Korean Beacon

Dai Sil Kim-Gibson

The 20th Anniversary of Sa-I-Gu

Posted on 29 April 2012 by Melissah Yang

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Rally held in Los Angeles on May 2, 1992

When the Riots happened, I was only 3 years old and on the other side of the country. Only until I was a freshman at UCLA did I understand what had happened on April 29, 1992, and its effects on the Korean American community.

Here in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by students who were the children of the Riots. I heard stories about their parents and relatives leaving with guns to help their neighbors protect their stores. They told me how they hid in their dark homes, afraid that they were going to die.

These accounts were eye-opening, especially since I was someone whose knowledge of the Riots was limited to brief excerpts from history books.

The shooting of Latasha Harlins and the beating of Rodney King, incidents that occurred within 13 days of each other, were decisive factors that led to the Riots. To many, storeowner Soon Ja Du had received a light sentence of probation, a fine, and community service after shooting 15-year-old Latasha Harlins on the suspicion of stealing. Five months later, the four police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King were acquitted, igniting outrage within the Black community and ultimately sparking the Riots.

Hyungwon Kang / Los Angeles Times

Korean American shopkeepers were left to defend their livelihoods once it became apparent that the police could not and would not provide protection from looters. In the end, 54 people died, thousands were injured, and over $1 billion of damages left Los Angeles crippled.

One year after the Riots, a Los Angeles Times survey revealed that 40% of Korean Americans were considering on leaving LA. Those who stayed began to rebuild what had been lost. Today, Koreatown, with all of its delicious mom-and-pop restaurants and nightlife glitz, appears to have emerged for the better.

However, Korean Americans continue to lack a voice in Los Angeles politics. Most recently, the Korean American community lost its battle against a city motion that splits Koreatown into two separate districts, chipping away more of Korean Americans’ already meager political clout. In response, Koreatown activists are in the works of filing a lawsuit against the L.A. City Council.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on remembering the events and honoring the martyrs who fell during this tragic time. And though undoubtedly important for this 20th anniversary, I can’t help but wonder what will come next. The past can be remembered, but it can also be a platform for action. Though the Riots happened in Los Angeles twenty years ago, I’ve come to realize that time and place shouldn’t limit the impact that these events could have on others and myself.

I, too, am a child of the Riots. We all are. And as a duty to those before us, we must continue to fight to be heard not only in Los Angeles, but all over the country.

In memoriam of the LA Riots, Korean Beacon has collected the following articles to inform readers of issues—both past and present—that are a direct result of the LA Riots, otherwise known as Sa-I-Gu.

Riots in Los Angeles: Pocket of Tension; A Target of Rioters, Koreatown is Bitter, Armed and Determined (May 3, 1992)

Just days after the Riots erupted, the New York Times provided insight into the then current state-of-mind of Korean Americans who had suffered losses. One owner asked, “What am I going to do? Just sit down and die? I am going to protect my store and my family and myself.”

Read the full article here.


South L.A., Twenty Years Later

With the support of a reporting grant from the Rosenberg Foundation, writer and social justice lawyer E. Tammy Kim revisits the Riots and sheds light on the ongoing race, class, and economic issues/struggles in South L.A.

Read the full article here.



L.A. Riots, In Our Own Words

KoreAm Journal‘s April issue is dedicated to the L.A. Riots. One of the feature articles includes an oral history featuring testimonies from all perspectives (shop owners, local residents, reporters, councilmembers, etc.). This mosaic of firsthand accounts paints a vivid picture of events from before, during, and after the Riots. Read the full article here.

Mapping the Riot Damage to Korean-run Businesses

Though the media presented Koreatown as the main scene for the Riots, Korean American businesses, stretching from Gardena all the way up to Hollywood and from Miracle Mile across to Chinatown, were directly affected.

See the full map here.


The State of Korean and Black Relations Post Latasha Harlins and the ’92 Civil Unrest

Former councilmember Mike Woo and Korean American Business Association President Jong Min Kang discuss the current status of race relations between the Black and Korean community since the LA Riots. The talk is available online at www.kjlhradio.com and for download on iTunes.

Read the full article here.

Riot Victims Can Suffer From PTSD Even Now

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was originally diagnosed for war veterans who had participated in combat. However, studies done on Riot victims reveal that many Koreans suffer from PTSD even after twenty years.

Read the full article here.


K.W. Lee Challenges the Grandchildren of the LA Riots

Now at the age of 83, K.W. Lee (“Godfather of Asian American journalism” and founder of The Korea Times English edition) calls upon new generations of Korean Americans to break their silence and rise above political apathy.

Read the full article here.

LA Riots: LAPD tried to Displace its Racism Problem and ‘Put it On a Korean Merchant’

Former LA Times Reporter John Lee gives his take on how the LAPD and the media surrounding the shooting of Latasha Harlins contributed to riot violence against Korean businesses. Lee states, “The way the media simplifies things, it was pointing an arrow at Korean merchants.”

Read the full article here.


How Koreatown Rose From the Ashes of L.A. Riots

Though many  found themselves displaced and dejected after the Riots, Korean Americans have remained resilient and, in fact, have begun to facilitate friendly relations with other ethnic communities in the area.

Read the full article here.


Sa-I-Gu: From Korean Women’s Perspectives

Okada House in Stanford, CA will be screening Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Christine Choy, and Elaine Kim’s compelling 1993 film Sa-I-Gu on May 1st. The documentary gives a rare glimpse into the perspectives of Korean American women shopkeepers. Co-producer Elaine Kim will be present at the screening. For details, click here.

You can watch the full documentary below.

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Top 5 Most Korean-American Cities: New York City

Posted on 02 September 2011 by Korean Beacon

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In a weekly series of posts, we will present the Top 5 Most Korean-American cities, selected not only for their numbers, but also for their visibility in mainstream America. Our research was guided by the following criteria: population, famous and/or influential locals, programs, and hotspots.

#2 New York, NY

New York City proudly boasts the second largest population of Korean Americans in the United States. Bustling Koreatowns have sprouted in Manhattan’s 32nd Street (a.k.a. “Korea Way”) and Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens where the streets are lined with Korean shops, restaurants, and churches. Walking through both areas is like being transported to Korea itself—minus the grueling 13-hour flight. NYC is also home to your favorite go-to place for KA news: Korean Beacon!


  • 132,371 – New York metro area (population data compiled using the 2010 Census; excludes counties in Jersey and PA)


  • Dai Sil Kim-Gibson is an award-winning filmmaker, whose films include Sa-I-Gu: Korean Women’s Perspectives, Wet Sand: Voices from LA, and Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women.  The latter film inspired her to create the Silence Broken Foundation, a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to exploring gender discrimination, racism, poverty and class struggle around the world.”
  • Pauline Park is a tireless fighter for transgender rights. Based in Queens, Park co-founded the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), the first statewide transgender advocacy organization in New York, and Queens Pride House, the borough’s only LGBT community center. Pauline recently gave the commencement speech at Columbia University’s Lavender Graduation this past May.

Adrian Hong (left) and Pauline Park (right)

  • Adrian Hong is a TED fellow, and the co-founder and former Director of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a global NGO whose mission is to “redefin[e] the North Korea crisis through creative storytelling, while providing emergency relief to North Korean refugees and pursuing an end to the human rights crisis.” Devoted to defending human rights, Adrian recently founded The Pegasus Press—a new initiative that uses innovative technology to keep the internet open and “safe for political dissidents and citizen journalists.”
  • An advocate for women’s and children’s rights, Kyung B. Yoon is the Executive Director of the Korean American Community Foundation (KACF), a non-profit organization that “provides grants and capacity-building assistance to organizations working to address the most pressing needs in the Korean American community and beyond.” Last year we interviewed Kyung about her inspiring work with KACF and her goal to foster philanthropy in the KA community.
  • A former candidate for New York City Council, Jin “PJ” Kim, a first-generation Korean American, is now the Executive Director at New York Needs You (NYNY), a career and leadership training program that empowers first-generation college students to achieve and realize their full potential. Notably, PJ also served as the Executive Director to the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI), a non-partisan progressive “urban think tank” founded during the Civil Rights Movement.


MinKwon’s Executive Director Steven Choi at rally on immigration issues

  • MinKwon Center for Community Action fights for marginalized community members such as the youth, the elderly, recent immigrants, low-income residents, and limited English proficient residents who lack access to vital resources. MinKwon and its executive director, Steven Choi, were featured in a New York Times article that discussed the recent influx of Asians in New York and the fight to get fair representation for all Asians living in the city.
  • The Korea Society was founded in 1957 with the purpose of facilitating a friendly relationship between the US through programs that allow for exchanges on topics such as public policy, business, education, and the arts. Next week, the organization will host an event with Wesley Yang, author of the New York Magazine article “Paper Tigers“—a response to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
  • Fighting on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning people of Korean descent, the Dari Project aims to increase awareness and acceptance in Korean American communities. Dari provides resources such as personal testimonials about the experiences of LGBTQ people that are dispersed through a website that is available in both English and Korean.
  • The Korean American Family Service Center (KAFSC) fights to prevent and end domestic violence and abuse for adults, youths, and children. KAFSC’s Board Chair Sarah BJ Sung was featured in the documentary series “NYC Women: Make it Here, Make it Happen” as a woman who is making a significant difference in New York City.
  • The Korean Cultural Service New York (KCSNY) promotes Korean culture and aesthetics in New York through gallery exhibitions, performing arts concerts, film festivals, and educational programs. KCSNY also manages a library that contains more than 18,000 books magazines, and AV materials so that information on Korean films and Korean culture are easily accessible.



Buddae jjigae at Pocha 32

  • NYC is home to Korilla BBQthe Korean-style taco food truck founded by Ed Song. Since there are three trucks now, it’s impossible to miss out on a delicious taco lunch or dinner!
  • Pocha 32 on W. 32nd street is a near-perfect replica of pojangmacha-style eateries littering the streets of South Korea—except it’s indoors. It’s known for its strong garlic odor, and delicious bubbling jjigaes (stews). Pocha 32 is also one of Kimchi ChroniclesMarja Vongerichten’s favorite spots in NYC.
  • Circle is the premier attraction for newcomers to Manhattan looking for a fun, dance-filled night out. Owned by Bobby Kwak, one of NYC’s most savviest entrepreneurs, the nightclub is best known for hosting mini-concerts by top K-pop stars like Brown Eyed Girls and rapper Crown-J. It’s also been confirmed that this Labor Day weekend, T.O.P. from Big Bang will make a special guest appearance on both Friday and Saturday night! Other popular club spots in K-town are Maru Lounge on 32nd St, and Third Floor Cafe on 5th Avenue.

  • Boka, in the heart of St. Mark’s, serves up plates of Korean fried chicken from Bonchon in all of the flavors you love. Make sure to top it off with an order of watermelon soju!
  • U2 Karaoke is one of the bigger noraebangs in Manhattan—located in St. Mark’s rather than K-town. It’s a great spot for large birthday parties, or even just hanging out with a group of friends on a Friday night. The bar spans three floors with private karaoke rooms, and boasts a fully stocked bar on the second floor with seating.
  • Kimganae, on Union Street in Flushing, has amazingly decent prices and is the best place to go for a fast meal that tastes just like a home-cooked Korean dish. The restaurant serves a variety of “comfort” foods like kimbap, tonkatsu and deokbokki.



Momofuku’s David Chang (left) and KC’s Marja Vongeritchen (right)

  • Born to a Korean mother and an African American father, and adopted by an American family at the age of 3, Kimchi Chronicles Marja Vongeritchen is the new ambassador for Korean cuisine and culture, as well as a refreshing new face and voice in Korean America. A passionate noraebang-er, you’ll most likely bump into Marja and her “karaoke crew” (which usually includes her birth mother) in K-town.
  • After moving to New York for a job as the host of an Oxygen show, SuChin Pak was quickly spotted as a rising star by MTV and promptly began her career as an MTV VJ in 2001. SuChin was recently featured in an interview with V Magazine about her role as the founder of Hester Street Fair.
  • Kelly Choi is an Emmy-award winning television personality on NYC TV, former host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, and co-producer and host of the documentary series Secrets of New York. She also created and produced Eat Out NY, a show that is a guide to the city’s most popular and most hidden restaurants.
  • Other locals include Alexander Chee, the author of Edinburgh (one of our Summer Reading picks!), and Emily Kim, the Korean food blogger pioneer better known as “Maangchi.”

The #1 Most KA city probably won’t be a big surprise, but still check back next week! We have some awesome hotspots and people lined up!

UPDATE: Check out our Top 5 Most Korean-American Cities Map!

Melissah Yang and Mink Choi contributed to this post.

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