Esther is the Co-Senior Officer for KYCC”s Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Program, a 10-month weekly program where high school students engage their community and peers through substance use prevention. She is a senior at the Humanities Magnet at Hamilton High School and has been an active YDAPP member for four years.

Where is your hometown?

My hometown is Koreatown. I was born in Alameda, California and during my elementary school years, I wanted to live in Koreatown, but we lived right outside its perimeter off of Pico Boulevard. Most of my childhood and life now is centered around Koreatown. My family members, our church, and my friends are all in Koreatown.

Do you live or work here?

We moved to Koreatown when I was in the fifth grade. I live diagonal to Wi Spa, a Korean-style jimjilbang—it’s a big bathhouse with different saunas and rooms. You basically spend time there with friends and family to unwind and have a good time. I couldn’t go often because of finances and time, but their patbingsu is really good.

In the daytime, my neighborhood is not that busy, because it’s a little bit on the outskirts of Koreatown. But at night, it’s different; it gets busy and lively. Right across the street, there are two churches and their services are very loud—there’s music, singing and talking. At the back of our block, there’s a gay club called The Silver Platter. A lot of people walk around the block trying to find it.

Also, I am a Co-Senior Officer for YDAPP, which stands for Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Program. I have been doing it for four years now. I got involved because of my neighbors. They use marijuana quite often. The smell, their activities, whenever they host parties–it would affect our household as well. The walls in our apartment are thin and it happened so often that it wasn’t avoidable. It was disturbing for me because my siblings are being exposed to that environment.

Through YDAPP, I recognized the importance and impact of drugs on the youth community. In the past few years alone since I’ve been involved, marijuana has been legalized and there’s the whole rise of Juuling. So with that going on in the background, at school, I can see conversations among students becoming more open to trying other substances. In elementary school, we would’ve said “No, what are you talking about?” Now, seeing how open these conversations are in high school, it became apparent to me how important it is to have the right information, so that I can share that with my friends.

At a YDAPP leader, I plan meetings. We try to set up projects and workshops for the year. I oversee that my group is on task and that we’re producing work. Right now, we’ve decided to present to the KEY Summit. Our presentation is on peer pressure and its relation to drugs.

What are your thoughts on Koreatown?

In elementary school, Koreatown was where all the cool activities were for all of my friends. It was where we would hang out, go to Madang, watch movies at CGV. And then in middle school, it became an opportunity to learn more about my Korean heritage. I visited different restaurants tried traditional foods and watched documentaries on the L.A. Riots.

And now, because I’ve seen Koreatown through so many different versions, I see it as a malleable community—it’s strong and growing to encompass many people. There’s so many different diverse groups, such as ethnic groups. I started to talk to more people to see how they view Koreatown. I know this person named Carlos. Ethnically, he is Latino. I told him I find Koreatown to be the core of what reminds me that I’m Korean. And he told me Koreatown before was even more Korean than it is now. So, to discuss these different phases of what Koreatown has gone through…it’s tough to categorize because it’s going through so many changes.

These days, I see more political participation. Last year, my mom was involved in garnering votes against the creation of Little Bangladesh from Koreatown. It was splitting the land into two. Economically, I feel like we’re gaining more from the new buildings coming up—there’s a lot of construction going on. I have mixed feelings, but overall I’m quite confident in the future that is being built right now. We’re headed towards something good.

Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?

Madang. Because they have Aladdin. And CGV. Aladdin is a Korean bookstore that sells new and used books. They’re in Korean and English and various other languages. I go there before YDAPP starts and I just browse through the English section to see if there’s any books that interest me. And if it’s in my budget, I’ll buy it, and if it’s not, I’ll take it and read it there. There’s a little bench in the back corner of the shop, and so I just sit there and read. Usually, the books I pick up I’ll just borrow them in the school library or from a friend. I have a lot of friends who are bookworms, so they’ll often have the books I’m interested in, or they’ll recommend books to me.

Right now, I’m reading a lot of Korean web novels, because my Korean reading skills are low. Since it’s online, it’s easier to read. I’m currently Solo Leveling, which is a very game-ish, fantasy book where the protagonist undergoes a major transformation where he’s able to level up his own abilities at his own pace. It’s in Korean and in English, so I can go through both. I recently got the book called Please Take of My Mother in English and I plan to get the Korean one after I finish reading it in English.