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A New Cycle : A Laundry Rises From the Rubble of a Liquor Store Burned in Riots

October 27, 1994|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Getting the laundry built "was a long, hard struggle," said Bong Hwan Kim, executive director of the Korean Youth and Community Center. He said his organization and Bass' community coalition "inherited the baggage of black-Korean tensions that date back before the riots."

But members of both organizations recognized that they "couldn't allow hyperinflated racial tensions to get in the way of (residents and merchants) getting on with their lives," he said. "People don't know each other. A disproportionate amount of blame was put on racial issues when it's really an economic issue."

The hardest thing in trying to redevelop South-Central and find models for businesses other than liquor stores, he said, "is trying to work through the land mines these racial tensions create."

Bass and others said the laundry is a small but important step toward negotiating those minefields more skillfully, and one area resident said it is already evidence of better understanding between blacks and Koreans.

"Mr. Whang and I had to learn to communicate," said Elizabeth McClellan, a member of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment, who opposed rebuilding a liquor store on the site. "We had to learn to be friends."

McClellan said she has lost all patience with media reports of tensions between African Americans and Korean American business owners.

"It's not racial," she said. "It's more an issue of not being able to communicate."

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