My 20-year-old college daughter is a perennial reminder to me of how old the Los Angeles riots were; she was born 20 years ago on Sept. 21, 1992. I was pregnant with her when the riots happened. For her generation, Korean American culture and history is about K-pop, Korean drama, galbi houses and noraebang. It saddens me because so many have no idea about the fiery economic holocaust that shook their ethnic community 20 years ago. Today, Los Angeles Koreatown is economically alive and thriving. Like a phoenix, the community has risen from ashes and is now larger, more colorful and bustling with people from all corners of Southern California coming to shop, sing, eat and dance. But, at times when I drive through Koreatown, I feel a sense of regret and sadness that too many people don’t know what we went through 20 years ago. If people are not educated enough about what happened, how can we prevent history from repeating itself?

-Sophia Kim, public school teacher and children’s playwright, Los Angeles

20 Years Later: Reconciliation and Healing from the LA Riots

For many of us, the images of the 1992 LA Riots is something we will never forget.  Its aftermath left our city wounded, scarred and divided, often on racial grounds.  But 20 years later, God is reconciling what was broken.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots, a multi-ethnic coalition of faith leaders is joining forces to bring long-needed healing and forgiveness to our communities.

[click “Read More” below to continue] 

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Mie: Heian period pottery w/ iroha poem unearthed

A few remnants of heian period pottery on which Iroha poem was written were discovered at the Saigu* site in Meiwa town, Mie prefecture.

According to the Saigu Historical Museum, the pottery was possibly used Heian period between the end of 11th century and early 12th century, judging from other artifacts found in the same layer of the site.

Inside of the pottery, hiragana** letters of “ぬるをわか (nu ru wo wa ka)” were written, and “つねなら (tsu ne na ra)” on the outside; both of which belong to Iroha poem. The museum believes that it is likely to be the oldest written Iroha poem artifact discovered in Japan. Also, it was most likely written by the ladies in waiting to the Deity, and possibly one of very important sources that shows how hiragana might have spread in Heian period.

The pottery will be exhibited at the Saigu Historical Museum from January 21 till March 11, 2012.

NHK news: 1/18/2012 (05:37)

*Saigu was a palace where Dieiy, Saio, lived from Asuka period to Kamakura period in Japan. Traditionally, unmarried imperial princesses became Saio to serve the godess of sun, Amaterasu.

**hiragana is one of basic Japanese character sets, sort of like alphabet.


SA I GU trailer, a documentary about the 1992 LA Riots 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1992 LA Riots that happened between April 29 to May 4. Four Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King and were acquitted, and people began to riot in the streets. The Korean American community in Los Angeles was among those hit the hardest because their businesses were looted and destroyed. Tensions were already running high before the riots: some groups were resentful towards the Korean community for their success in opening up businesses in predominantly Black neighborhoods, thus making them an easy target for violence. The police did not do much to protect the businesses, the Korean Americans (along with their patrons who were Black and Latino) had to fend for themselves. Instead the police protected predominantly white neighborhoods and white-owned businesses. Of the 3,000 businesses that were destroyed 1,867 were owned by Koreans.

Watch the full Sa I Gu (which means “April 29” in Korean) movie here. The documentary was made three months after the riots, giving a voice to the Korean women who lived through the tragedy. Learn about what they did in the aftermath and how they recovered from the ground up.

For further reading and more perspectives: 
Sa I Gu is Another Way the Los Angeles Riots Are Remembered
Korean American community coalesces

Everyday for #AAPIMonth we will feature heroes and events that have impacted the APA community!

L.A. today

"If there’s one thing that’s particularly depressing about this map, it’s not really found in a story of which race ends up where, but in the fact that, over 20 years of so-called progress, these segregated pockets aren’t melding.” - From Fast Co (More on L.A. today at L.A. Magazine.)

I thought a little more about the L.A. riots and how for a while, “Korean-Black tensions” were a new-fangled way of explaining multicultural America. I also remembered one of my favorite stories from the aftermath: a group of pastors from both African American and Korean American churches took a joint trip to Seoul in an attempt to promote inter-cultural understanding. After a few days, one of the black ministers announces his revelation. Korean shopkeepers are just generally bad at customer service and unfriendly to everyone, even to other Koreans.

Digging around on the internet, I found this story from 1985, seven years before the riots, about similar efforts to find common ground in Christian ministry.


Do we remember? I hope we do. Even most of us weren’t there, or even if we were not of Korean descent, but it is so important to understand what horrors had happened and what choices we are capable of making.
So much was burned down, most families didn’t get second chances. The relationship of different races and cultures can only be strengthened by love and understanding. Twenty years have already passed, so where are we now?

LA Riots A Hard Kick In The Head

As the 20th anniversary of the 1992 riots comes up, I’m resurrecting some previous writings, and may produce more on the meaning of that catastrophe. Here is a 2010 piece from KoreAm magazine on the 1992 riots, their roots in the 1965 Watts riots and the ways Los Angeles still suffers from the same inequities. There is still plenty of fuel, ready to ignite with another spark.

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 in me a desire to work at street level covering the political, economic and social forces that collided, then exploded, in Los Angeles.

For Korean Americans—and more broadly Asian Americans—the riots were the kind of hard kick in the head that makes you see why you’re losing a fight. We were voiceless, it seemed, in the news media, in politics and other spheres of influence. I don’t know how many Korean Americans made some kind of career change guided by the traumatic experience, but whatever the reason, that obscurity has long passed. Korean Americans are now elected officials, journalists and heads of universities.

Other minority groups also made surprising gains—two LAPD chiefs have been African Americans since the riot, and we now have the nation’s first African American President and a Mexican American mayor of Los Angeles.

Still, I think the question is not whether there will be another riot, but when.

I say this because we must remember the 1992 civil unrest was not the first such explosion in Los Angeles. The first came in 1965. After the Watts riots, a commission convened by California Gov. Pat Brown produced a report that identified these root causes: high unemployment among blacks; poor education, including a 30 percent drop-out rate in the Los Angeles Unified School District; and lack of adequate health care.

The 1965 Governor’s Commission report was titled “Violence in the City: An End or a Beginning?” That question was answered 27 years later.

Indeed, a 1992 Assembly Special Committee Report on the Los Angeles crisis found that little progress had been made since 1965. While the median family income in Los Angeles in 1989 was about $34,000, it was $18,000 in South Los Angeles, the riot’s epicenter. Some 33 percent of South Los Angeles residents and 31 percent of Koreatown residents were living below the poverty level, the report said.

By many indicators, conditions today are as bad—or worse—than they were in 1965 and 1992 in the neighborhoods of the previous riots. High school graduation rates and unemployment have not improved. Blue collar wages have shrunk, and health insurance coverage has also continued to decline.

So while Americans, including Korean Americans, have made great, visible progress in many areas over the years, the underlying causes of the Los Angeles riots remain in full-force, if not more severe. The gap between the have-nots and have-lots has only widened.

Whatever influence Korean Americans have gained in the last 18 years will likely ensure our “community” is never marginalized as it was in the past. But we now must challenge ourselves in another way: how will we leverage the gains we’ve made to take on the growing poverty and inequality that is keeping our broader community—the one that includes non-Koreans—in danger of another riot?

If history progresses at the same pace of the past, we’ve got a bit less than 10 years to head off the next one. Let’s get busy.

Peter Hong is a deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents Koreatown and the neighborhoods most affected by the 1965 Watts Riot and 1992 civil unrest. From 1994 to 2009, he was a Los Angeles Times reporter.