April 29 is the anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots. In the Korean American community, it’s known as Sa-i-Gu. If you’re wondering why I’m posting about this on a blog about Korean culture, well a few years ago I would have wondered the same thing. But as I’ve been learning about Korean culture and Korean Americans, I’ve come to understand that more than the acquittal of white officers played a part in the riots.
Most of the media coverage on the riots focused on the white officers and the beating of African-American Rodney King. But even before the acquittal, hostilities were running high in this area of L.A. between Korean Americans and African Americans after the 1991 shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was African American, by Soon-Ja Du, a 51-year-old store owner of Korean descent. Du received probation, a fine, and community service for the shooting.
One history of Koreans in America that I’ve read also noted that a lack of understanding of Korean culture by African Americans might have played a part in the hostilities too. Koreans traditionally don’t hand back change when making a transaction, they lay the money on the counter. Also it’s part of Korean culture to not make much eye contact when you’re speaking; holding eye contact is considered disrespectful. But if someone didn’t know these customs, the customs could appear disrespectful when looked at from an American perspective.
From what I’ve learned the acquittal of the officers on April 29, 1992, in the Rodney King beating may have just been the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. The hostilities reached a boiling point and the riots resulted.
Since the riots centered in South Central LA and Koreatown, some 2,000 businesses owned by Korean-Americans were destroyed and an estimated $400 million dollars of damage was done. Many of those business have never reopened.
April 29, Sa-i-Gu, is a day of remember for the Korean American community. I would encourage you to learn more about these events to gain a better understanding of an event most of us think we remember well.