L.A. minorities meshing toward tomorrow
Haya El Nasser
LOS ANGELES - Six months after racial tensions turned the USA's second-
largest city into a war zone, the city's ethnic patchwork shows glimmers of unity.
``People are ready to make it heal rather than pointing fingers at each other,'' says
Robert Park, vice president of the Korean-American Coalition.
The worst urban rioting in the nation's history followed the acquittal of white
police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King - an act caught on
videotape. Besides tensions between blacks and whites, the April 29 riots
highlighted growing strife among Hispanic, Asian and African-American
Now, signs are everywhere that minorities are organizing to gain some control -
often outside of the city's traditional halls of power:
- Tuesday, a local arts group joined forces with the Korean Youth Center to
promote inter-cultural understanding among inner-city youth. Sixty-five black,
Korean-American and Hispanic kids will participate in a theater arts program.
``Young people will be able to break down the fears of each other,'' says Ira
McAliley, a 28-year-old dancer with Living Literature-Colors United.
Organizers say the partnership could help soothe growing racial tension on high
school campuses. Fights have recently broken out between black and Hispanic
students over issues as trivial as musical tastes.
- The Chinese Daily News and La Opinion recently hosted a meeting of New
Vision - a regional business council that promotes minority business
empowerment as the key to improving the economy.
Asian bankers and small-business owners reached out to Hispanics by offering
financing of joint business ventures.
``Now, it's like a school dance: The boys on one side; the girls on the other. And
they don't dance,'' says Glenn Yee, president of Eastern International Bank.
New Vision is planning similar meetings involving Asian, black, Hispanic and
- Ten Korean groups have joined forces through the new Korean-American
Inter-Agency Council. Two-thirds of all Korean businesses in Los Angeles
County were damaged in the riots, and Koreans are fed up with lack of
government assistance to riot victims.
``Nobody helps us,'' retired businessman Thomas Park says. ``We need leaders.''
The coalition of Korean churches and community groups met with the Small
Business Administration and won a deadline extension on filing for riot aid. And
it's using volunteers to call each of the 2,300 riot-damaged Korean businesses to
help them land financial aid.
- Minority factions have joined forces in a youth jobs program. For example, a
Central American teen-ager could be working at the Urban League, but the
Central American Refugee Center covers the cost. A young Asian could be
working for a Spanish-language TV station while the Asian group picks up the
- Korean businesses that had been clamoring for better police protection won a
small victory this fall: Two Los Angeles Police foot patrols.
- About 20 black ministers and eight black students boarded planes to Seoul,
South Korea, last month, courtesy of the Korean Evangelical Fellowship.
``That can help the community understand Korean-Americans better,'' Robert
Park says. ``Nobody can guarantee that this will be successful but at least people
`I don't want to blame my countrymen, but they didn't treat the blacks with any
respect,'' says Paul Hwang Po, owner of a stationery store in Koreatown. ``We've
seen what can happen, and we don't want that to happen again.''
But sharing is not always easy. Power battles often pit one minority against
And even within each group, there are special interests: Mexican- Americans;
Central Americans; Chinese; Koreans; Vietnamese; Japanese.
U.S. Rep.-elect Lucille Roybal-Allard knows this first-hand. She's a
Mexican-Ameri- can representing many corners of Los Angeles' ethnic mosaic:
Central Americans, Koreans, Japanese and Chinese.
``I'm seeing a tremendous amount of fear and distrust while at the same time a
willingness to reach out and build the coalitions and trust necessary to bring the
communities together,'' she says.
Maria Contreras-Sweet, vice president of 7Up and RC Bottling Co. and a
member of Rebuild L.A., recently was asked to join the Urban League board.
She couldn't because of her busy schedule. But ``that gesture in of itself was
significant,'' she says.
``If there's a hole in the boat, the hole can be at your end of the boat or mine, but
guess what? The whole boat can go down. We're all in the boat of Los Angeles.
If there's a hole in one part of the city, we all need to mend the hole.''
Contributing: Sally Ann Stewart, Jonathan T. Lovitt .
CUTLINE:NEWS CONFERENCE: Ira McAliley, center, Tuesday discusses an
ethnic- unity arts program with Kingston DuCoeur, of Colors United, and
Inhwan Kim of Asian radio station KAZN.
PHOTO;b/w,Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY