Elizabeth is the President of the Korean American Women’s Association. Founded in 2004, KAWA is a membership-driven organization committed to serving Korean communities by developing leadership skills and empowering women. KAWA is comprised of 216 members—mainly first-generation Korean American women ranging in age from 55 to 70 years old and located in Orange County, San Fernando Valley and the Greater Los Angeles area. In 2017, KAWA has been working with KYCC’s Elementary Tutorial Program (ETP) to provide intergenerational education through a series of youth workshops. KAWA’s collaboration with ETP was funded by the Eisner Foundation, the only U.S. foundation that invests exclusively in programs connecting older adults and youth.
Where is your hometown?
Seoul, Sodaemun-gu, near Dongdaemun Market. I came to the U.S. in 1973 and lived in West Los Angeles. I got married in 1974 and moved to Hancock Park, and then in 2002, I moved to Encino.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
My business is in Koreatown. It’s real estate and property management. I’ve been doing the management part for 30 years. My role is the director—building inspections, reports, leasing and repairs. Right now, we manage just a few properties. My husband is a pastor and we have a church business too, so we don’t have a lot of time now. He teaches the Bible at Tyrannus Community Church on 6th and Ardmore.
Also, through KAWA, we help low-income Korean families. This year, there was a grandmother whose granddaughter was born six months premature and is now in a wheelchair. The granddaughter receives government assistance, but the grandmother is hungry and couldn’t pay her utility bill. So we gave her grocery money for three months.
Another elderly gentleman came to us after having three surgeries. He had also recently gone through a divorce and his son was an alcoholic. He went to live with his son, but his son kicked him out, so he ended up at an American church. Soon thereafter, a Korean pastor called us. So we paid his hasukgip fees for three months.
We run a phone counseling service where we get a lot of these calls. We have around 100 clients a year. We have a hospice program, a scholarship program and a meal delivery service for cancer patients. We also knit clothes for newborns. We’ve provided more than 2,000 blankets to St. Vincent Medical Center and Meals on Wheels.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown today?
It’s grown. Many buildings are Korean-owned. All the shopping centers are Korean-owned. It wasn’t like that before. They worked so hard and became rich. It’s good. I’ve been married for 45 years and back then, the streets weren’t as busy as today and there were just a few grocery markets. I only went to a few Korean restaurants then. There were fewer people.
When I was young, everyone moved here from Korea because their families invited them. It used to take less than a year to move and most people I knew had green cards. These days, it’s not like that. It takes so long to invite family. Now I’ve heard it takes eight years to wait for an interview to move here. Right now, there are a lot of students or people who are here to work — and a lot of tourists.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
CGV Cinemas. Before, we could not watch Korean movies because did not have a theatre. I like seeing movies at Madang Plaza— they even show American movies with Korean subtitles. When I first came, there was Korean broadcasting but no movies. There were a lot of video shops, but now there is cable TV so they have a hard time getting business but I really, really love CGV.
I went with my husband and my son to see Gukjesijang. My son is 37 years old and he said through that movie, he now understands why family gatherings are important to my husband. Now, he understands his father’s struggles in the Korean War to this day—the film goes through several decades of modern Korean life.