When he was a senior in high school, Robert joined KYCC as a member of the Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Program (YDAPP). Currently, he is attending the University of California, Irvine where he is a junior majoring in Political Science.
Where is your hometown?
I was originally born in Los Angeles, but I consider myself to be from Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico. I experienced a great part of my growth there—I lived there from when I was 10 to 15 and I had an epiphany there. However, the three years that I have been here in Koreatown, I have learned to become more engaged with my community and care for it. It was here where I decided to go a step further and actually try and work for my community. So I also consider Koreatown to be my home.
How are you involved with Koreatown?
When I came back from Mexico, I moved to Koreatown with my sisters. Two were 22 years old and the other was 25 and my two nieces were then 3 and 5. We all lived together.
I live and go to school in Koreatown. I see many familiar faces in the morning while walking to school. I know routines and see the buses pass at similar times as the day before and so on. I become more aware of issues that the community is going through, from the rise of buildings due to gentrification, to the insecurity that still roams the streets. I try to help in any way possible. Everyday when I see new things, I try to make time to try it, to get to know Koreatown and the beauty that is in it.
I’m going to attend UC Irvine next year as a Political Science major, but I’m thinking of switching to either public health policy or urban planning. It’s always been important to help my community—where I live with my family. I would totally love to do that every day.
In Mexico, there were many kids who couldn’t afford to go to school. They were doing housework every day. At recess or lunch, they would approach the school and ask the teachers if they could be let in. I could see the desire they had to go to school. That’s something that I’ll always remember.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
Having been here for only three years, I can’t really say much about the neighborhood’s circumstances from years ago but in these thirty-six plus months I’ve been here, I have witnessed pivotal changes regarding gentrification within the community. A positive and steadfast change is for sure occurring. I’ve perceived how gang influence has reduced as more luxurious buildings begin to take over in order to have a modern Koreatown and a metropolitan area. It’s a transformation that will permit a safer and healthier environment not only for me, but especially for my nieces who are exposed to all that occurs here in Koreatown.
I’m sure that if I had seen Koreatown many years ago, I would be able to give my opinion that these buildings help in one way, but destroy the green areas and small houses in the community.
What is your favorite part of Koreatown?
I still have more to explore in K-Town, but Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools is my favorite location. It’s a big school and you can refer to it and many will know it’s in K-Town. It may not have much Korean culture, but I consider it a historical location because it was the original site of the Ambassador Hotel.
One day I was walking into the library and saw the images of what the school was like before. I got curious and took the initiative to find out more. One of my classmates mentioned that within the library there was a specific location where Robert F. Kennedy was shot. For me, that was important because he took a lot of action in combatting racial discrimination. He also had a coalition with Cesar Chavez. As a Latino, I think that’s important. (1609)