(Excerpt from BLUE DREAMS by Nancy Abelmann and John Lie, pp.120-121. Copyright 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used by permission of Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.)
Lim, whom we encountered in Chapter 2, arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. In South Korea, he had amassed a vast fortune. Using his facility with English and Japanese to deal with U.S. and Japanese companies, he had enough money by the late 1970s to buy homes in Los Angeles, Honolulu and Tokyo in addition to his domicile in Seoul. His children were schooled in the United States, and he continues to live in Los Angeles part of the year. His favorite Korean restaurant is in Beverly Hills; even before the riots, he hardly ever went to Koreatown.
Park studied architecture at a prestigious South Korean university. Because his wife was a nurse, the couple received an occupational preference visa to emigrate to the United States in the late 1970s. Park landed a job with an American architectural firm where he stayed until 1990, when he decided to open an independent firm in Koreatown. He earned enough with his wife, who continued to work as a nurse in a large hospital, to own a spacious suburban home and maintain an upper-middle-class lifestyle. Although he had been satisfied with his iniital job, he seized an opportunity to achieve autonomy by meeting a growing demand in the Korean American community. Because his office is now in Koreatown, he has become more interested in Korean American affairs, although he claims to know very little about Korean American businesses or about the Korean American community in Los Angeles. Yet he considers himself a "secondary victim" of the riots; in post-riot Koreatown, the optimism to build has waned. At the time of our interview, his uncle's family was staying at his home. They were en route to Seoul from their "failed" attempts at immigrant life in Argentina and the United States. The uncle said: "It was bad in Argentina but it looks worse here."
After graduating from Seoul National University, Yun came to the United States in the late 1970s intending to earn higher degress in mathematics. He abandoned his plan for graduate study, however, because he needed to earn a living to support his wife and child. "I'm a failure of sorts," he said was we talked in his living room in a posh suburb. He joined one of his relatives in running a small store selling trinkets. "It is very embarrassing but there is an expression here: `What you do depends on who picks you up at the airport.' I, too, just followed my relative into the same business." Drawing on personal and family savings and encouraged by his friends, he opened his own store and was then able to sell it and become a wholesaler by the late 1980s.
We met Pae at a rally of workers seeking compensation for riot-related damage. He initially arrived in Houston in the late 1970s and found work at a Korean restrauarant. "There were relatively few Koreans in Houston at the time, so they were happy to hire me." Eventually, he made his way to Los Angeles and worked at a variety of jobs. He opened a stall in an outdoor swap meet but abandoned it when it failed to generate adequate income. Unable to amass enough capital to open his own store, he worked as a manager of a Korean American liquor store in South Central, overseeing African American and Latino workers. After the store was destroyed during the L.A. riots, he became unemployed and worries whether his family will be able to sustain itself.