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EAST : Asians Must Unite for Clout, Panel Says

April 25, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

Unity among Asian-Americans as a means of gaining political clout and spurring social change was the message of speakers at a recent gathering of students, educators and community leaders at Cal State Los Angeles.

The keynote panel at the 5th annual Asian Pacific American Community Research Roundtable on April 16 told how last year's riots had affected various Asian communities in Los Angeles and how many still suffer from the emotional impact and the loss of businesses.

Additionally, a team of UCLA graduate students who studied housing, employment and small-business opportunities reported that a significant number of Asian-Americans live in poverty and may never move up.

The roundtable brings together members of the Asian and Pacific-American communities to discuss concerns and identify possible research topics. This year's conference, scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the riots, emphasized that while the plight of the Korean-American riot victims was well-publicized and significant, all Asian-Americans were affected by the riots.

The keynote panel featured leaders from the Korean, Filipino, Chinese, Cambodian and Thai communities, all of whom echoed the sentiment that despite some progress, Asian-Americans remain a powerless, poorly represented ethnic group.

Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said Asian-American riot victims have been neglected by public agencies and that "justice for the victims . . . has to be the moral foundation for any economic recovery."

Bong Hwan Kim, executive director of the Korean Youth and Community Center, said only about 25% of the Korean-American riot victims have been able to re-establish their businesses.

Gerald Gubatan, a legislative deputy for Councilman Mike Hernandez, said that "government was a failure" in terms of helping the roughly 40 Filipino-owned businesses that suffered riot damage.

Conflicts within Asian communities also obstruct progress, said some speakers. Nampet Panichpant-M, president of the United Thai Council, said the 16,000 Thais in Los Angeles are trying to learn how to interact with other groups and become a more visible part of the community.

"We may have come in different ships, but we're all here in the same boat," said Vora Kanthoul, executive director of the United Cambodian Community.

A research group from UCLA's School of Urban Planning agreed that the various Asian communities must fight together for more resources, particularly because more than 124,000 Asian-Americans--more than 12% of the county's Asian population--live at or below the poverty level, defined in 1989 as an annual income of $12,614 for a family of four.

Most will stay locked in low-wage jobs because of difficulty with English and the ineffectiveness and unavailability of English classes, the research group found. It also cited few opportunities for training and skills improvement courses and a general drop over the past decade in higher-paying manufacturing jobs.

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