On Anniversary of LA Riots, Gulf Remains Between Blacks, Koreans

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LOS ANGELES--April 29 marks 19 years since the eruption of the Los Angeles riots, which broke out following the acquittal of four white police officers caught on videotape beating an African-American male. The event is seared into the memory of the Korean-American community, many of whose members were caught up in the violence as they attempted to protect Korean-owned businesses in the city's Korea Town. Some of the riot's most iconic images in fact depict armed Koreans citizens firing in the direction of rioters amid widespread looting.

To commemorate the anniversary, Korea Daily in Oakland has carried a report on the current state of relations between the Korean, Latino and black communities. According to the report, 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, relations between Koreans and Latinos have grown considerable in recent years, according to the report, particularly in the economic sphere. 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.

Korean-American activists say 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 both in L.A. and the Bay Area lie in close proximity to heavily African-American neighborhoods. Despite this, an overwhelming majority of Korean businesses fail to hire from within the black community, a trend that was cited as a factor in the 1992 riots and in lingering tensions between the two groups today.

According to Korea Daily, a large number of Koreans say they feel a sense of shared cultural traits with Hispanics, 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."