Immigrant EntrepreneursLately, I have been reading background material – books, blogs, news articles – on the Korean American experience. I am working on a novel that involves the 1992 Rodney King Riots (sa-i-gu, in Korean: the April 29th Incident) as background, and more specifically, the experience of Korean Americans during and after the Riots. Though I thought I had some understanding, I wanted to fill out my picture. This is especially important for Yong Soo Bok, a character in the novel  who has since become the subject of a short story (tentatively titled, “Fire Illness”).

I have never studied Korean or Korean American culture before. As I learn more, I am somewhat embarrassed by how much I let mainstream media tell me what I should think. Everything I’ve read, especially works published after the Riots, seems aimed to dispel stereotypes and replace them with a fuller picture of Korean Americans as (displaced) individuals.

One of the misconceptions is that Korean Americans are more or less natural entrepreneurs, which is why they’ve thrived as such in America. Nothing seems to be further from the truth. One book in particular put this in perspective for me:  Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles, 1965-1982 (Light and Bonacich). After a long, exhaustive, largely dry (but engaging) work of research, the book ends with an almost poetic plea for understanding the difficulties endured by Korean immigrants. In many ways, the book is summed up in one sentence:

Being an immigrant entrepreneur is a joyless existence.

Now, my job as a writer is somehow to relate that simple declarative sentence to readers in a way that is accurate (because it’s an important story) and entertaining (so the reader will read to the end), but without being exploitative (seeing as I have no connection to the Korean American experience).

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. angie Arcangioli

    Hi Scott,
    Me to hopping over from QUOTKU’s blog. I agree with Lily Faye, classy.
    Once I spoke a few Japanese words to my parents friends at a party. As children, they were emprisioned in California. The surprise and embarassement this man felt was terrible. I guess his entire life he’d been trying to shake his past. I don’t know anything about Korean Americans. Good luck with your research. I look forward to reading your story.

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      Thanks Angie. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know as much about the Korean American experience as I thought I did. I interviewed a number of merchants after the riots in connection with a case we filed on their behalf, but apart from a general sense, I really had no clue. Researching for this story has been a great learning experience. I just hope the story comes out not sounding like a research project.

  2. Donna Everhart

    Hi Lurker! I mean Scott. 🙂 Stopping by from QOTKU’s blog. I too, liked that paragraph you posted in an earlier piece by Ken Kesey. Vivid writing.

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      Thanks Donna! I have to say, it was really hard to get to that point (in the Kesey book), but it was well worth it. Good luck on your 1k word per day goal. Jeez . . .

  3. AJ Blythe

    Hi Scott, stopping by from QOTKU blog 🙂

  4. Lilly Faye

    Scott, I’m visiting from Janet Reid’s blog, and just wanted to say, “Hi!”

    Your blog is very classy.

    1. Scott Alumbaugh

      Thanks for visiting! I noticed you’re a poodle. Not a lot of animals here . . . though our cat, Mizzy, does make a cameo in the video on this page.

      1. Lilly Faye Poodle

        You should include Mizzy in your writing. Animals make everything better!

        Lilly Faye
        P.S. I love the sculpture of the dog on the bicycle near the beginning of your video.

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