Koreatown hit hard in riots, rebuilds and grows


A Korean-American defends his jewelry store from looters. So does a fellow businessman. In the distance on this first full day of the riots there are gunshots in the air.

Koreatown was one of the hardest-hit areas in the riots, with widespread burning and looting.

Adding to the tension between African-Americans and Korean-Americans was the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by 51-year-old grocer Soon Ja Du only two weeks after the Rodney King beating. Many people felt it underscored the resentment felt toward Korean-American shop owners by other groups.

More than 2,000 Korean families were affected, according to the Korean American Coalition. And nearly half the total dollar loss incurred during the riots was to Korean-American-owned businesses.

John Chung's parents lost their market and home. Chung eventually opened up restaurants and succeeded in supporting his family. He now owns the Novel Café and several others.

"I woke up from that incident," said Chung. "At the time all I did is go to school."

Imperial Cleaners was threatened with destruction but was protected by armed business people.

Saehan Bank had employees on the roof with rifles and shotguns. Stores across the street were destroyed, but the bank was spared.

In 1992, a mall was destroyed. Every building was looted and it burned to the ground. It has since been rebuilt. It's constantly renewed as much of Koreatown and many of the burned stores have been renewed.

But it wasn't just Korean-Americans whose businesses were targeted.

Kami Emein is a marketing officer at the bank. He had only recently moved to Los Angeles to escape the violence in Iran when he watched the violence erupt in his adoptive country.

And some people, like Cisco Pinedo, decided to stay after his store was destroyed. He rebuilt his Cisco Brothers Furniture south of Koreatown, where he grew up.

"I went to school in this neighborhood," said Pinedo. "I've been part of this community for so long that I was never afraid, and I felt like also that was the time when we needed to keep businesses in this neighborhood."

Still, while some were part of the "Rebuild L.A." movement, others decided not to.

"My parents were so discouraged they couldn't stand up anymore," said Chung. "I'm the one who had to stand up and support my family."

Those who did stay say life after the riots brought something positive.

"I do think that deep inside of us everybody is participating to build a better community in this part of town," said Pinedo.

"I see a big improvement and it's good for everybody," said Emein.

Out of the0 fear and violence 20 years ago, there is hope today that history won't be repeated.

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