grace rolled up her sleeves and led the fight, I applauded that. She’s been a tireless fighter and advocate not just for the Korean community but for justice in general.”

As for Ryu, Song added, “I just feel like he’s somebody who’s been working tirelessly in the community as well. And if anyone could run, these two have earned their right to do so and have the chops to do so.”

Since he is not a Los Angeles city resident, Song can’t vote for either Ryu or Yoo. But he hosted a fundraiser in January for both candidates at the Santa Monica home he shares with wife Lisa Ling, the CNN journalist, because he considers the growing political empowerment of L.A.’s Korean American community important and worthy of support.

“If our community does not wake up and get involved,” Song said, “we’re going to be passed by and not have any [political] representation.”

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This article was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the February/March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below.  (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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Kim Tae Woo’s April ‘Spring Romance’ Tour Tickets Now On Sale

If you missed seeing Kim Tae Woo last year during his U.S. tour with g.o.d., fret not (check out KoreAm‘s interview with the singer from our December/January 2015 issue). He’s back in April with his solo “Spring Romance” Tour, and tickets are available through pre-sale right now!

The tour, presented by TGM Events, will feature a one-of-a-kind “Proposal Event” for some lucky fans. If you have a certain special someone in your life you want to share the “Spring Romance” experience with, Tae Woo is here to help.

Write to hello@tgmevents.com with the subject, “Our Love Story” and your city. In the body of the email, share your love story. If the concert will mark the beginning of your new love story, let the organizers know. The grand prize is two VVIP invitations, as well as an opportunity to share the stage with Tae Woo for an intimate proposal.

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Check out the tour dates below. You can find more information and purchase the tickets at the TGM Events website.

Los Angeles: Friday, April 10

Orange County: Sunday, April 12

D.C.: Friday, April 17

New York: Sunday, April 19

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Ticket Prices:

- VVIP ($150) includes an autograph session with Kim Tae Woo.

- VIP ($100) ticket holders will be able to participate in a group photo session with Tae Woo (10 people per group photo).

- General admission is $50.

You can get your pre-sale tickets online, or by calling TGM Events at (213) 785-5159.

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Featured image courtesy of Soulshop Entertainment

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[VIDEO] NY Times Explores Hot Spots in LA’s Koreatown

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

The New York Times recently gave a crash course on how to spend 36 hours in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, introducing readers to the vibrant neighborhood’s thriving night-life and rich culture.

The guide features some of the trendiest restaurants, bars, theaters and cultural sites in K-town, including Wi Spa, where Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead and Conan O’brien bonded over painful body scrubs and sitting naked in steam rooms.

You can read the New York Time’s full guide on LA’s Koreatown here.

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Featured image via the New York Times

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VIBE & 4MEN Contest Winners

Thank you to all those who participated in our Valentine’s Day concert contest! The winners should have received an email. Please do check your inbox, as we will need confirmation of receipt in order to secure the tickets for you.

You can find more information on ticket availability at the Powerhouse website.

Check out the stories from the winners below, as well as the ones that weren’t chosen. Be sure to keep an eye out for future giveaways!

Special thanks to Powerhouse for providing the tickets.

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‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Brings Down the House at Watch Parties

by Suevon Lee | @suevlee
suevon@iamkoream.com

From a spacious nightclub in Times Square to a 190-seat auditorium in LA’s Little Tokyo district, Asian Americans coast to coast packed venues holding live community watch parties for the highly-anticipated network debut of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat Wednesday night.

By any measure, the events were a raging success: New York’s Circle nightclub reached its 1,000-person capacity while the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, a non-profit center across from the Japanese American National Museum in LA, saw lines to enter forming well ahead of a 7:45 pm doors-open time.

“This was supposed to be a quiet, casual community gathering,” Jeff Yang, the writer and culture critic and also the father of Hudson Yang, the young actor who plays the central protagonist Eddie Huang on the show, told Vulture’s E. Alex Jung of the New York event.

Appearing in person at Circle was Huang himself, the writer and restaurateur whose memoir of growing up in Orlando, Fla. after his family moves there from Washington, D.C., the show is adapted–plus members of the cast. Anname Phann, a New Yorker who waited an hour to get into the venue, said she “ran right for the stage to sit on the edge, not realizing I’d have the best position for listening to the panel presentation.”

“Eddie was incredibly articulate and funny,” Phann told me by email, referring to the talk-back portion of the night. As for the show itself, she said, “It was so fun to watch with a big group of people, hear from some of the actors, and support a big moment in television for APAs.”

And the sheer turnout at these venues only began to skim the surface of the outpouring of enthusiasm expressed on the likes of social media for the first network sitcom in 20 years to feature an Asian American family. On Twitter, #FreshOffTheBoat was a trending hashtag in New York for four hours, with a similarly strong showing in LA, reported NBC News.

As for the ratings, nearly 8 million viewers tuned into the 8:30 pm pilot, while 7.6 million tuned into the second episode that aired an hour later, according to Nielsen ratings. Those live numbers, by the way, don’t account for all the people who may have DVR’d or recorded the show to watch later.

“‘Boat’ may have actually fared better on Wednesday, but the premiere likely caught some viewers by surprise,” Variety wrote on Thursday. “ABC for weeks had been promoting the show’s ‘series premiere’ as February 10, so any viewers who tune in on that date for the first time will have missed the key pilot episode that aired last night.”

The sitcom, which is narrated in voice-over by Eddie Huang, follows the life of a young Eddie as his family makes the move to a white neighborhood in Orlando where Eddie’s father (played by Randall Park, KoreAm’s December/January issue cover profile), has decided to run a steakhouse called “The Cattleman’s Ranch.”

Not since Margaret Cho’s “All American Girl” debuted 20 years ago has a show about an Asian American family hit network airwaves.

At LA’s watch party, which was hosted by Phil Yu, creator of the Angry Asian Man blog, and writer and stand-up comedian Jenny Yang, the airing of the episodes on a giant projector screen was as much a highlight as were the discussion and comments expressed in between episodes and afterwards, as Yang ran up and down the aisles with a microphone.

“This is f***ing huge,” said one audience member. “We’re watching a sitcom that’s not making Asians out to be ‘the others.’ ”

Another audience member gushed, “As a Taiwanese American, I couldn’t be more proud of the show.”

And high up in the seats, a young man in a black sweatshirt took the microphone and, bellowing just a little at first, remarked on the sea of billboards plastered around LA promoting Fresh Off the Boat – prominently featuring the Asian American faces of Randall Park and co-star, Constance Wu, and how powerful a symbol that has served.

unnamedJenny Yang (left), Oliver Wang, Milton Liu, Jen Wang, and Phil Yu at the LA’s watch party.

As for her reaction to the show and the moment, Yang, now sitting back down at the front of the theater alongside her fellow panelists, smiled. “I love all of it,” she told the crowd. “I almost feel like some black people did when Obama got elected.”

Yes, although we’re talking about a sitcom here, there are parallels: in many ways, Wednesday night’s premiere felt like a triumph, and historic. But as Phil Yu, who disclosed to the crowd that he’s seen future episodes yet to air, said, “I don’t think people should watch it just because it’s a bunch of Asian people on screen…I can attest, it does really go to interesting places.”

Also discussed at LA’s watch party was that nervous feeling of hope that the first show to feature an Asian American ensemble case in two decades will succeed. There is “representational anxiety,” joked the panelists, coining the abbreviated phrase, “rep sweats” to capture this feeling.

“You’re so invisible and any time you see yourself on television, you hold your breath, because you hope it’s not something that can be used against me,” Yang joked. As her co-panelist, Jen Wang of Disgrasian, remarked, identifying with a character on TV growing up meant, for her, the character of Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, who was a little nerdy and “had bangs.”

“Everyone has this drive to see themselves at the center of the narrative,” Wang said.

Asked by an audience member why a 20-year stretch must separate the appearance of an Asian American family on network television, Oliver Wang, an associate professor of sociology at California State University, joked, “White supremacy.”

“They’re afraid to take a chance,” chimed in co-panelist Milton Liu, of Visual Communications. “Yes, we shouldn’t put all our hopes and pressure on this show but seeing this crowd here and in New York, I wouldn’t say it’s intentional racism, it’s fear.”

Fresh Off the Boat returns to the airwaves next Tuesday, Feb. 10, at its regular time slot of 8 p.m. But the discussion, reaction and reflection on an historic moment for Asian Americans and in Hollywood pop culture will continue well beyond that, no doubt.

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Featured image via Jeff Yang/Twitter

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‘Ktown Cowboys’ to Premiere at SXSW Film Festival

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Ktown Cowboys will be making its world premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park, the indie film follows a group of hard-partying friends who band together in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Each of the characters struggle with their own unique issues as they transition into adulthood.

Based on a popular 2010 YouTube series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys features a Korean American cast that includes screenwriter and comedian Danny Cho, Bobby Choy, Peter Jae, Sunn Wee, Shane Yoon, Eric Roberts, Steve Bryne, Simon Rhee, Ken Jeong, Daniel Dae Kim and Kim Young-chul.

On a side note, another Korean American film that will be making its world premiere at SXSW this year is Twinsters, a documentary about identical twin sisters reuniting 25 years after they were separated at birth.

The 2015 SXSW Film Festival will run from March 13-21. You can view the festival’s lineup here.

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Photo courtesy of SXSW

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Drinks

UCLA Needs More Asian Americans for an Alcohol Study

Here’s your chance to drink for science again.

The Addictions Research Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at UCLA is looking for Asian Americans who drink alcohol to participate in a study investigating a medication for alcohol use.

Participants must be between 21 and 55 years old. If selected for the study, participants will be asked to provide a DNA sample, take a study medication for 10 days, answer questionnaires and complete two fMRI scans and two alcohol administration sessions.

The study will require multiple visits to the UCLA campus. For their time, participants will be compensated up to $446.

You can find more information and check if you are medically eligible for the study by taking their survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AsianAmericanAlcoholStudy

For specific questions, you can call (310) 206-6756 and mention the Asian American Alcohol Study, or email the lab at raylab@psych.ucla.edu.

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Photo courtesy of Getty

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Dog Cafe

L.A.’s First Dog Cafe Seeks to Revolutionize Dog Adoption

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Cat cafes are all the rage in Asia and Europe, and their popularity seems to be increasing even more afer the first American cat cafe opened in Oakland, California last November. But what about dog cafes?

Sarah Wolfgang recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the Dog Cafe, the first of its kind in the U.S. The cafe will give patrons the opportunity to enjoy a cup of joe with a pooch at their side, but its larger goal is to address the overcrowding of L.A.’s animal shelters.

“The Dog Cafe is going to put a spin on the way people adopt by totally reinventing the way we connect with homeless dogs,” Wolfgang writes on her Indiegogo page. “We want to provide you with the opportunity to see these highly adoptable pooches in their true light. And even if you’re not looking to adopt, you can still enjoy all of the sloppy kisses you’ve ever wanted.”

Wolfgang assures future patrons that the cafe is, in fact, legal. Kind of. According to the city health department, the Dog Cafe will need two separate locations–a cafe and a dog zone–that are not connected in any way. A good amount of the $200,000 goal will go towards finding a large location where dogs can run and frolick, as well as hiring a staff to take care of the dogs. Meanwhile, the coffee will be fittingly provided by Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co.

Perks include pre-paid entries to visit the cafe and chill with the dogs while enjoying free drinks, as well as a pre-sale voucher to a “Pup-Up” event in Downtown Los Angeles from Jan. 22-25. Bigger perks include a private puppy party, assistance in adopting a dog and getting your own plaque on a table in the cafe.

The Dog Cafe’s Indiegogo campaign will run until Feb. 5.

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