On the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots, a gulf remains between blacks, Koreans.

April 29 (or “sai-i-gu” to Korean Americans) marks 20 years since the eruption of the Los Angeles Riots, which broke out following the acquittal of four white police officers caught on videotape beating African American Rodney King. The event is seared into the memory of many Korean Americans who were impacted by the violence as they worked to protect Korean-owned businesses in Los Angeles’ Korea Town. As LA-based Korea Daily reported in an anniversary article, “Some of the riot’s most iconic images in fact depict armed Koreans citizens firing in the direction of rioters amid widespread looting.”

Graph designed by KoreAm magazine and is reprinted with permission.
Graph designed by KoreAm magazine and is reprinted with permission.

In light of this year’s 20th anniversary, a discussion has risen on the current state of relations between the Korean, Latino and black communities. A recent incident that sparked debate comes out of Dallas, where an altercation between an African American customer and Korean American business owner erupted into protests from the black community to shut the business down.

According to a 2011 report conducted by Korea Daily, “despite efforts following the riots to build solidarity between blacks and Koreans, the gulf between the two communities remains as wide as it was two decades ago.” Meanwhile, the report suggested relations between Koreans and Latinos have grown considerable in recent years. “A large number of Korean-owned businesses now rely on labor from within the Latino community, while a growing number of Koreans and Latinos are beginning to learn one another’s language,” suggested the report.

Korean American activists said the riots were a catalyst toward greater political participation among Koreans in the U.S., though they add that the community was split between those who favored fostering greater inter-ethnic solidarity and those who focused on economic interests alone. Korean communities in L.A. and other parts of the country lie in close proximity to heavily African American neighborhoods. Despite this, according to the Korea Daily report, an overwhelming majority of Korean businesses fail to hire from within the black community or contribute to it, a trend that was cited as a factor in the 1992 riots and in lingering tensions between the two groups today.

A large number of Koreans said they feel a sense of shared cultural traits with Hispanics, reported the paper, whether it be the emphasis on family or the ingrained work ethic. One restaurant owner told the paper that after his customers leave, he often spends time with his Latino employees. “I feel as if they are part of my family,” he said. “I trust them to take care of the business even in difficult times.”

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