Harrison was raised—and still resides—in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. He graduated in 2018 from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in Communications. He was a KYCC Communications Intern in the spring of 2018, and contributed to the K-Town is Your Town project. His dream job is to be automotive journalist.
Where is your hometown?
I was born in Orange County, but all of my memories start in K-Town. I was pretty much raised in Koreatown. I don’t even remember when we moved here, but probably when I was a baby. My dad had a painting job and he would take me in his truck to go paint Park LaBrea. That was when there was no Grove—it was just a big parking lot—and there was only the Farmers Market.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I went to Third Street Elementary School. My mom was very involved in the PTA. It was an opportunity for all of the Korean parents would get together. Even the principal, Miss Lee, who just retired a few years ago, was there when I was there. Then I went to JB (John Burroughs Middle School)—there were so many Koreans there. This was in 2003-4. The cool thing to do was to be a gangster—be in a gang. I’m happy I didn’t follow down that path because I ran into those kids after high school at Jangtuh—the Korean Festival—and they didn’t look very happy. They saw that I was in college and they were stuck in street life. Some of them were actually pretty smart back then, and they could’ve gotten somewhere, but now regret they didn’t. I went to high school at John Marshall—I was one of two Koreans there then, so at first it was kind of awkward, but I guess my group of friends wasn’t as solid as my middle school friends. I had to be in several spread-out friend groups. My uncle-in-law was and still is a physics teacher there.
Starting from middle school all the way through high school, I used to serve as a bible study teacher, Awana teacher, audio tech and praise leader at Oriental Mission Church. I pretty much lived at church Friday to Sunday. I interacted with most of the general Korean community there. I think a lot of Korean immigrants come to this church not only for religious reasons, but also because they find solidarity within the Korean church community.
I took a break from school during my junior year of college at UCSD because I wanted to work on cars. I came back to Koreatown and my first job was at the car wash on 5th and Western. It’s gone now. It’s kind of sad. I have good memories of people who I worked with there; they were mostly Hispanic, probably all from K-Town, but I don’t see them anymore. After that, I worked as a vehicle service technician for an ambulance company on Venice and Normandie.
Back then, I was in a car club. It’s kind of like a fraternity. I was the only Asian in the Slow Squad, which was mostly Hispanic. We were all into drag racing. Friday night racing was on Crenshaw or Manville in Long Beach. I had four cars—they were all Zs—Nissan—I had a ’74, ’78, ’87 300zx and an ’06 350z.
One day, we were all cruising, just driving slow near 3rd and Larchmont. I had put brakes from a Dodge Charger on my car. My friends saw the wheel come off and my car flew up and hit a pole. I can’t remember anything.
Now I’m super into studying and getting my life straight. I just want to get into adult life.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
Chinatown and Little Tokyo are really condensed, but Koreatown is so huge. You can’t tell where Koreatown starts or ends. In Chinatown or Little Tokyo, there are a lot of Chinese and Japanese people, so you know where you are. In class last year, we talked about art signifying the community. If someone walks into Koreatown, they can’t tell because it’s so westernized. There are a lot of Hispanic people living in Koreatown. That’s the one reason why I’m upset that they closed off Kaju Market. Because ppl can’t see that Korean ppl live here.
During the riots, I was just a baby, but my parents say they are disappointed with the police and the government, because they blocked off the riots where the rich neighborhoods starts. So my parents were upset that Koreatown bore the brunt of the riots, even though Koreans didn’t have a direct connection to the Rodney King incident. In a research paper for school, I found a picture of the old Kaju Market, and people were holding rifles on the roof. The thoughts and ideas behind the power relations of ‘redlining’ are still very prevalent now. The areas of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu were safe areas, but not Koreatown. Whereas everyone else had insurance on their businesses, most Koreans were immigrants and they couldn’t get insurance. They got the short end of the stick.
Coming from my house to work, just a two-block walk, there is a camp of homeless people. That wasn’t there before. It smells like the bathroom when you walk by. I don’t have anything against homeless people, but I don’t know. We should make a solution for this. Even downtown when I used to drive around at night, there were new gentrified hotels and buildings, but close by are the camps of homeless people. I didn’t understand how there could be so much disparity of wealth.
Before Kaju Market was a parking lot, and I could see the community of Koreans walking back and forth. It was an open space. Now the new Kaju Market’s parking lot has a tall wall, and it hides the activity of Korean people. It feels like they are pushing us down. It feels like discrimination. I think it’s a bad idea.
Close by, the newly gentrified spots like the dessert spots and cafes and the Sumo Dog, if you go inside, it’s all non-Koreans. And the customers don’t look like they’re from Koreatown. And the walls are glass—so you can see inside. It’s different from Kaju Market. When you’re driving by, you see white people. They don’t even live here, so I don’t know why they’re being represented. Asians are seen as being the quiet victimized minority. It’s kind of like that—hiding Koreans behind the big market wall. It’s like quiet suffering.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
The 24 Hour Fitness by Wilshire and Western. It’s very hidden, but they’re expanding. I joined a long time ago, so it’s so cheap. It’s ridiculous—I pay 100 bucks a year, whereas people now pay 30 bucks a month. You see a community of people there. Some of them I’ve seen since I first started working out in 2009, and back then I was a barely graduated high school kid. One guy is a security guard, another is my old high school pastor, who might help me get a job at Road and Track Magazine—if that works out, that’d be great.
The gym, for newcomers, could normally be scary, but unlike the rest of the outside world, it’s very easy to build relations there because we all have something in common.