Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Koreans in Los Angeles Still Reaping Riot Results More Than a Third of 2,500 Korean-Owned Businesses Remain Closed. the Promise of Lasting Ethnic Understanding Has Foundered

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Koreans in Los Angeles Still Reaping Riot Results More Than a Third of 2,500 Korean-Owned Businesses Remain Closed. the Promise of Lasting Ethnic Understanding Has Foundered

Article excerpt

TWO years after the worst riots in United States history made them symbols of America's troubled race relations, the world's largest Korean population outside Seoul (about 300,000) is struggling with a sense of diminished prospects on several fronts.

More than a third of 2,500 Korean-owned businesses damaged or destroyed in the Los Angeles riots remain closed. The promise of lasting, cross-cultural understanding, heralded by local leaders in the riots' aftermath, has foundered. Korean entrepreneurs who have spent decades cultivating neighborhood groceries find themselves battling new regulations that threaten their stores.

"In America's quintessentially diverse city, our overall situation is worse than before the riots," says Jerry Yu, executive director of the Korean American Coalition, a political advocacy group.

"On the surface, there is a state of relative calm," adds C. J. Lee, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "But the fundamental, underlying problems of interracial tension have not been addressed."

Businesses owned by Korean-Americans were socked with an estimated $400 million in damages during the riots - 40 percent of the riots' $1 billion damage total. A general consensus among police and other officials was that many Korean businesses were targeted as symbols of success by looters and arsonists that swarmed the area following not-guilty verdicts in the first Rodney King beating trial.

Rising crime rates, general fears of unrest in the area, and the sluggish California economy have all contributed to the undermining of efforts to revitalize Koreatown. A 1993 study by Dun & Bradstreet indicated that 40 percent of businesses in the Korean enclave shut down permanently within six months. Too many not insured

Major problems included scores of business owners who were underinsured or totally uninsured. The inability to qualify for or obtain loans to rebuild has also vexed Korean American business owners. Complaints that federal and state officials spoke supportively but have failed to follow through also abound.

According to one study, more damaged buildings have been rebuilt or repaired in Koreatown than in other damaged areas - 82 percent in Koreatown versus 50 percent citywide. But many of the refurbished buildings are empty because of reduced sales in California's poor business climate.

"In many cases, Koreans ran businesses in buildings owned by others," says Craig Coleman, executive director of the Korea Society, a California-based group for US/Korea exchange. …

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