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Community News: Mid-City

KOREATOWN : Racial Harmony Is Stressed at Forum

November 27, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

Members of the Korean American community received a loud and clear message recently from both Korean and African American community leaders: Our communities must learn to work together, or suffer the possibly destructive consequences of having a racially divided society.

The message came at the third in a series of four forums presented by the Korea Society titled "Living and Working in a Multicultural Society." The forums are designed to help ease the cultural isolation many Korean immigrants feel and that can result in a lack of understanding of mainstream American society and of other minority cultures.

The recent forum was a discussion of the African American experience in the United States, with historical and present-day information provided by Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack and UC Riverside ethnic studies professor Edward Chang, who recently published the first Korean-language text on African American history.

In addition to providing the audience with a historical overview of the African American community and the problems from which it still suffers, Mack and Chang stressed the importance of resisting the temptation to point fingers at other cultures as scapegoats for the city's social ills.

"We must really begin to get serious in Los Angeles and in California about getting to know one another, getting to understand one another, and trying not to see one another as the enemy," Mack said. "We're all members of the human family. It's as simple as that, but most people aren't ready to buy into that yet."

Presented with the cooperation of several Koreatown community agencies, the series, which began in October, has attempted to put into perspective different aspects of American society for Korean immigrants, many of whom arrive in this country with a vastly different mental picture of life in the United States.

"They usually have no idea of what it's like here," said Craig Coleman, executive director of the Korea Society. "All they have to go on are stories from relatives, which usually paint a much rosier picture."

So far, the series has presented speakers such as former City Councilman Michael Woo and sociologist Eui Young Yu discussing the Asian American political experience and how it relates to the future of the Korean American community, as well as La Opinion editor Rafael Bultrago and anthropologist Andre Simic discussing the European and Latino immigrant experiences.

"It's an opportunity for Korean people to have someone who knows what they're talking about explain these issues," said Will Braswell, a Korea Society spokesman.

The final forum, on participation in the democratic process, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.

Once the series is over, Coleman said, each guest speaker's presentation will be translated into Korean and published by the Korea Society in book form. Named after the series, the bilingual publication will serve as a sort of instructional handbook for Korean immigrants.

"It will give them helpful hints about the kinds of little things that can create big problems," said Coleman, who holds a doctorate in Asian American studies and conceived the idea in 1989 after several years of field work in the Korean community.

The handbook, which is expected to be out early next year, will be distributed free.

Coleman said that a new discussion series, in which Korean community leaders will address members of the Latino and African American communities, is in the works.

Information: (213) 935-1560.

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