A Diversity of Viewpoints and Generations

Against the Current, No. 39, July/August 1992

an interview with Julie Noh

“EVERYONE SEEMS TO be asking both the Black and Korean communities, is a racial conflict? I would say that among my generation, the 1.5 generation Korean Americans (there are some sharp differences among generations), we are feeling confused and trying to sift through the different issues.

“For myself, I don’t see it as a sharp racial conflict as the mass media have portrayed it. The reasons for what happened stem a lot from the social and economic conditions in South Central LA, Compton, Inglewood and other areas. If you look it’s largely–to me–a class issue, where people who don’t have social services or a jobs base in their community are speaking out and trying to gain access to political power.

“Where the Koreans have come in is that, for economic reasons within our community, we’ve been able to set up businesses but not in the white or suburban areas. They’re set up in the inner city where there is low rent, and very little competition because so few businesses would go there.

“For those reasons Korean businesses have been for the most part financially successful. If you put these factors together–African Americans have been in this country three or four hundred years and conditions for them worsen decade after decade, whereas immigrants who have been here for only thirty years come into their communities and have been successful–it’s a case of haves and havenots.

“I think the solution would be more intense work on how to bring about political and economic empowerment for the African American community, and change in the Korean community to educate people and also help Korean merchants who are facing the daily robberies and shootings and really horrible conditions they work under.

[Regarding the Latasha Harlins case] “Even within my generation–I am twenty-four years old, I’m speaking of 1.5 generation Korean Americans from their late teens to early `30s–there’s such a diversity of political views, depending on class interests and upbringing.

“I would say largely that people feel very torn. It’s been very divisive for the Korean community. People on the one hand say the ruling in that case (probation, community service and a small fine for the store owner, Soon Ja Du) was very shocking, that this woman got no jail time for killing a teenager. There is lots of sympathy for the Harlins family, people would feel the same way if their daughter had been shot.

“Yet because it is in our community and people are the sons and daughters of merchants<197>like myself–and know the dangers they face, it’s very hard to say she should have received a jail sentence. It’s really being caught between a rock and a hard place to develop a compassionate and sensitive attitude to both the Harlins family and to Soon Ja Du and her family.

“What scares me is that it’s being turned around to say Koreans are criminals, Korean merchants are killing their customers. It’s a very dangerous thing where an entire group is judged and labelled for the actions of one person. For myself as a Korean American I don’t feel there was justice in that case, yet my parents are merchants in the Black community too<197>so I feel very torn.

“Judge Joyce Karlins, who presided over that case, has just been reelected to the Superior Court this past June 2, with 50.7% of the vote so she doesn’t have to face a runoff. Some people feel sympathetic toward her, but she’s not done anything for the Korean or African-American communities–a very conservative judge.

“All these things with her election, added on to the Rodney King verdict and the rebellion, are going to add to the tension. People from both communities are trying to work on common projects and have dialogue, but some things are happening out of our control.”

July-August 1992, ATC 39