- Legacies of Struggle: Conflict and Cooperation in Korean American Politics
Almost two decades after the 1992 civil unrest devastated the enclave community and destroyed the dreams and lives of immigrant business owners and workers, Los Angeles' Koreatown seems to be known best for its glittering nightlife. Receiving less attention is what happened to the Korean American political consciousness "awakened" by or "born" out of the nation's first "multiethnic 'riot'"; Legacies of Struggle examines the evolution of Los Angeles Korean American politics through case studies of two very different community-based service/advocacy organizations, led and staffed by the children of immigrants who came of age as "Koreatown" became more racially and socioeconomically diverse.
Angie Y. Chung refers to these as "bridging organizations," which carry out their missions, programs, and political/advocacy work while negotiating between traditional immigrant "ethnic elite" interests (composed of business owners, church leaders, and Seoul-connected organizations) and mainstream politics and resources. Bridging organizations also craft a sense of community and ethnic political solidarity despite competing interests, limited resources, conflicting political ideologies, and social hierarchies, even as they strive to build alliances with outside (other/pan-Asian, Latino, black, and white) networks, organizations, and communities. Chung—who utilized multiple methodologies and largely draws from in-depth interviews and years of participant observation for this study—provides a lively and intimate portrayal of a heterogeneous community whose members take on such difficult tasks and, in the process, reconceptualize what it means to be Korean, ethnic, political, and American.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I, "Burning Bridges," traces the historical, political, and economic contexts and developments of Koreatown. Chapter 5, [End Page 245] which chronicles the immediate aftermath of the civil unrest, introduces readers to the 1.5/second generation, whose familiarity with mainstream society and the language ability to articulate the issues of Korean immigrants quickly transformed them into public representatives and leaders of the ethnic community, and the alliances and tensions that subsequently rose along cultural, generational, and ideological lines. Chung notes that this was also the first time that these public representatives included a number of women and workers.
Part II, "Building Bridges," presents case studies of two "relatively liberal" organizations: Korean Youth and Community Center (KYCC) and Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates (KIWA). Both have since changed their names to Koreatown Youth and Community Center and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, respectively, to reflect demographic changes. Although they began as small, underfunded, and grassroots organizations, they now represent opposite ends of the spectrum. KYCC is a large nonprofit social service agency that has become a hierarchical, bureaucratic, second-generation-led member of the "elite networks of the Korean American community" that also maintains strong ties with mainstream institutions. KIWA is a much smaller, progressive grassroots advocacy organization whose political vision of social and economic justice for workers often has clashed with the interests of conservative business leaders in the ethnic community. Chung and her informants do not shy away from critiquing political ideologies, organizational structures, and individual practices of these organizations; still, the reader is left with an impression that all participants—the community stakeholders—were very much active and meaningful partners in Chung's detailed research and writing process.
So what of the political consciousness and the sense of ethnic solidarity awakened by the civil unrest? They are salient, fluid, and flexible, and they have adapted to the changing ethnic/geographic compositions and borders of the "community." Solidarity is not without stratification, conflicts, and disagreements. In the chapters "Giving Back to the Community" and "Doing Politics without Politics," readers get a sense of the broad range of ideologies, identities, and aspirations that attract 1.5/second-generation Korean Americans to these organizations. They also come with assumptions; many of her participants contrasted their own Korean identity and behaviors with those of "'typical' Koreatown Koreans" described as elitist, materialistic, less acculturated, sexist, homophobic, ethnocentric, chain-smoking/drinking clubhoppers. However, the process of giving back to the...