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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

March 19, 2007

Written by C.N.

Tensions Between Koreans and Latinos

In states such as California where there are large numbers of both Latinos and Asian Americans, it is inevitable that these two groups are going to have more and closer interactions with each other. The results of such interactions can be positive or they can be negative. As New American Media reports, recent interactions between Latinos and Koreans in the Los Angeles area unfortunately seem to be fraught with more negativity than positivity:

In clubs, schools and the work place Koreans and Latinos are increasingly sharing the same spaces, and yet there is little interaction between them. One public high school teacher here noted that his Korean and Latino students have “learned from their relatives to mutually ignore each other.”

As the two communities continue to grow they are becoming more dependent economically on one another. In major cities across the U.S. it is now common to find Korean-owned establishments employing predominantly Latino workers. While this opens opportunities for cultural exchange it also often leads to serious, sometimes violent, misunderstandings. . . .

Tensions between the two groups have been growing for several years. There has been a recent spike in court cases involving Korean business owners and their Latino employees . According to the New York-based National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, Latino immigrant workers filed a lawsuit against the Food Bazaar, a Korean supermarket chain for $1.5 million in unpaid wages. . . .

One story that caught the attention of both communities was the killing of a Korean man in late January by his Latino employee after his boss apparently criticized him for not working hard enough. The incident raised fears among Koreans, who are concerned over a repeat of the deadly Los Angeles riots of 1992, in which African Americans, angered by perceived racism from Korean storeowners, burned and looted Korea- owned establishments. This time, they say any riots that break out could be between Koreans and Latinos.

It is indeed a shame that two groups of people who share many historical and cultural elements in common don’t take the time to learn more about each other and instead, rely on stereotypes and eventually get sucked into the institutional mechanisms of racism and end up taking their frustrations out on each other.

As the article mentioned, there are indeed similarities with the kinds of tensions that existed between Blacks and Koreans back in the early 1990s that helped to spark the Los Angeles Riots in 1992. However, I am optimistic that things will not get that bad this time around because unlike the situation that existed in 1992, there are now many community organizations — particular ones that serve the Korean population — that have the opportunity to take proactive action to lessen tensions and promote more understanding.

The other thing that I hope is different nowadays is that hopefully the political leaders of Los Angeles will also take proactive steps to facilitate dialog between the Latino and Korean communities before such negative incidents and tensions get out of hand. In other words, hopefully all sides involved will have learned their lessons from 1992.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Tensions Between Koreans and Latinos" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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