Without Larger Programs, There Are No Solutions

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

an interview with Kye Young Park

“I AM CRITICAL of the way media repressed all other factors with the `Black-Korean tension’ discourse.

“The deteriorating quality of life in South Central LA wasn’t caused by the Koreans. But Korean merchants are seen as representing the interests of the establishment. To the people of South Central it’s hard to think of the life style of (a wealthy district like) Bel Air, but they can see the merchants, who ring the cash register and seem to be prospering.

“Whether Koreans acknowledge it or not, they are affected by these same conditions. Willing or not, they are going to go back to South Central, even though some say they would rather die than go back. When they do go back I think they will conduct business differently.

“The Korean community has been working hard to improve relations. I found they were increasingly hiring Black and Latino local people, working on education to alleviate youth conflict, donating scholarships. I think they will do a lot more on a regular basis; up to now it hasn’t been systematized.

“If they join African Americans in the actual struggle against racism, Korean merchants and Korean Americans won’t be seen as white Asians, which has been the perception so far. They have to be seen as people who care about the future of the whole community.

“But no matter how many efforts the two communities make, it will not solve the problem. The situation wasn’t created by Koreans; unless the Bank of America and other institutions stop discriminating in housing, business loans, etc. there won’t be a solution.

“There are really three factors: the legacy of slavery and continuing institutional racism toward African Americans; the impact of deindustrialization of Los Angeles on African Americans; and the cutbacks of the Reagan era which has hurt people’s lives. It’s a lack of public policy that’s the problem with American society. After the Koreans have all moved into the professions a new immigrant group will move in, and the same problems will begin unless there’s a Marshal Plan or a real war on poverty.

“African Americans want to be in full control of their community. So they are talking about reducing the number of liquor stores, which is a good trend although I know it will be painful for Korean merchants. When I first came here from New York, I was appalled by the number of liquor stores and the accessibility of liquor to the population. Why so many liquor licenses?

“In my research I have been in South Central LA every weekend, and I know working conditions for the merchants are really horrible with armed robbery and shoplifting going on every day. But still, the Koreans didn’t come here as slaves. They can’t just tell African Americans to `work harder,’ when they (Koreans) have capital, family resources, etc. Although Koreans may work seven days a week for sixteen hours, they are highly educated and sending their children to college, it doesn’t compare to the experience of African Americans.

“If Korean Americans recognize this, and the fact that they make their living from money coming from the African-American community, they must involve themselves in the future of that community. And it’s not that Korean immigrants want to runliquor stores–many of them are embarrassed when I talk to them in my studies–it’s the only place they see to make a profit.

“In the long run they have to move on to other businesses. One Black city councilman proposed incentives to relocate, or to run different businesses than liquor outlets. This would be a more promising solution.”

July-August 1992, ATC 39