Cailey Beck is a rising senior at New Covenant Academy and lives in Little Bangladesh, Koreatown. As an extremely introspective girl, she loves to read, study the world, and learn about global issues. She’s involved in a wide array of extracurriculars, such as being a writer/editor for New Covenant Academy’s newspaper, The Husky Herald; a secretary in the student council; a starter on New Covenant Academy’s Varsity Girls Volleyball Team; and a member of the yearbook committee. In her free time, Cailey enjoys writing for her blog, working on short stories or scripts, watching movies, and reading. She hopes to attend UC Berkeley and wants to major in Philosophy.
Where is your hometown?
I was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in L.A. Afterward, I lived in Santa Clarita until I was around 7 or 8. Then I came to Koreatown. When I first came here from Santa Clarita, I really missed it. I hated L.A. and how dirty it was. But now that I think about it, I’m glad that I live in L.A. People in Santa Clarita are kind of racist—it wasn’t full-out racism, it was more subconscious. People were drawn towards the people who looked like them.
My teachers used to favor certain students more. I remember they would give out gold stars if you were a really good student. I never really got one of those compared to one of my classmates who was white with blond hair and blue eyes. She got them every day. I was a really good kid, and I never got in trouble. Now when I look back, I kind of look at it differently. I can’t remember specific instances, but there were definitely times when my friends would say stuff about Asians. You can’t blame them because they were kids and they didn’t know any better, but there were those small things. So looking back, I can definitely see that there was [racism]. It wasn’t malicious though, it was just kind of ignorant.
Some students actually bought gift cards for their teachers. Personally, I would buy gifts for my teachers, but that’s because I really appreciate them. Right now, at the school that I’m going to, I’ve been with my teachers for three, going on four years, so I would definitely give them gifts just to appreciate them. But, if you’re a kid and you’re doing that, I feel like it’s the parents saying, “Can you look after my kid?” It’s kind of a bargain, but it’s also a way to say thank you. I don’t want to label it like they were bribing their teacher, because it could’ve been innocent. I guess that kind of gift-giving culture is anywhere, because even in Korea richer parents would give teachers money, and those kids would be treated a little bit better. They’d get in a little less trouble or be graded a little less harshly.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I live in Little Bangladesh, which is basically right outside of Koreatown. They’re kind of the same. It’s pretty nice here. Usually, in Koreatown there’s a Korean store on every street, but in the area that I live in there are no Korean shops. It’s all Hispanic or Bangladeshi, so that’s kind of different. I feel like living here is the same as it would be in any other part of Koreatown. There are a lot of fruit and taco stands.
Sometimes I feel a little bit unsafe when I’m walking home. I definitely wouldn’t go out at night. I’ve been conditioned to think that L.A. is dangerous. You see the news and you hear stories. Growing up in the city, your parents are always like, “It’s dangerous to go outside, don’t go outside.” So you kind of learn to be distrustful of your surroundings. It’s not a specific instance; it’s just a general idea that it’s dangerous here.
It’s loud in Little Bangladesh. Sometimes you have to wonder whether it’s a car backfiring or a gunshot. It’s that kind of area.
I’m obviously biased, but I think that although it is true that the people who wanted to expand Little Bangladesh had a right to do so in a legal sense, Koreatown has been here for much longer and has an incredibly rich culture that shouldn’t really be tampered with. Korean people have been living here for generations, and now over two million Koreans are in Los Angeles.*
Koreatown is a really special place where these two cultures exist in a harmonious way, which is pretty rare. While I understand where the people of Little Bangladesh are coming from, I think that Koreatown should be given precedent, considering its historical and cultural significance.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
I might be biased, but it’s the heart of L.A. This small square in the heart of L.A. is my whole world. Koreatown is important to me because I don’t know anything else. As soon as I cross Wilshire, I’m lost. Anytime I go anywhere here, I encounter places I’ve made memories with people I know, and I love that. I used to go to the Shatto Bowling Alley a lot. I’ve been going there for school, or with family and friends, since I was a kid. I’ve made a lot of memories at Madang and the plaza right next to it. I spend a lot of time with my friends there. It’s like the go-to place when you’re hanging out with people. You’ll eat at Madang, then you’ll go play pool, and then you’ll have dessert. Within those two blocks, you can do so much.
Because it’s so central, my friends and I can do whatever we want. One of my friends used to live a block from our school, so we used to go to her house every day and have barbecue parties after school. In the summer, we’d buy meat from Target, eat it and go swim.
I’ve spent my formative years here; I became a person here. And I’m so grateful for that. I’m so lucky to have been exposed to my culture and so many different experiences by growing up in K-Town. It’s sappy but that’s how I feel.
A big part of Downtown is the Fashion District and a lot of those people live in Koreatown. A lot of the Korean and Mexican owners and all of the workers live in Koreatown. By name, it’s Koreatown, but if you actually look at the demographics, it’s Mexican, Korean, White, etc. When I was in elementary school, all of the people in my apartment building were Korean. But before I moved out, all of the people who were living next to us were all White. It’s not a bad thing—it’s just surprising because it’s undesirable to live here.
Koreatown is really dirty. I went to meet my family in a suburban part of Florida and, compared to Koreatown, it was extremely clean. It’s hard to open windows here because your floor ends up being covered in dust and there will be microparticles all over your door. But in Florida, there’s no trash on the streets. In L.A., the streets and the sidewalk have dirt and gum on them, but in Florida, there’s like nothing. It’s like it was just paved over. It’s all the rain, and the air is clean. The air is humid, but it doesn’t smell in Florida compared to L.A. When you’re walking around, you smell a lot of things like urine and poo or gasoline, but in Florida, it’s just the smell of clean air. When you see suburban towns in movies, that’s what it looks like.
There have been a lot of African American and White people moving in, which is kind of like gentrification, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know it pushes people out [of the area], but I feel like it makes neighborhoods safer. It makes things more crowded and dirtier than before, but in the long run, it makes me feel proud that Korean culture is getting some recognition. We were this tiny divided country and we had so many issues. Korean people were heavily oppressed during the war—there were rules on how short you could cut your hair as well as strict curfews and people would mysteriously disappear —it was really corrupt. Korea has advanced so much.
How has quarantine affected you and your family?
Well, my mom is still working. She goes downtown for her clothing store. For the first few months, she didn’t, but for the last four months, she has been. We have hand sanitizer everywhere. We’re taking basic precautions right now, the ones mandated by the government.
How do you feel personally about COVID-19?
To be honest, I feel like I am separated from my body. It feels like it’s not happening to me. It’s kind of surreal. I’m talking to my friends every single night and we’ll play Minecraft together. But there is still that sense of isolation…technology can only do so much, you know. It can bring you face-to-face and help you communicate, but there’s no physical presence.
This is so privileged for me to say, but I feel like quarantine really gave me a chance for introspection—slowing down and reflection.
For example, I started meditating recently. I used to do it a lot in my junior year but I stopped for a bit. I got back into it. I like to use guided meditation apps. My favorite one is called Insight Timer. It’s so good. There’s so many courses there, too. Meditating definitely makes you more patient. It makes you less angry and irritable, but I’m still working on that because I’m a really angry person. Meditating has really helped a lot. Meditating could go two ways. For people who aren’t in touch with their feelings, they could use meditation as a way to be more in touch with their inner lives and thoughts. But for me, I’m too in touch with my feelings. I think too much. Meditation has really helped me to relax and empty my mind and have a blank slate. Before, I used to have constant traffic in my head, like a radio. Meditation has helped me to quiet it. I meditate every day, before I sleep for ten minutes.
What have you been doing during quarantine?
I’ve been studying and reading a lot. I’m taking an online psychology course. I got a bunch of books for my birthday and I’ve been watching a lot of movies and TV shows. I stick with The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time…I’ve watched all ten seasons of Bob’s Burgers in two months. It’s not super addicting but the show makes me feel really safe and relaxed because I can’t watch high-intensity shows like Breaking Bad. Right now, I’m reading the IQ84 Series, Sense and Sensibility, and like 10 other books.
What is your favorite place in Koreatown?
My favorite place in Koreatown is at a plaza around 6th and Western. I love the açaí bowls from UbaTuba. Every time I go to UbaTuba I always get the same thing: a legal-style açaí bowl with banana and granola. I can’t go now because of quarantine, but during the school year, my friends and I would go after school a couple of times a month or every time we hung out. But most of the time we would just Uber eats it to whomever’s house we were at on that day.
Before the quarantine, all we did was eat Yupdduk and go to noraebangs. We ran around eating Ubatuba acai and playing pool. My friend used to live in the apartment next to me and in the lobby, there was a communal pool playing area where we used to go after school and play for pool for, like, three hours.