Today is the 16th anniversary of Sa-I-Gu, the LA Riots – April 29, 1992. It’s sad that it is an event that has been forgotten by the national consciousness, in the same way Hurricane Katrina is a distant memory. The month of April is memorable for me because it is the day of my birthday. But my birthday is sandwiched between two events that I will always remember – (April 16th – the Virginia Tech shootings) & (April 29th – Sa-I-Gu – the LA Riots).
I remember being too young to realize the full gravity of the L.A. riots. I remember my parents and the Korean community being so distraught. The effects of the riots were felt throughout the Korean community all over the nation and even back to South Korea. I remember my father being so angry and I didn’t know why. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that my father was swallowing the bitter pill of the false promises of the American Dream.
I remember hearing about the death of Eddie Song Lee. He had heard about the riots on Korean language radio and drove down to Koreatown to help Koreans protect their businesses. But in the confusion of everything that was happening, Eddie Lee was accidentally killed by another Korean storekeeper. An 18 year old Korean American kid who was sacrificing his own dreams and spending most of his time helping his parents with their business had his life taken away so tragically and so unnecessarily.
I look back and remember the stupidity of both conservatives and liberals. Conservatives used the L.A. riots to reinforce Koreans as the model minority who did the right things and didn’t speak out against racism. Koreans were unfairly attacked by African Americans who were bogged down in the victim mentality of past racism. Conservatives also used Koreans as vindication for the Second Amendment as the media focused on Korean shopkeepers protecting their stores with shotguns. Ignorant conservatives were using the riots as a way to pit Koreans against African Americans to prove that affirmative action and government social programs were not needed and actually detrimental. Then there were the arrogant liberals who said the L.A. riots were a grassroots revolt against the system and that the Koreans were expendable collateral damage, especially since they were complicit in exploiting African Americans and Latinos. These latte liberals in academia, politics, and the media living comfortably in Westwood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica were silent and indifferent to the plight of Koreans from the riots. The whole event showed that both conservatives and liberals used Koreans as pawns in their cultural wars.
It is up to us not to forget what happened 16 years ago. The first generation have had social amnesia over Sa-I-Gu. It is up to the 1.5 and second generation to take the mantle of leadership and speak out about what has happened since Sa-I-Gu. So many promises were made by politicians to invest in South Central LA. These have never come to pass. It’s just easy for the nation to close its eyes and act like it never happened. But we need to open our eyes and deal with what happened 16 years ago and how far we still have to go today.
Here are some videos about the L.A. riots: