Twenty Years after “Sa-i-gu” – Korean Americans Look Back at the LA Riots
Twenty years ago this week, Lee Junghui, mourning the loss of her only
son during the LA riots, uttered, “It’s not an individual who killed
my son. Something bigger has drastically gone wrong.” After the
acquittal verdict in the trial of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney
King, South Central and Koreatown Los Angeles went up in flames in a
riot that lasted five days, left fifty-four dead, thousands injured,
and $1 billion in property damage. What went wrong? What fueled
the discontent in South Central LA that erupted into such destructive
rage after the King verdict? Why did Koreatown burn? How did the
riots impact those who lived through it? We speak with three
generations of Korean American women – renowned filmmaker Dai-sil Kim
Gibson, Koreatown organizer Alexandra Suh, and writer Kai Ma - who
share their memories of the riots.
Dai Sil Kim-Gibson was born in northern Korea when it was under
Japanese colonial rule, and came to the United States in 1962. She
received her Ph. D. in religion from Boston University, and taught at
Mount Holyoke College. She was the senior program officer at the
National Endowment for the Humanities and director of the media
program of the New York State Council on the Arts. She became a
filmmaker in 1988, and produced an array of award-winning films,
including Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women and Wet Sand: Voices
Alexandra Suh is the Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant
Workers Alliance (KIWA) in Los Angeles. She serves on the steering
committee of Nanum Corean Cultural School. She received her Ph.D. from
Columbia University and until 2009, was a professor at Scripps
College, specializing in American literature and culture, Asian
American Studies, and cultural theory. She continues to teach
occasionally in Asian American Studies and ecological justice at the
Claremont Colleges. She is a former steering committee member of the
Alliance for Scholars Concerned About Korea.
Kai Ma is the managing editor at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop
and editor of Open City: Mapping Urban Asian America. She is the
former editor-in-chief of KoreAm. Her work has appeared in Nerve, The
Daily Beast, New York magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, and Newsday.
In 2009, she was awarded the national New America Media Award for
“Best In-Depth and Investigative Reporting” for her feature story on
California’s gay marriage ban (Prop 8) and the Korean American vote.
She is the author of Love Lost on the 405, a short film that premiered
in "RETHINK LA: Perspectives on a Future City,” a 2011 exhibit at the
Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles.
General Strike! May Day, Past and Present
The first May Day actions were organized by the Eight Hour-Day Movement in 1886, when more than 300,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs in solidarity with 120,000 laborers striking on behalf of an eight-hour workday. This year's May Day is also the day that the Occupy Wall Street movement will be kicking off again after a very brief winter hibernation. The movement is calling for a nationwide general strike, and actions have been planned in more than a hundred different US cities. We look at May Day, Past and Present, and what it means for Asian American and immigrant communities. We talk to Esther Wang, Director of CAAAV's Chinatown Tenant's Union, about their "Occupy the Rent Guidelines Board" May Day Action, and the 99% Spring; and Manissa Mahawaral, OWS activist, about May Day's Free University.
Esther Wang is the Director of CAAAV’s Chinatown Tenant’s Union.
Manissa Mahawaral is an Occupy Wall Street activist, and a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center.
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