In October, 1987, relations between Japanese- and Korean-American students at Gardena High School were tense. During a two-month period, five fights broke out on campus between the two groups, and school officials alerted local police to be on call in case the violence escalated.
Since then, hostilities have cooled, and faculty and students say the two groups are working to preserve harmony.
Two Korean-American students and a Japanese-American student recently talked to Times staff writer Adrianne Goodman about relations between the two groups. Here are excerpts from the discussion:
Wayne Nouchi, 18, is a second-generation Japanese-American whose family settled first in Hawaii and later moved to Gardena:
"There haven't been many fights this year at Gardena. There still are (fights), but it has to do with individuals. It's not that they're fighting because of racism. In the past, like, somebody'd give somebody a dirty look or something, and then they'd get into it, two people, right? Japanese and Korean. They'd get into it, and they would get their friends (involved).
"In the past I have (had fights with Korean-American students), but not right now. . . . For me (it started because of) people that I knew, older groups. They'd say, 'You're going to let them push you around like that?' You think to yourself, 'No, I don't want them to push me around like that.' So you go over there and cause trouble.
"All the people I hang around with now, most of them are Japanese, but there's a lot of white people, black people, Mexicans, Koreans. I have a lot of those kinds of friends, too. It's not like prejudice against one group. It's not like it's all Japanese, and we can't have anybody else. It's not like that. It's pretty mixed. We stay together during lunch and stuff.
"Right now, the Japanese are trying to accept the Koreans. In the past, Japanese-Americans used to make fun of newly arrived Japanese. They used to make fun of everybody that wasn't born in America. They would call them f.o.b.--fresh off the boat. Now they don't make fun of people anymore."
A U.S. resident since 1978, Korean-born Seung Doh, 16, lived in New Jersey before coming to Gardena five years ago:
"When I first came to California, I didn't know Japanese and Koreans had this conflict. Then I started hanging out with Koreans. In the beginning I didn't know why, but a lot of the older Korean students hated Japanese, and I didn't understand why. I saw how sometimes they'd fight. I didn't want to fight, but sometimes they'd force you. They'd say, 'You're chicken' or 'Don't you have any Korean pride?' For Orientals, honor is really big.
"I think one of the reasons it's calmed down is a lot of Koreans have Japanese friends, and a lot of Japanese people have a lot of Korean friends so it's not like one group just hanging around with each other. And so in that way you begin to like each other. . . . If you think about it, the more Americanized you get, the more friends you have of different ethnic groups. In Japan or Korea you hardly see black people or white people so when you come here, you tend to honor those Korean people that are already here. You kind of look up to them. And if they tell you something, you believe them.
"The real reason our parents are really mad with the Japanese is because, if you look at the history, Japan always tried to take control of Korea. At Gardena, we're getting along better. When the younger generation comes from Peary Junior High and other schools and they see there's no more conflict, they start opening up more so they have a better chance. At this school, everybody's mixing together."
Carrie Kim, 18, was born in Korea and moved to Gardena with her family 10 years ago:
"We had a meeting between Koreans and Japanese, and after that it kind of calmed down. I'm also in the Korean Cultural Club, and we set up meetings every Thursday, and we talk about the problems we have between the Koreans and Japanese.
"They just don't get along. Just certain people. I think it has to do with the past, you know, like in olden days Japanese and Koreans fought. Maybe that's kind of bothering (students) because it affected their parents. They just might have a grudge against them.
"Most of the Korean parents in America are too busy working, supporting the family. They really don't talk about the past. Mainly, those people who've just come from Korea. They tend to bring these ideas, saying Koreans really shouldn't get along with Japanese. They're not Americanized yet so they think they should stick together, Koreans should just be by themselves and Japanese by themselves.
"The more you get Americanized, the less you think of different ethnic groups, colors and all that. . . . When you're in Japan, mostly everyone's Japanese, so when you come to America you think all Japanese should stick together. The same with Koreans. It's nothing really prejudiced against other groups. You don't know them, and you're afraid to get to know them. And since you can't speak English, you tend to shy away. So you hang with Korean-Americans or Japanese-Americans, and you learn from them. That's how you get the idea that Koreans and Japanese don't get along. And then later on you realize, it's not true."