SEPTEMBER 2002

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A Call For Unity
From Korea Times
August 15, 2002

By Lee, Ki-Young

About 30 years ago, there were not many Koreans living in America. When a Korean man comes across another Korean man on the street or in the subway, he would first ask, "Are you a Korean?" Then the two would start a conversation as if they have been friends for a very long time. If one asked for directions to a certain place, then the other would even spend his own money to transport him to the right place.

New York’s grocery market, which is mostly dominated by Koreans, was a new type of industry for Koreans in the early 1970s. During that time, few Korean immigrants who had succeeded in running grocery markets gladly helped out fellow Korean immigrants by lending them money to start their own grocery market. As a result, the number of Korean-owned grocery markets increased drastically.

Korean immigrants also formed a so-called "mutual financing aid club." It was an organization to help out members who were facing financial difficulty. Many people who borrowed money to start their own grocery business joined this club to pay back the money. Most Korean immigrants at the time were very poor and did not have anyone. They had to depend on other Koreans. They had ties of friendship and sympathy for each other.

Nevertheless, as the number of Korean immigrants increased, the situation changed completely. People who recently moved to America from Korea would ask without being aware of the changed situation, " Are you Korean?" And they would get an answer with an annoyed look "yeah but why?"

As fierce competition increased among Koreans in the same industry, the unnecessary tension increased as well. If a Korean man happens to look in on a Korean store, the owner would squint with a reproachful look.

That is not all there is to it. People who immigrated to America from Korea very early were able to acquire permanent visas or American citizenship. There are, however, a number of Korean immigrants who are staying in America illegally. Korean employers who hired illegal Korean immigrants would discriminate against them, distinguishing them from the rest of other employees.

As the time passed by, Korean immigrants’ daily lives became very convenient as more and more Korean stores were built in an area where numerous Korean immigrants settled down. Korean areas have everything from professional occupations, such as doctors and lawyers to privately owned businesses like restaurants, supermarkets. There are almost all the stores people need to survive. Therefore, recent Koreans immigrants do not even have to speak English to live in America.

Nonetheless, many problems are raised from this situation. Many people have complained about the price and quality of the products purchased from Korean stores. After buying products once or twice from Korean stores, many customers refused to have business relationship with them.

As time passed by quickly, Koreans have led their society into another level. In reality, Koreans who are very prosperous and considered "high-class" do not get involved in Korean community. There are probably many other reasons for this situation, but one of main assumptions made is that high-class Koreans do not have any respect for the recent Korean immigrants.

In order to lead Koreans into a more powerful and more affluent society, we need to bring the high-class Koreans into the Korean community, while also bringing in other Americans and immigrants from different communities.

If Koreans manage to get Americans or other foreigners to eat Korean food in Korean restaurants, buy Korean-made electronic products from Korean stores, and buy Air line tickets from Korean travel agencies, then the Korean community will become larger and more prosperous. In order to achieve this phenomenon Koreans first need to learn to trust each other.

If Koreans cannot rely on each other, the Korean community will get smaller and weaker, and will eventually disappear in America. This does not mean that Koreans must rely on the Korean community in order to survive in America. However, since there are countless Koreans living in America, Koreans will be able acquire power if Koreans trust each other and come together.

The only solution is trust. Without the trust, we will lose the centripetal force and centrifugal force, which will eventually result in a breaking of the bond among Koreans. Therefore, we need to be able to trust each other. We should not lie and deceive, instead we need to help out our fellow Koreans.

Translated from Korean by Julia Yook.

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