Heather is the KYCC Lead Elementary Instructor and BRIDGE Coordinator—essentially, she is the point person for our Youth Services programs, from elementary afterschool tutoring to our high school leadership group. Heather was raised in Koreatown and works in the community.
Where is your hometown?
K-Town. I spent the majority of my life here. I was born in Korea and came here in third grade and went to elementary school in K-Town.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I work in Koreatown at KYCC. I became full-time in 2015. I work with elementary school kids and middle school and high school volunteers. The majority of kids in the elementary program are Korean, but we also have Hispanic kids and mixed kids. You know the middle and high school kids are good kids because they volunteer their time.
I wanted to work here because I had a really good relationship with the teachers back when I was a volunteer. I really felt like they wanted to get to know me and they were willing to invest the time. I felt valued by my teachers and peers. I already have a great family, but knowing I had someone else to go to besides my family was comforting. I hope to be like the teacher that Ernie and Jeff were for me. It’s hard to connect with kids. Sometimes I don’t know how to talk to them, but these kids work hard and I’m grateful.
I grew up near the OMC and KFC on Western. I went to Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in K-Town, but for middle school, I went to Oakwood Secondary School in North Hollywood. I hated it there. Middle school is already hard, but the biggest thing there wasn’t race, but the difference between how much money the other students had and how much I didn’t have. In the beginning, I thought, “Man, if I were white, I could fit in.” Money equals parents’ time. If parents have money, they have time to volunteer and come to school events. But when I was in middle school, my parents had only been in the U.S. for three years, so they were both working. My dad was a K-Town taxi driver and my mom worked at the Western Department Store. Honestly, this happened in one of my Humanities classes: one of the kids literally did not know what rent was. That blew my mind.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown today?
When I went to New Roads High School, kids who lived in Santa Monica would ask me, “Wait, you walk around your neighborhood? Aren’t you going to get shot?” That was in 2007. But now, people come out to Koreatown. There are so many more things to do now. Tom and Tom’s wasn’t a thing when I graduated in 2011. All these five-dollar coffee shops weren’t a thing. When I was in high school, we’d go to friends’ houses to study and now my ninth graders for to Tom and Tom’s or Caffé Bene.
It’s sad because soon people who’ve been living here are probably going to have to leave. A new owner bought the place I’d lived in for 12 years three years ago and we had to move out. The rent prices in K-Town are going up like crazy, with all these new businesses and owners. So my family had to look for a new place with affordable rent not too far from where we lived. My friends’ families are moving out also. They’re downgrading. If they can’t move far because of work, they stay in K-Town at a worse place.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
Wilshire/Vermont Metro Station. The summer before tenth grade, my friend and I would meet there and take the subway out around the city. We would go to Union Station, Chinatown, Universal CityWalk, Hollywood Boulevard … it was my first taste of freedom. Back then, security wasn’t great so we’d get on for free because there was no one checking anything. We didn’t have money, so we’d just get on and sit around and literally do nothing. To me, it was so L.A. — I got to know where everything was. That was the best summer for me. It was so carefree, being L.A. girls in our tank tops, shorts, backpacks, just doing our thing.