Displaying items by tag: Korean business owners in New York City

Korean immigrant merchants in New York, Los Angeles, and other major metropolitan areas had severe conflicts with black customers, white suppliers, and other external groups in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, since the mid 1990s, their business-related conflicts have almost disappeared. This chapter explains that the changes in Korean immigrants’ business patterns, along with the changes in external factors, are responsible for the virtual disappearance of Korean merchants’ business-related inter-group conflicts in New York. In particular, it explains why black boycotts of Korean stores, which were prevalent in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s, almost disappeared. Changes in Korean immigrants’ business patterns in New York include lower self-employment rates compared to the 1980s and early 1990s, the reduction of Korean stores in black neighborhoods, Koreans' shift from retail businesses to service businesses, and their overall economic integration into the mainstream economy, including a predominant majority of second-generation Koreans’ entry into it. External factors include the conversion of lower-income black neighborhoods to more multiracial neighborhoods, and the movement of many mega stores to lower-income black neighborhoods. The same changes have occurred in other major metropolitan areas and thus Korean immigrants’ business-related conflicts have been significantly reduced in other areas too.    

Historically, Koreans have suffered a great deal of internal conflicts, mostly in the form of power struggles, while they showed a high level of solidarity reacting to external threats. Korean immigrants in the U.S. have gone through similar internal conflicts, combined with intensive solidarity when encountering external threats. Korean immigrants’ business-related conflicts with Black customers, White suppliers, Latino employees, White landlords, and government agencies have all enhanced their ethnic solidarity. However, among all the types of business-related conflicts with outside groups, Korean immigrants’ community-wide solidarity was enhanced the most by Black boycotts of Korean stores and the victimization of many Korean merchants during the 1990s riots. This chapter from Pyong Gap Min’s book Caught in the Middle: Korean Communities in New York and Los Angeles examines in detail how major Black boycotts of Korean stores in New York City and the victimization of many Korean merchants during the 1990s Los Angeles riots have enhanced Koreans’ ethnic solidarity and political consciousness. Memories of minority groups’ major historical sufferings, such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, have long become symbols of ethnic identity over generations. The victimization of many innocent Korean merchants during the Los Angeles riots is the most severe historical suffering Korean immigrants in the U.S. have ever experienced. As such, it will serve as an important historical event in the Korean community that will help second-, third- and higher-generation Korean Americans to preserve their ethnic identity.  Reading this chapter on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Sa-I-Gu, when Korean Americans are struggling for community empowerment, will be meaningful.

Between 1980 and 1995, Korean immigrants were heavily concentrated in small businesses. A large proportion of their retail stores (grocery, liquor, produce, seafood, and hair-care/clothing/gift shops) were located in lower-income Black and Latino neighborhoods. Korean merchants distributed retail items, mostly produced by White corporations, to lower-income minority customers in neighborhoods where White corporations and independent store owners were reluctant to run businesses due to high crime rates and the residents’ lower spending capacity. Korean immigrants played a classic middleman minority role in lower-income minority neighborhoods in major American cities. Like middleman merchants in other societies (Jews in Poland and the U.S., Chinese in Southeast Asian countries, and Indians in South and East Africa), Korean merchants in Black neighborhoods were victimized by boycotts, physical violence, arson, and riots. All major Korean communities in the U.S. experienced Korean-Black conflicts in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the interracial conflicts were most severe in New York and Los Angeles, the two largest Korean population centers in the U.S. This chapter from Pyong Gap Min’s book, Caught in the Middle: Korean Communities in New York and Los Angeles, examines Korean merchants’ business-related conflicts with Blacks in New York and Los Angeles in the 1980s and early 1990s. Korean merchants in New York City’s Black neighborhoods encountered several long-term boycotts, while those in South Central Los Angeles suffered more physical violence and destruction of their stores during the riots.  Reading this chapter on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Sa-I-Gu will be meaningful. 

At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, there have been major changes in New York’s Korean community. Not surprisingly, the number of Koreans has grown, but much else is new as well. One new set of developments has been a change in the immigration process itself. There has been a gradual shift from a Korean family-based immigration pattern to immigration based on high-status occupations as well as a dramatic increase in the proportion of Koreans who have arrived on temporary visas and adjusted their status to permanent residents. Other changes relate to Koreans’ involvement in business. Koreans are still heavily involved in business, but the self-employment rate among Korean immigrants in the New York area has decreased; among those who own businesses, there has been a significant rise in the number of personal-service businesses and a decline in retail businesses. A third major transformation is the disappearance of business-related intergroup conflicts involving Korean immigrants that were so severe in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Finally, Korean ethnic organizations have changed as well, not only in number but also, among other things, in their roles and the characteristics of their members.


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