20th Anniversary of Los Angeles Riots Observed

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UC Riverside leads consortium presenting conference, “Confronting Sa-I-Gu: 20 Years After Koreatown Burned,” on April 28.

The 1992 Los Angeles riots fundamentally changed how Korean Americans view themselves and their role in local politics and multiethnic, multiracial coalitions. Scholars and community activists will examine the social, political and cultural implications of the riots in a daylong conference on April 28. The event commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest.

The conference, “Confronting Sa-I-Gu: 20 Years After Koreatown Burned,” will begin at 9 a.m. at the Garden Suites Hotel in Koreatown, 681 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles. Sa-I-Gu means “4-29” and refers to the day that rioting began. Registration is $20. Student registration is $10. Contact Carol Park at carol(dot)park(at)ucr(dot)edu to register for the event.

In the last two decades Korean Americans have emerged as one of the most visible Asian American groups in Los Angeles, said Edward T. Chang, professor of ethnic studies and director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside. The YOK Center is leading the Sa-I-Gu Consortium that is hosting the conference.

“Prior to the riots, Korean Americans were unknown, invisible and unrecognized in American society,” Chang said. “After Sa-I-Gu, Korean Americans became active in city politics and proactively involved in multiethnic and multiracial coalition building in Los Angeles. Korean Americans began to exert their political clout as they fought to gain visibility, accountability and representation in the city of Los Angeles.”

The riots followed the acquittal of four white and Hispanic Los Angeles police officers in the beating of a black motorist. A total of 53 people died, thousands more were injured, and damage to businesses – particularly those owned by Korean and other Asian immigrants – and other property topped $1 billion before the violence ended on May 4.

Chang said that race relations between Korean immigrant merchants and African American residents have improved since then, in part because of the demographic shift of business ownership in South Los Angeles to Latinos, Arabs and Southeast Asian immigrants.

“As both Korean immigrant merchants and black residents suffered during and after the riots, they realized how dependent they are on each other,” he said. “During the riots, many Korean stores were burned down and African American residents had to walk several more miles to shop for their basic needs. Korean immigrants also realized that they have to reach out and become part of the community if they wanted to succeed in their businesses.”

The Korea Foundation has awarded $20,000 to UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center to support the conference, which will feature three panels with speakers who will discuss: Perspectives: Tales from the Frontline; Transformations, Where is our Community Today; and Looking Ahead, a Roundtable Discussion.

Among the speakers are: Connie Kang, a former Los Angeles Times reporter; Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Deputy Emile Mack; Rev. Eric P. Lee, president/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California; Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance; Grace Yoo, executive director of the Korean American Coalition; and Edward Chang, professor of ethnic studies and director of the Young Oak Kim Center.

Established in 1991, the Seoul-based Korea Foundation is an independent organization affiliated with Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is supported by public funding and private donations, and works to enhance Korea’s image and global reputation by promoting academic and cultural exchange programs.
Co-sponsors of the event are the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Loyola Marymount University, the Association for Asian American Studies, the Overseas Koreans Foundation, the Center for Korean American and Korean Studies at Cal State Los Angeles and the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at UC Riverside.

Consortium members are: Edward T. Chang, UC Riverside; Bong Hwan, general manager, City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment; Connie Chung Joe, executive director, Korean American Family Services Center; Jerry Kang, professor of law and Korea Times-Hankook Ilbo Chair in Korean American Studies, UCLA; Barbara Kim, professor of Asian and Asian American studies, CSU Long Beach; Do Kim, board president, K.W. Lee Center for Leadership; Hyojoung Kim, director and professor, Center for Korean and Korean American Studies, Cal State Los Angeles; Edward J.W. Park, professor and director of the Asian Pacific Studies Program, Loyola Marymount University; Kyeyoung Park, professor of anthropology and Asian American studies, UCLA; Jung-Sun Park, professor of the Asian Pacific Studies Program, CSU Dominguez Hills; Johng Ho Song, executive director, Koreatown Youth and Community Center; David K. Yoo, professor and director, Asian American Studies Center at UCLA; Alexandra Suh, executive director, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance; Grace Yoo, executive director, Korean American Coalition; and Dae Joong Yoon, executive director, Korean Resource Center.

Conference Schedule of Events

9:00 a.m.

9:45 a.m.
Opening Remarks: Angela Oh

10 a.m.
Slideshow: Images: 4.29 Photojournalists
Hyungwon Kang, Los Angeles Times

10:30 a.m. – Noon
Session I: Perspectives: Tales from the Frontline, First Person Perspectives
Moderated by Nadia Kim, LMU
K. Connie Kang, Los Angeles Times; Edward T. Chang, Director, YOK Center for Korean American Studies, UC Riverside; Emile Mack, Chief Deputy, Los Angeles Fire Department; Carol Park, Journalist and Business Owner

Performance by Artist Skim; YOK Documentary on LA Riots Screening; Photo Exhibit

1:00 p.m.
Session II: Transformations: Where is our Community Today?
Moderated by Kyeyoung Park, Anthropology and Asian American Studies, UCLA
Reverend Eric P. Lee, President/CEO, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California; Alexandra Suh, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance; Martha Arevalo, Interim Executive Director of CARECEN; Do Kim, The K.W. Lee Center for Leadership

2:30 p.m.
Coffee Break

2:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Session III: Looking Ahead: A Roundtable Discussion
Moderated by Jerry Kang, UCLA Law, Asian American Studies (by courtesy)
David Cho, Dream Act; Victor Viesca, Cal State LA; Kyung Koo Han, Seoul National University; BongHwan Kim, General Manager, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, City of Los Angeles; Susan Anderson, Curator, Collecting LA, UCLA Library Special Collections; Grace Yoo, Executive Director, Korean American Coalition; Marcia Choo, former Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center

4:15 p.m. Closing Reflections
K.W. Lee

4:30 p.m.
Closing Remarks
Jerry Kang

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Bettye Miller
University Of California, Riverside
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