Ethnographic Interviews


The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were the worst civil disturbance in America. It uncovered the deepening of cultural and class divisions in the US. The concepts of racism and tribalism are extremely different and unfamiliar ideologies to most of the people who came from a harmonized background. The1992 Los Angeles riots exposed a vast cultural gap between the immigrants in America. In the state of conflict-ridden racial politics, Korean Americans had to rethink their ethnicity and survival.

The riots made Korean Americans realize that they had to adjust their way of thinking and behavior so as to survive in a multiethnic society. Working on community based programs enhanced the peaceful co existence with people of different cultural backgrounds. However, Korean Americans realized that because they originated from a homogeneous society they were reluctant to live in a metropolitan area.

Ethnographic Interviews Findings

This chapter draws on the documented interviews with two representatives of a so-called group of Korean-Black-Latino Americans. Since there has been little research about the relationship between these groups in the new millennium, there were a lot of speculations on the inter-racial relations, especially, due to the riots. Through analyses of personally held interviews with the two representatives of different groups, the idea of this chapter is to demystify a misconception about relations between these groups as full of resentment, hostility and prejudice. Based on the personal experience through interview, the analysis in this chapter will discuss factors that contributed to the riots, their positive and negative impacts followed with recommendations, based on the personal findings.

Factors that Contributed to the Riots

Quite a number of factors enhanced the deteriorating conditions for residents of South Central Los Angeles. Decentralization of resources led to the rise of neo-conservatism, discontent with law enforcement and judicial system, and the influx of new Latino immigrants and Asian merchants.

Social -Cultural Factors

Misunderstanding between the two groups due to cultural differences played a vital role in fueling the rising confrontations. African American customers complained that Korean merchants were rude and observed that the merchants lacked dependable communication skills. Lack of knowledge and cultural misunderstandings contributed to tensions. The major differences in cultural patterns that existed served as the main barriers that hindered social interaction and generational cooperation.

Clash of Ideologies

The two groups have varied perceptions about America. These confrontations originate from different past, economic and ideological experiences. African Americans had to understand and practice their rights by owing to their past persecution and brutality; they could not tolerate attacks on their dignity. The "immigrant view" emphasizes that personal, social and economic upward mobility achievement is through regulation, hard-work, training and willingness to work for long hours.

Discontent with law enforcement and judicial system

Police brutality crisis has been a key concern for African Americans. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) characterized through cruel treatment done to African American residents. This complains were common among the African American race as they experienced multiple cases of mistreatment and insults from the officers.

The police animosity towards African American and Latino youths arose due to lack of confidence, thus contributing to the 1992 riots in the city. Political interference involving corruption engaged favoritism towards a certain race causing inferiority complex in the inferior race. This resulted in prejudice and class differences thus igniting violence.

The media

The media made a significant contribution by aggravating the situation. The reports that they made were full of prejudice. The media did exaggerate the situation by giving negative image towards a certain race thus promoting violence during the 1990s.

Positive Impacts

Cultural similarities and mutual benefits deriving from the employer-employee relationship strengthen the bond of the Korean merchants with Latino employees, thus informally helping them with sponsoring their applications for green cards.

Korean cultural organizations expanded their services to Latino immigrant workers and Latino children. They protected Latino workers from exploitation by Korean merchants. This greatly contributed to establishing cultural, social, and organizational linkages between the two communities.

The new generation witnessed the riots and became inspired to create a new definition of Korean American cultural identity which activated re-ignition. Korean Americans offspring had to practice their responsibility of creating a bridge between the unvoiced and unrepresented Korean immigrants and the conventional political arena. With time, the Korean businesses have started contributing to African American public and charitable organizations. It helped to build and strengthen the two groups through better understanding and, communicating together to rebuild the Korean American community.

The riots raised Korean American political awareness and involvement. They also increased ethnic awareness and solidarity in the Korean American community. This raised multiethnic consciousness and alliance structure as a tactic to seek better enclosure in a diverse America.

Negative Impacts

There was negligence of the African American race thus no hope for a better future in the 1990s. Deindustrialization and repositioning of American firms has had a negative impact on African American community.  Many American corporations have closed the companies in the United States moving elsewhere, where there was cheaper labor allowing for lower production costs.  This had led to the displacement and unemployment of African American workers.

The shutting down of industries led to loss of jobs in this community, and in thus to frustrations of workers, who were not able to find full-time jobs and, therefore, were unable to support their families. It caused fear, distrust and hopelessness among the immigrants.


Plan changes in the LAPD to create a positive relationship with Los Angeles’s diverse communities. Political participation empowerment became a distinct, substantial and primary target for Korean Americans to take appropriate measures. Both groups need to be educated about the others cultural heritage so that they can appreciate the existence of cultural differences.

Raise the public awareness through campaigns and, come up with programs that address the problems by acts of civil rights through Affirmative action strategies: adoption of different strategies by the Korean American community in order to accomplish the goal of political empowerment. Members of the community have an obligation of formalizing and establishing local, national networks and institutions in order to be economically and politically empowered.

Create civil rights organizations within the Korean American community. This will help the community to deal with controversial issues that affect the immigrant. Provide emotional and financial support to the younger immigrant generation in order to help them in community activism. Promote coexistence through the facilitation of dialogue and mutual understanding between the two communities. Churches act as most influential and powerful institutions, and should be given the duty to meet the needs of the constituencies that they serve. They help in the provision of emotional and psychological healing.


Los Angeles still lacks a solid plan to address the fundamental urban needs undermined by the economic and demographic reformation during the past two decades. The absence of visions, plans, resources and power caused substantial challenges for the city as it tries to re-establish its economic base and human relations between its multi cultural communities. The recovery process from the 1992 Los Angeles riots is still underway as communities struggle to recover from the devastation of the riots and build community safety. Many discussions and meetings took place to come up with the solution and find the way forward about the future.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 not only augmented ethnic solidarity among Korean Americans, but also raised multiethnic understanding. The community learned many valuable lessons from the riots. The lessons from the riots were unfruitful to eradicate prejudice as a measure to curb the recurrence of a similar situation.

This demands an urgent establishment of local and national networks and institutions in order to bring economical and political empowerment. Both groups face the responsibility of adequately representing the interests of each other so as to overcome the main challenges and obstacles that they are facing. As time goes by, the multiethnic community relation has significantly improved.

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