March 20, 2005
Written by C.N.
Another sign of the changing demographic times — as more and more Koreans are locating in the Washington D.C./northern Virginia metropolitan area, they and their businesses are increasingly making their presence known. Case in point — as this Washington Post article describes, Koreans are increasingly dominating the business district of Annandale, Virginia (just west of Alexandria). In fact, the city’s downtown area is frequently but unofficially referred to as Koreatown. However, several of the long time (that is, White) residents have other ideas:
The term Koreatown offends some members of the area’s civic associations who are mostly non-Asian and who protest whenever their hometown is referred to as a Korean enclave, especially because relatively few Koreans live there. . . Yet many Koreans who work in the Village Centre and who run more than half its businesses said they feel slighted by such comments and ask: Why shouldn’t the area be known as Koreatown?
After all, many Korean business owners said, the downtown was faltering before they came along. Today, it is thriving. . . “I understand why [non-Koreans] don’t like that. I just hope they understand what Koreans have done for Annandale,” said Young Kim, president of the Korean American Association of Greater Washington. . .
The naming issue that divides the Korean retail community and its predominantly white retail counterpart illustrates the tensions that have developed across the region as large-scale immigration transforms neighborhoods into ethnic enclaves. Strained relations are well-documented along residential streets, where immigrants have moved into neighborhoods.
The article goes on to describe that many Korean business owners in Annandale are not shy to say that because of the large population of Koreans in the metro area (about 70,000), they do not need to rely on non-Korean customers to stay in business and therefore, they have no need to cater to non-Korean customers. Also, many Korean owners refuse to participate in the city’s Chamber of Commerce, causing further misunderstandings and tensions.
At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, it seems to me that both sides need to be a little more understanding of the other. On the one hand, the more established business community (i.e., Whites) can probably show a little more appreciation to the contribution that Korean businesses are making to the city’s economy and culture. And if they want more Koreans to participate in their Chamber activities, perhaps they can take the initiative to come to the Korean businesses directly instead of waiting for the Koreans to come to them.
On the other hand (and as one Korean owner stated at the end of the article), it is not constructive for Korean owners to automatically dismiss non-Koreans as unimportant. They may have enough business from Koreans to stay profitable, but they need to understand that they do not live and work in their own private utopia. In fact, it is this kind of arrogant and isolationist attitude that contributed to interracial tensions which eventually exploded against Koreans in the L.A. riots.
Living in a multicultural society means valuing everyone’s unique histories, characteristics, and experiences. Koreans business owners in Annandale can’t expect everyone else to treat them with respect if they don’t show the same kind of reciprocity as well.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Koreatown in Northern Virginia" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/03/koreatown-in-northern-virginia/> ().
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