For the Love of a City

For the Love of a City

4.29 (April 29) is recognized as “saigu” in the Korean American community. It commemorates not a battle hero nor an independence movement, but a “wake-up call” amidst the 1992 L.A. Riots.  People familiarize the event as a “racial” outcry, after the Rodney King verdict brought protestors to the streets that escalated into massive looting, violence and property damage in South Los Angeles and Koreatown (popularly denoted as “Ktown”).  The four police officers—who had pulled a black man from his car, beaten him 56 times with clubs and kicked him repeatedly for a traffic violation—were released of charges, even with clearly captured video evidence of what happened.

PC: Gettyimages/CBSphilly

As we see the more recent incidents that ignited the #blacklivesmatter campaign, I honestly can not say much has changed since then—except maybe more peaceable protests, potentially greater accountability over police brutality through the widespread availability of camera phones and mob social media influence … in 1992 immigrant business owners fortressed their properties wielding their 2nd amendment rights because of another system failure to protect citizens and places central to their livelihoods. On April 9th, a Vietnamese-American man fought for his right to a seat on a United Flight and was dragged off the plane in a bloody mess. It went viral on the internet and people were enraged calling for boycotts of United Airlines. Has the risk of social media exposure instilled enough fear in the authorities to prevent what might boil over into another “saigu”?

Koreatown is increasingly gentrifying as you see “hipsters” frequenting the old stomping grounds of Ktown denizens. Now, more Latino, SE Asian and Arab business owners may have replaced the predominantly Korean ones of the 1990s. The demographics may have shifted, but as we still see the blatant inequity in how ethnic-racial groups are treated and segmented into society, the question remains: why haven’t we been able to debug the system.

As someone who interned a long two months during graduate school in one of the council districts that covers this part of Los Angeles // as someone with Korean parents who poured out their lifeblood working seven days a week in our family-owned business // as someone with black friends who have been pulled over for DWB (“driving while black”) and is concerned alongside them about the safety of their family and loved ones // as someone who has worked in immigrant advocacy and organizing // as someone who studied Sociology and Urban Planning in textbooks // as someone who has found some of her deepest moments of connection with friends from completely different backgrounds and ethnicities // as someone who has berated another person she doesn’t even know via social media and then felt bad about it afterward // as someone who has organized panels and workshops to dialogue about the L.A. riots aftermath // as someone who despite this glum reflection, loves the City of Los Angeles … I find myself conflicted.

A mentor recently spoke to me and my boyfriend about the difference between immature and mature love.

He told us that a child says he loves his parents when they buy him a new bike or read him his favorite story, but the moment a parent says “Eat your veggies” or “No, … you can’t do that right now because you have homework,” it leads to a visceral “I hate you!”

PC: BaylessBand

As we grow older, [the hope is that] the way we love matures as well. As we get to know our significant other, there will be aspects of that person that we like and others that … rub us the wrong way. We will find some annoying habits or be hurt by some assumptions and (intentional or not) actions of the other. We are coming from a lifetime of different experiences, contexts, roles and influences, frames of mind and behavior—that all have played a part in shaping our individual worldviews—, disagreement and misunderstanding are inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we can revert to an immature love. Part of loving is seeking to build understanding and connection despite the differences and accepting our partner fully for who they are [and are becoming].

Cities are no different … as the object of our criticism and love.

Renown Ktown Hamjibak ribs | PC: Instagram

I can go on and on about Los Angeles’ systematic societal injustices, racism, gerrymandering, poor air quality, inexplicable traffic, parking problems … but still love it, in its wholeness.  I love its smells of charred rotisserie chicken, Hamjibak Korean bbq ribs and the resident grandmother that simultaneously hurries your eating while making you a lettuce wrap // I love boba balls that you have to chew in your drink, shaved ice bingsu and baristas that will laugh at you while making your specially tailored hot horchata in characteristically unique cafés and dessert spots // I love the tacos-grilled corn-hot dogs made by vendors, the sunshine and diversity of people that will shoot the breeze with you on the street [okay, just a smile is asking enough], the stories behind the tired faces commuting home on the metro after a long week, and the unexpected pockets of ethnic enclaves that make you feel like you just apparated [ref. Harry Potter] to another country. I love L.A. in all its complexity.

The more exposure we have to experiences that break our preconceived notions and accustomed ways of categorizing the world, the more our worldview is expanded and the greater our capacity to take in other points of view. The more we seek to understand before trying to be understood, the greater the chance that we will be understood. [More easily said than done as I am trying to practice this in my relationship realtime.]

I recently watched Peter Kageyama’s TED talk which is in similar tenor with his book, For the Love of Cities. My biggest take away is that cities become great places—not just “livable,” BUT “loveable” cities—not by our elected/appointed officials, not by great monuments and buildings … credit can’t even be given to the planner/developer, BUT  by the people who love them and make them that way. For the Love of Los Angeles, the City of Angels—can we love her to become what she deserves to be? #saigu #429 In remembrance and hope. I will end here.


What happened to Rodney King?


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