Sally is a sophomore at the Larchmont Charter School in Los Angeles. She is currently the head of the first journalism club at her school and the editor of the yearbook. She has taken many classes involving photography and filmmaking. She is very politically active and partakes in various service activities. She tries to limit her impact on the environment by being a pescatarian and thrifting clothes to continue to fuel her love of fashion. Some of her favorite things include rain, sunsets, scented candles, and the beach. She hopes to find an intersection between political journalism and photography for her future career. Unlike other participants in this project, Sally hasn’t been a part of the Koreatown community for long. But now, Koreatown has become a big part of her life, making her experience in Koreatown unique and different from others.
INTERVIEWED BY CRYSTAL YOON AND MARTIN CARPIO
Where is your hometown?
I have lived in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, for my whole life. I live specifically in the Fairfax District near Melrose. My father’s parents decided to live here because it was a very Jewish neighborhood and they felt safe here. Three generations have lived in the exact house I am living in right now. My grandparents first lived in the house and after my grandparents passed away, my dad really liked the house and inherited this place with his sister. We were very lucky because as soon as we bought the house, house prices started to rise in the neighborhood real quick. We’re able to live here for cheap and that’s one of the reasons why we’re staying in this neighborhood.
I think West Hollywood is becoming a very popular and progressive place. Every day I see so many new people walking around the streets of West Hollywood. It’s become a really “hip” place and there’s often lines outside of shoe stores and more. Compared to Koreatown or other areas, I feel like West Hollywood is special because there’s a lot of different people in one place. It has always been a diverse place, accepting especially the Jewish and LGBTQ+ community. In this one area, everyone can come together without feeling isolated. While our family has lived in this area, we have lived next to a butcher, hairdresser, and a lawyer and that just makes me realize how diverse this community is. It’s just always been a place for different types of people.
Near my hometown is The Grove. I don’t go there as much anymore, but when I was younger, I went there almost every week mainly with friends, but also I saw movies, had dinner, and went to the Farmer’s Market with my family.
How has living through this (quarantine) experience made you feel?
It feels really hard and sad because a lot of crazy things are happening, but also it’s kind of cool to look through such a historic moment. I never thought I’d be seeing the things I’m seeing so close to me and it feels kind of cool to be in such a historical moment that will be talked about for years.
There were some protests going on near my house. The main target of the protests were right down my block. That whole night was just helicopters and sirens for hours; I remember them stopping at around 3:00 a.m. Seeing my neighborhood and my street on the news was really chaotic and interesting to see. Seeing the fire outside of my house will probably stick with me the most because I’ve never seen a fire that big and that close. It was like I was watching a movie. I was sitting right here and I looked out my window and there was just a huge fire. I was speechless.
The protest that was happening was a peaceful protest, and I couldn’t go to that because my parents didn’t want me getting corona. But my mom let me walk to the end of the block where I was taking photos and then suddenly everyone started running, and they all had clothes in their hands. I looked and it was Urban Outfitters right on the corner. The window was smashed and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” That was the first time I heard that there might be looters. I wasn’t watching the news yet, but I saw it right in front of me. It was pretty wild.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I go to the Larchmont Charter School in Koreatown. It’s an elementary, middle school and high school. My older brother went to this school before me. He really liked it and I was looking for a middle school and it had a lot of things I liked. It’s a small school with lots of projects. I love it there.
Because I don’t live in Koreatown, I was definitely a little nervous and scared. For the first year, I didn’t really explore the neighborhood because I felt like an outsider. Although I still am unfamiliar with the Korean culture and haven’t been around Korean people as much, I’m working to get to know the town better. While getting to know this town, I’ve realized how much I like the environment of this community. I like how close together everything is. Right by my school, there’s a Starbucks and I can just go walk somewhere and it’s like right there. There’s a lot of buses that go from West Hollywood to Koreatown, so it is really central and easy to get to. I really like West Hollywood, but I wouldn’t mind living in Koreatown. I enjoy living in cities and Koreatown fits that criteria, so I’m open to living here.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
I really like Koreatown. I don’t think I realized how big Koreatown became in my life because at first I just came here for school. I would have never imagined spending so much time in Koreatown. Because many of my friends live in Koreatown, we hang out a lot in this area. Koreatown really became a big part of my life without me realizing it and I think that’s cool.
Recently, so many major things have happened in my life at school. I met my boyfriend more than a year at my school and that was the start of my exploration in this neighborhood. Meeting him was like a whirlwind of going to new places. Almost every single date we had was a new place in Koreatown that I had never been to. We especially went to get boba and we used the Metro train station on Wilshire and Western to get to different places. Meeting him was definitely the starting point of my adventure in Koreatown.
What is your favorite place in Koreatown?
My favorite place in Koreatown, although it might sound strange, would be the 16 bus stop at 3rd and Occidental. This is the bus I used to take home everyday from school. After school, my friends and I would walk up to the bus stop and talk about our day while waiting for the bus. I really miss these memories because now, I’m not able to go to school, meet my friends, and ride the bus with them. Usually, I would be so tired by the time I got to the bus stop and would wish my mom would just pick me up. But now, I’d give anything to be there again.
Although it’s not necessarily located in Koreatown, I really enjoy going to MacArthur Park. I like this park because I felt like there was so much character and so many different stories in this one place. I usually like to sit down looking at the view and thinking about how everyone here has a life as vivid as mine, but also realizing how I will never know what their life really is like. I come here with my friends and we would bring a blanket and look at the ducks and geese. We sometimes brought food and ate together. It was kind of like a picnic. However, I would say that this park is definitely not the safest place to be in. I was scared to go there alone or past dark. I didn’t realize how unsafe this place was until one day I saw someone pull out a switchblade on someone else. Although everyone was okay and it de-escalated pretty quickly, after witnessing that, I pretty much stopped going.
Although I don’t have much experience with Korean food, one food I enjoy eating is cream puffs from Beard Papa’s, located in the Madang mall. Also, in the Madang mall, there is a boba place. I go there a lot along with the one on Vermont and 7th mainly after school with my friends or with my boyfriend. I actually didn’t like boba because I thought it wasn’t boba unless it was Thai Tea and I’m not a fan of tea. Only recently, I discovered that there are other flavors of milk tea and out of all those I tried, chocolate milk tea is my favorite. I started drinking it a lot last year and the more I drank boba, I realized how many different kinds of flavors there were. I’ve also tried lots of ramen, especially spicy ramen. Recently, I went to the Korean market and bought 15 different kinds of ramen. I’ve also tried kimchi but it’s not really my favorite. I used to eat Korean BBQ and I did enjoy it but now that I don’t eat meat anymore, it’s been a while. I’ve liked almost all the Korean food I’ve tried but I definitely haven’t tried as much as I want.
I also enjoy looking for art installations in Koreatown because I think these art installations are what is making Koreatown trendy. I’ve passed wings on a wall to take photos outside of the Line Hotel. I don’t really know any others, but I think I’ve passed by some street art on Wilshire. I think having these art installations is good as long it’s not gentrification and taking something away from the neighborhood. I think we should try to make this area a trendy place without forgetting all of the history. I personally think it’s important to preserve the history of immigrants in Koreatown. Right now, the words “immigrant” and “immigration” are implied as a bad thing and have a lot of stigma. However, I think it’s important to recognize the hardships of coming to America. All the Korean immigrants that came here went through a lot to make Koreatown the way it is now. The people fought for a long time to fight for their rightful place here and I don’t want that distinct culture to be bulldozed.
Are you afraid? What frightens you?
Right now, what frightens me is the state of America at the moment, like the ignorance and racism. We saw it with COVID, and now we’re seeing it again with the Black Lives Matter movement, and it’s just like, kind of crazy how long it’s taken for it to be talked about like for years and years. There’s been systemic oppression in America, and people have been talking about it but like no change. And there’s still no change now so that’s really scary sometimes. I feel a little helpless, like I can’t do as much as I want to.
Are there any negative things that you faced with this pandemic?
Yeah, it’s definitely been hard not seeing my friends, obviously that’s been really hard for me. And I’m pretty introverted. I need time to myself. And you think because of this pandemic and [because] you can’t see anyone that I’d have time to myself but I’m with my family all the time and I can’t get out and just do something on my own. That hasn’t been great, and I had a family member affected by COVID too so that was hard, but he’s doing better.
What is the toughest part of your days right now?
Honestly, the toughest part is after online school and before dinnertime because I don’t really know what to do for that period of time. It’s pretty tough because I have homework, but not that much to do during that time, so I never know what to do. But the best part is probably dinner because I get to eat.