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Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival

Korean Greengrocers in New York City

Pyong Gap Min

Publication Year: 2011

Generations of immigrants have relied on small family businesses in their pursuit of the American dream. This entrepreneurial tradition remains highly visible among Korean immigrants in New York City, who have carved out a thriving business niche for themselves operating many of the city’s small grocery stores and produce markets. But this success has come at a price, leading to dramatic, highly publicized conflicts between Koreans and other ethnic groups. In Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival, Pyong Gap Min takes Korean produce retailers as a case study to explore how involvement in ethnic businesses—especially where it collides with the economic interests of other ethnic groups—powerfully shapes the social, cultural, and economic unity of immigrant groups. Korean produce merchants, caught between white distributors, black customers, Hispanic employees, and assertive labor unions, provide a unique opportunity to study the formation of group solidarity in the face of inter-group conflicts. Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival draws on census and survey data, interviews with community leaders and merchants, and a review of ethnic newspaper articles to trace the growth and evolution of Korean collective action in response to challenges produce merchants received from both white suppliers and black customers. When Korean produce merchants first attempted to gain a foothold in the city’s economy, they encountered pervasive discrimination from white wholesale suppliers at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. In response, Korean merchants formed the Korean Produce Association (KPA), a business organization that gradually evolved into a powerful engine for promoting Korean interests. The KPA used boycotts, pickets, and group purchasing to effect enduring improvements in supplier-merchant relations. Pyong Gap Min returns to the racially charged events surrounding black boycotts of Korean stores in the 1990s, which were fueled by frustration among African Americans at a perceived economic invasion of their neighborhoods. The Korean community responded with rallies, political negotiations, and publicity campaigns of their own. The disappearance of such disputes in recent years has been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in Korean collective action, suggesting that ethnic unity is not inevitable but rather emerges, often as a form of self-defense, under certain contentious conditions. Solidarity, Min argues, is situational. This important new book charts a novel course in immigrant research by demonstrating how business conflicts can give rise to demonstrations of group solidarity. Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival is at once a sophisticated empirical analysis and a riveting collection of stories—about immigration, race, work, and the American dream.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title, Copyright Page

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pp. v

About the Author

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pp. ix-xi

Many people and organizations assisted me in a number of ways in collecting and analyzing data and writing this manuscript, and I would like to acknowledge the roles they played in completing this book project. First of all, I owe many...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-11

When members of a particular immigrant group concentrate in a particular trade, depend heavily on nonethnic suppliers, and serve exclusively nonethnic customers, they usually have a high level of business-related conflicts...

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2. Immigration, Settlement Patterns, and Backgrounds

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pp. 12-27

This chapter describes Korean immigrants in New York City in terms of their immigration and settlement patterns and socioeconomic and religious backgrounds—the context for the business-related intergroup conflicts and reactive solidarity...

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3. Concentration in Retail and Service Businesses

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pp. 28-47

Here I outline background information about Korean businesses in New York, specifically, the high self-employment among immigrants, changes over time in that rate, the clustering of Korean businesses in particular industrial categories...

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4. Conflicts and Ethnic Collective Action

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pp. 48-67

Korean-owned produce stores are similar to Korean-owned grocery stores in that both sell food-related items. Korean greengrocers, however, were subject to more discrimination and greater physical violence by suppliers because...

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5. Black Boycotts and Reactive Solidarity [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 68-96

The Korean Produce Association (KPA) was more concerned with black boycotts than any other Korean trade association in New York City, primarily because produce stores were targets of five of the seven long-term boycotts...

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6. Latino Conflicts and Reactive Solidarity

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pp. 97-118

Korean immigrant merchants have depended heavily on Latino employees and prefer them, both documented and undocumented, to African American workers mainly because they are cheap and reliable. This means that, like other business...

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7. KPA Activities and Services

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pp. 119-146

The Korean Produce Association (KPA) was established as a friendship and mutual aid organization (Sangjohe) among Korean greengrocers. It has organized many activities to facilitate fellowship and friendship networks among...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 147-154

Because Korean immigrant merchants have used ethnic collective action mainly through their trade associations, it is effective for a systematic examination to focus on a particular association. As shown throughout this volume...


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pp. 155-168


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pp. 169-184


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pp. 185-193

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447188
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871546418

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • New York (N.Y.) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Korean Americans -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Korean American businesspeople -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Korean American business enterprises -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Emigration and immigration.
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