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Inglewood Youths Take Goodwill Trip to Korea : Culture: Journey follows visit by Asian youths last year after riots revealed chasm between immigrant shopkeepers and residents.


Fifteen teen-agers left Inglewood for South Korea on Wednesday on a mission intended to promote understanding between Koreans and inner-city Americans.

The trip follows a visit by 13 Korean teen-agers to Inglewood last summer, after the Los Angeles riots bared deep antagonism between immigrant shopkeepers and neighborhood residents.

The American youths are spending eight days as guests of the city of Kyongju, sampling everything from kimchi to Buddhist temples and Confucian philosophy. The itinerary includes museum tours, outings to country villages and a visit to the world's second largest steel factory.

Kyongju, the ancient capital of Korea, is Inglewood's sister city.

"I wish we could send 300 of them to get the cultural experience of their lives," said Mayor Edward Vincent who, along with Inglewood's Korean merchants, organized the trip. "These kids can be ambassadors for us," Vincent said.

The mayor is not making the trip, but City Councilman Curren Price, his wife, and three other adult chaperons are with the youngsters.

"It's very exciting for me. It's a good experience and I get to learn someone else's culture," said Nicol Metoyer, one of the teen-agers on the trip.

Another of the youths, Eric Braden, a recent Morningside High School graduate, said before departing: "I think it'll be a great learning experience for all of us.

"I think it's a real good idea the mayor had. If we can (develop) positive attitudes . . . we can get along and live in peace."

Braden was among a group of Inglewood teen-agers who last year helped entertain the Korean teen-agers when they were guests of the city for a week.

He acknowledges he had misgivings about whether the two groups would get along because of strained relations in this country between Asians and African-Americans. What he found, he said, surprised him.

"They weren't rude," he said. "They weren't prejudiced. They wanted to get to know us."

Braden recalled that the Korean teen-agers said that before coming to the United States, their views of African-Americans were molded by movies and television. He said their image of blacks was of thieves running with televisions.

Before their departure, the American youths got a quick introduction to Korean etiquette from local Korean-Americans and Inglewood officials who have been to the Asian nation. Don't open gifts in front of the giver. Only children eat on the street. Remove shoes before entering anyone's home. It is impolite to refuse refreshments when they're offered. And, though men may touch each other freely, it is not acceptable for women to touch one another in public.

Financing for the trip came in various ways. The parents of some youths--all of whom were referred to the city by local churches and schools--were able to pay. The merchants, the churches, the city and Vincent's political campaign fund also helped defray travel expenses. Round-trip air fare is $800 per person but expenses in Korea are paid by the Korean government.

The Korean trip is an outgrowth of Vincent's ongoing campaign to cement friendly ties between local residents and Korean merchants.

"We have 400 Korean business people in the city with licenses to operate. They comprise an important part of the city's economy," said Truman Jacques, Inglewood's public information officer.

Recalling the rioting last year after the verdict in the state's Rodney G. King beating trial, Vincent said, "We didn't have the problems other cities did with the Korean-African-American confrontation."

Inglewood's Korean-American merchants sustained relatively little damage, in part because police were quickly dispatched to the city's small business corridors to protect shops from looters.

The city has taken many steps to establish close ties to the Korean community: Vincent has delegated Korean-American liaisons for his office; the Police Department has hired Korean-American officers; and officials from various city departments meet periodically with Korean-American merchants.

Likewise, several city officials have traveled to Korea on goodwill missions and to get better acquainted with Korean culture.

"If you don't talk to one another, you'll end up fighting one another," Vincent said. Referring to the Inglewood youths visiting Korea, he added: "These kids are the future. Many of us are locked in our ways. A lot of us are ethnocentric, let's face it. But these kids are fresh."

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