Koreatown loses redistricting battle, but gains new political drive

Koreatown residents sit in an L.A. CIty Counil hearing on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Koreatown residents sit in an L.A. CIty Counil hearing on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.
Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

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Earlier this week the Los Angeles City Council approved new district maps. Many in Koreatown were not happy with it, but immigrants have taken notice of the way those opponents have mobilized.

For most of his life, Do Kim has lived in Koreatown. He says he’s never witnessed the degree of activism he’s seen in recent weeks.

“Korean-Americans have been packing all of these City Council meetings and Commissioners meetings," according to Kim. "There are only very few occasions in which I’ve seen Koreans come out en masse.”

At the last L.A. City Hall hearing on redistricting, dozens of young and old Korean-Americans wore yellow T-shirts that read “I Love K-town.” They spoke candidly to city officials and compared their demand for a single district to a civil rights struggle.

Kim is a civil rights attorney. He’s also president of the K.W. Center for Leadership, a nonprofit organization that works with young Korean-Americans. Kim recalls that the 1992 riots in South L.A. and Koreatown caught his parents’ generation off guard.

Many Korean shop owners felt wronged by the police and by city officials back then, but his generation, he says, has learned from the riots and their aftermath.

“One of the lessons that we learned as a community from the civil unrest is that we have to become more political and we have to become more active," according to Kim. "I think we can definitely learn from the civil rights movement and the African-American community in terms of mobilizing ordinary people.”

During college, Kim majored in African-American studies. He’s also worked with the NAACP and was part of the Black-Korean Alliance, a group formed in 1991 to encourage business partnerships between the two ethnic groups.

Kim says the redistricting battle has reignited Korean civic participation like nothing else in recent years.

Newly-mobilized activists in Koreatown say they have no recourse but to file a lawsuit against the new L.A. City Council district maps.