Performative Activism is Toxic, Organizing Means Showing Up

My Gen Z kids talk to me a lot about performative activism.

The sort of activism that is done online to increase one’s social currency rather than one’s committment to an issue. Individual acts may seem benign. But the aggregate effects can result in misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods, and lies being perpetuated. The spectacles of fake fights and fake issues. Unfortunately, main stream media feeds the beast by constantly referring social media comments.

Social media also gives power to rapid organizing around non-issues with false villains. Asian Americans crowdsourcing to explain Black Lives Matter to their older relatives who don’t speak English. Related commentary included accusing old Asians who don’t speak English about their supposed racism against Black people. Instead of fighting racism where it has power (at their schools or workplace); they fake fought racism where it has no power and accused older Asians, who weren’t even a part of the conversation, of being the real racists.

It gets worse. The disconnect from reality is mind boggling.This seeped into academia. Professor Renee Tajima wanted to do a presentation through about why older Asians who don’t speak English shouldn’t call the police on Black people. I reached out to someone I know at I presented the facts. Older Asian Americans are the least likely to call law enforcement of any group of Americans accross all law enforcement through the entire United States. Why wouldn’t Tajima, a professor and researcher, research data BEFORE coming up with a bad idea and running with it? Because she assumes that her target, older Asians who don’t speak English, can’t join her conversation. agreed with me and cancelled her presentation.

This is one of the best articles I’ve read about Boba Liberals.

“But their association with liberal ideology and liberalism is simply a means to increase their proximity to whiteness or to pretend to be white themselves,” the Urban Dictionary entry says. “Boba liberals use their Asian background as a platform to speak on behalf of the Asian population in the West, using talking points created by white liberals, which has a tendency to gaslight actual issues faced by the Asian diaspora.”

“Boba liberals occupy the small amount of media coverage that Asians receive,” Liu said. “As someone who self-identifies as a liberal, I only ever see articles by and about Asian Americans who do little to advocate for their community and instead spend more of their time admonishing us for our supposed anti-Blackness or some other aspect they perceive. This is extremely frustrating, as it does nothing to help our community and usually helps [boba liberals] ingratiate themselves to their own liberal establishment niche.”

I call them proxies for white liberal assimilationists.

My nonprofit is the only AAPI focused organization in LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Incubation Academy. There are over 100 community based organizations in the cohorts. Mostly Black and Brown (self-described). During a recent in person mixer, I mentioned the above Asian Americans who fixate on old Asians who don’t speak English being anti-Black and calling the police on communities of color.

Everyone in the room was confused by these initiatives or movements (they managed to get a lot of mainstream media coverage). Nobody felt like old Asians who don’t speak English was a problem in their lives or movement building. Nobody thought that Black Lives Matter would really gain traction if old Asians who don’t speak English supported them. Nobody thought that Asians, old or young, calling the police on them was a problem. A few people specifically said, “The Koreans will talk to you. They will hash out things with you. They don’t call the police.” A few people also mentioned that when they do work with Asian Americans the relationships are lasting and meaningful and Asian Americans don’t betray Black people like other groups and even their own.

My daughter got her degree in Political Science and some of my friends are Asian American studies professors. They send me links or gift me books. The Elite Capture of Asian American Politics is a real issue.

Working-class Asian Americans, Kang acknowledges, have it much worse. They are, in particular, doubly ostracized. To begin with, lacking financial and personal security, they have no basic economic foothold in American society. (It is not a coincidence that the majority of victims of recently publicized anti-Asian hate crimes have been older and low-income.) This socioeconomic alienation is further compounded by the indifference (at best) and condescension (at worst) of Asian American elites, who view them as a reputational risk in the eyes of professional white liberals, both politically and economically.

The implications of this division are serious. As Kang observes, “the millions of Asian working poor have been made entirely invisible, not just by white people but also by their professional brothers and sisters,” many of whose concerns—admission to Harvard, “neuroses about microaggressions,” a “bamboo ceiling” in corporate boardrooms, lack of representation in mainstream media—seem less urgent than matters of affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, good jobs, and quality health care. Kang thus identifies professional Asian Americans like himself as the main obstacle to a meaningful Asian American political identity. While they are busy fighting over access to elite spaces and climbing the ladder of multicultural meritocracy, Kang writes, “the poorest and most vulnerable get stuck with the bill.”

Review of Jay Caspian Kangs “The Loneliest Americans” by Lucy Song is a PhD candidate in Government at Harvard.

I agree with Kang on the above. However, I don’t share his dispair. Kang is clearly removed from his own Korean American community and Asian American activism. Generally, I can tell if an Asian American who writes about identity issues and politics speaks their parent’s language or not. Asian Americans who don’t speak their heritage languages generally have more identity issues. There I said it. He writes on Asian American issues for publications like the New Yorker and New York Times because he’s of Asian heritage and he’s a good writer. It’s not because he actually cares about Asian American issues. More often than not, he seems to be trying to be a great writer by showing off ambivilence masquerading as false sophistication; than he is trying to write with clarity, cogency, or relevance about Asian America.

The professional Asian Americans who act as barriers by performing inclusion.

I’ve been to two seminars organized by the Korean American Law Enforcement Organization at Aroma Spa Center in Koreatown. They invited Korean American nonprofits and “leaders”. Who is this for? It’s performative to give seminars to professional Korean Americans who face no language or economic barriers. At one seminar, a Korean senior man, who needs assistance from law enforcment was shut down when he pleaded for help. My face is still red hot from thinking about this.

I was at a National Immigrant Legal Center’s panel discussion at KIWA. Younger Korean Americans spoke about things that they clearly had not researched. They said that food insecurity is not a problem among Korean Americans because we have great, affordable supermarkets. I almost fell of my chair. There are 40,000 undocumented Koreans in Los Angeles. There’s a huge problem of low wage earning Koreans aging out of the work force and ending up in destitute poverty.

Photos of me organizing and supporting other organizers.

I organize with different people for different issues. There’s overlap. I organize specifically for Korean language access and marginalized Koreans. I do Pan-Asian organizing with older Japanese and Cantonese Americans who have been doing the work since the late 1960s. I organize with BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color).

We are willing to show up as an army of one or two or three. We can organize dozens, hundreds, and thousands of people for a protest or a rally.

In Koreatown Organizing for Community Safety
Organizing for Citizenship for All
Organizing for Healthcare for all and Bilingual/Bicultural Healthcare
Organizing for Culturally Relevant foods to be distributed by in-language partners
Organizing accurate count of homeless Korean and AAPI in Koreatown
Organizing Korean language assistance for section-8 applications
Organizing protest in front of Ralph’s for discrimination against Koreans
Solidarity with Oaxacans and Black Americans at a Oaxacan protest where I was a guest speaker Link to clip where I speak at the Oaxacan led rally to protest racist statements by LA City Council members against Oaxacans, Blacks, and Korean. Nobody was spared their vitriol.

Posting wanted flyers for perpetrators of a violent hate crime against a Korean elder
Asian American Democrats of Los Angeles mixer
Organizing for Community Land Trusts that are inclusive of Korean speakers
Ambassador Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter came to meet me to commend my community organizing work

On Demand Revenge: Beef is the tv series that America, Asian America, Korean America, and I needed NOW

America is going to talk about Beef for a long time. The show is hitting larger zeitgeist. You don’t have to be Asian to get many aspects of Beef. America is a very angry country at the moment. The revenge in Beef is fueled by social media and the internet. I know that people my children’s age (Gen Z) can’t imagine a time without social media or the internet and on demand streaming. My children couldn’t stop laughing when I told them when I was in junior high school we would talk about getting home in time to watch the latest Michael Jackson video on MTV. What no live streaming? You didn’t even have cell phones back then. How did you know what time it was was? We have watches, or specifically Swatches.

We are living in an era of vitriolic social media feuds where people can access each other’s personal information and whereabouts in ways that were not possible before the internet. We are living in an era where unhappy people with too much free time can target anyone else online for the most trivial reason. We are living in an era where anyone feels power by leaving a negative review. We are living in an era where this power, however false, can be exercised anonymously.

Years ago, an Indian American professor felt slighted because I disagreed with his Korean American wife’s Korean restaurant reccomendation. This professor preceded to troll me and my husband online for over five years. He wrote bad reviews about our recipes that were published in Gourmet Magazine, “tastes like MacDonalds”. He trolled us on food forums for grammatical errors. Yes, the Indian professor was an English professor. It was the beginning of on demand revenge in America. Without the internet and the ability to comment on any published article, this professor and I would have never crossed paths again.

Asian America is going to talk about Beef for a long time. It’s going to ride into this fall and beyond. Everyday there are new takes on another aspect of Beef, whether it’s how Asian American men are represented or how beef nailed the Korean family dynamics or the Korean church.

The cartography of Beef is my home town. I know all the Asian American characters in Beef. I’ve been in their spaces and inside their homes. I’ve eaten with them. Beef is a game changer for Asian American creatives behind the scenes and in front of the scenes.

I have never felt this seen and this satisfied with Asian American representation.

I live a few blocks away from Hanbat Shul Lung Tang, the Korean soup restaurant where Danny’s family goes to eat. I location sourced the restaurant for Andrew Zimmern’s show. Yes, I met Andrew. No comment. Hanbat opened in 1988. It’s one of those restaurants that practically every Korean in LA City knows about.

Looks like it’s been there for 50 years

I chortled when Danny ended up at Arena night club. I don’t go to night clubs, but even I know about this place. It’s a hard pumping party place. Late at night, I’ve seen Korean men and women so drunk that they have to carried by their friends, sometimes while sobbing.

My cousin is the lead pastor at a second generation Korean American church. My kids used to go to his church and my mother’s church. My kids went to Saturday Korean school at OMC (Oriental Mission Church) for several years.

The juxtaposition of Amy and George in a sterile Western pyschological space with Amy cynically repeating what she thinks George and the Asian American pyschologist want to hear; and Danny sobbing at a Korean American church is nothing short of brilliant. Neither setting is satisfying or healing. Neither method really works. I’ve watched the clip of Danny singing Amazing Grace over a dozen times. How is Steven Yeun this multi-talented? And I’ve been in that space feeling the same emotions.

My 19 year old son saw Steven Yeun at Salt and Straw on Larchmont Blvd. My 24 year old daughter and I saw Conan O’Brian crossing the street towards us on Larchmont Blvd. Larchmont is adjacent to Koreatown. I remember when I was 26 years old, a white woman said to me that Larchmont Village isn’t a place for “your kind.” In 1994, The Los Angeles Times published a racially loaded article about the Koreans moving into Hancock Park. Now Larchmont Village is brimming with Koreans and the staff at Salt and Straw are giddy that Steven Yeun and a member of BTS patronized them.

Noah’s Bagels gets slammed with older and senior Korean customers on weekends

My deceased aunt lived in Westlake Village for four decades. In a gated community, no less. I went to junior high school in Tarzana. Calabassas is smack in between Westlake Village and Tarzana. I know the rich West Valley Koreans too. Naomi is someone I know. A Korean American friend of mine lives in nearby Encino and she does things like jetting around America with her friends to eat at the priciest restaurants from New York to Sonoma. Her uncle owns a private jet company. She invited me over to her house when she flew in Buddhist monk chef Jeong Kwan of Netflix Chef’s Table fame. The famous chef cooked for us. This is the most exclusive dining experience. You can’t buy it with money. You need to know someone who can fly in a famous Buddhist monk chef and thinks you’re just right for the experience.

Calabasses Realtor showing off Westlake Village Gated Communities
Lotus flower tea ceremony with Jeong Kwan

I’m friends with or aquaintances with numerous people involved with Gyopo US. They helped me fundraise for homeless Koreans and I was a panelist on one of their programs. I found at that Joseph Lee (George) did an exhibtion with Gyopo US and a Korean American clothing designer that my daughter models for once dated Joseph. I’m familiar with Amy, George, and Fumi and their cartography. Gyopo US does a lot of cool, grassroots programming. But they’re affiliated with elite or luxury Korean diasporic artists who curate or exhibit at world class museums all over the world.

This benefit was a few blocks from my house in Hancock Park. The Hancock Park Koreans are also a thing.

I’ve read numerous takes on Beef written by Asian Americans who grew up in the 1990s or 1980s. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 48 years and I really needed to see Asian American rage and complexities portrayed on screen.

The 1970s were a dismal decade for Asian American representation on screen. I remember watching reruns of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father with my brothers. We just wanted to see an Asian face on screen. I don’t even remember the particulars of the show. I only remember Miyoshi Umeki playing a maid and saying, “Mr. Eddie’s father” with a heavy Japanese accent. Eddie was an elementary school aged child that an Asian maid called “Mr.” I choked on that one. A few kids at school asked me if the maid was my mom.

My brothers and I also watched Kung Fu starring David Carradine as a Chinese man. Yes, a few kids at school thought it was funny to constantly tell me to snatch a pebble from their hand. At a time when there was so little Asian representation on screen, kids at school associated ANY representation with me or my brothers.

Asians were incidental and minor characters in any number of American westerns. But the portrayals were always deliberately racist, demeaning, or caricatures. In other words propagandistic “weird, perpetual foreigners”. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember them being more than cooks, laundry workers, domestic servants, or dragon ladies.

My brothers and I really enjoyed watching Hong Kong martial arts films. But this was a double edged sword. We were also constantly asked if Bruce Lee is our uncle and to show off some kung fu skills by other kids at school.

One day, when I was in elementary school and my brothers were in Junior high and high school, we were walking in the San Fernando Valley with Kenny, a Cantonese American friend. His family was from Hong Kong. A group of kids started teasing us and calling us racial slurs. They eventually asked us if we knew Kung Fu. We said, “Yes” and started fighting back and beat them up. My brothers and I had were taking Tae Kwon Do and Kenny was taking Kung Fu at the time. So yeah, Asians do get angry and we fight back.

My parents have always been connected to Korean content since they immigrated in 1975. I remember watching 1970s Korean variety shows and dramas. Most of the shows featured Trot and ballad singers. The dramas weren’t anywhere near the production quality of todays K-Dramas or art house cinema.

Korean American Food History, The Origins of LA Galbi and Soon Dubu

I’m a published food historian. I like to clear up historically inaccurate information and give restaurant recommendations and cooking tips.

There’s a bit of confusion in published writing regarding the origins of LA galbi and the mean of the “LA” part. A few Koreans have conjectured that the “LA” might refer to the “lateral axis cut” of the meat. I’ve read this in both English and Korean.

My husband is a chef, a culinary instructor, and a butcher. There is no such thing as a “lateral axis cut” of meat. The “LA” refers to Los Angeles.

A few Korean Americans also falsely believe that it’s a “Latino cut” of beef and Koreans first purchased the cut at Latino owned meat markets beginning in the 1980s. This is also not true. My family lived in predominately Mexican American neighborhoods in the 1970s. This is not a “Latino” cut of meat. We have plenty of experience shopping at Hispanic markets. I started seeing this cut in a few Mexican or Hispanic butcher sections in the 1990s. I know that this cut is sometimes used in Mexico. It was probably taken to Mexico from LA through reverse migration. I also read Spanish at adult level. I’ve researched this in Spanish as well.

The first time my parents bought LA galbi was at an American supermarket in Koreatown that was being taken over by Koreans. A Korean butcher explained the cut to my parents. He said Koreans developed it in LA because of how whole cows are broken down in American style butchery. He said 통갈비 tong galbi was a rare cut to glean. LA galbi could be cut with an electric band saw from a slab of American style cut beef ribs. This was in the 1970s.

I also trace the history of technology in cooking. Electric band saws were widely used by butchers in Los Angeles and the United States well before they were widely available in South Korea or Mexico. The LA galbi cut of beef is widely associated with Koreans in Los Angeles and the United States. I’ve seen it sold in mainstream supermarket chains as “Korean bbq ribs”.

My son asked me if soon dubu was invented in Los Angeles. He found a blog post that linked to a video with chef Roy Choi claiming that soon dubu was invented in Los Angeles. Soon dubu wasn’t invented in Los Angeles. It was invented in Korea. Some form of soft tofu stew has been eaten for hundreds of years in Korea. A recipe for soon dubu that is similar to the ones served at Beverly Soon Tofu in Los Angeles was first published in a newspaper in Korea in the 1970s. Beverly Soon Tofu openend in 1986. I had soon dubu at restaurants in Korea and Koreatown well before 1986. Others think that BCD Tofu House, which opened in 1996 invented soon dubu. You see how the timelines of these claims don’t make sense.

What the owners of Beverly Soon Tofu and BCD Tofu House did was dedicate restaurants to serving soon dubu as the focal point. They also helped popularize the dishe with a larger American audience. BCD Tofu House makes soon dubu kits that are sold at Korean and Asian supermarkets in Los Angeles.

One last myth that I want to address is the weird idea floating around 1.5 and 2nd generation Korean American men about milk being added to the broth at Hanbat Shul Lung Tang to make the broth milky. No. Milk is not added. Milk would curdle. The key to making milky white broth is to boil cartilage rich beef bones on gentle boil for hours and hours. The fat and collagen from the bones emulsify in the broth to make it milky white. I was a location scout for one of Andrew Zimmer’s Koreatown shows. I visited the staff at Hanbat and they let me inside their kitchen. No milk.

History of LA’s Koreatown, Then and Now

I wrote about Koreatown in 2015 for KCET.

Hung Sa Dan and Dosan Ahn Chang Ho House on Bunker Hill

At the turn of the last century, Korean immigrants began settling into Bunker Hill, one of the few neighborhoods designated for non-whites, on the western edge of downtown Los Angeles.

When the Korean United Presbyterian Church was established further south on Jefferson Boulevard in 1905, the Korean community began to grow around the church, unofficially establishing the area into “Old Koreatown.”

The Korean American community in Los Angeles continues to preserve our history here and the legacy of independence leader Dosan Ahn Chang Ho. A few years ago, I was asked to support getting historic designation for one the properties Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and The Young Koreans. We were successful. By the way Phillip Cuddy, Dosan Ahn’s half white grandson, tried to stop us. We found Phillip to be an entitled meddling jerk. His grandfather’s legacy is for the Korean people. It’s not about his ego and pettiness. Phillip insisted that a group of Korean Americans listen to gossip about his grandfather and his family. We shouted back, “We don’t give a shit! Shut up.” Contrary to what Phillip says in public, he is full of racial self-hatred and loathing for other Koreans including his own family.

As racially restrictive covenants began to decline over the decades, Koreans began moving north to Olympic Boulevard. By the early 1970s there was a cluster of businesses catering to a fast-growing Korean population.

In 1971, a Korean immigrant named Hi Duk Lee purchased five blocks of real estate near Olympic and Normandie, opening Olympic market with a grand plan to have Koreatown’s architecture rival Chinatown’s. He imported tiles for VIP Palace restaurant which he opened in 1975. He then built the Korean Village Shopping Center; the cluster of businesses he started are considered to be the foundations of contemporary Koreatown as we know it. To solidify his investment, Lee spearheaded the campaign to have Koreatown officially designated and in 1980, L.A. acceded with a sign that said “Koreatown”.

Today, Koreatown encompasses a 2.7-square mile. Virtually every style of major 20th century American architecture is represented here. It’s also home to the most neon signs, densely packed strip malls, valet parkers, and Korean restaurants in all of L.A. County. The majority of the residents here are Latino, but Koreans are still the largest group by single national origin. Wilshire and Western is the new center of Koreatown.

1992 forever changed the course of Koreatown and Korean Americans. What started in South Central LA as an unorganized uprising became a chaos of rioting, looting, and arson in Koreatown. On the surface it looks like Koreatown was rebuilt. But it wasn’t rebuilt for many of the mom and pop business who suffered tremendous or total losses.

David Lee of Jamison Properties began buying distressed properties in 1992. Some say he and his real estate company own over half of Koreatown. What mainstream or white media don’t know is the Lee is the most hated landlord in Koreatown. Venmously hated. His poorly maintained, broken down office buildings are famous. He is also ruthlessly brutal with his tenants. He is known among Korean Americans as the king of shady evictions. Lee has made massive contributions to Koreatown becoming unaffordable for low-income Koreans and mom and pop Korean business owners.

Lee famously avoids media attention. The Korean press are not kind to him. What would be the point of Lee doing a lifestyle spread considering how much he’s hated in Koreatown?

Lee’s three adult children aren’t as press shy. They pivoted the family real estate empire from offices to multifamily residential buildings. They claim to white media that they helped tenants relocate. This isn’t true. Jamieson is the most hated residential landlord as well. The company is responsible for these overpriced and largely empty monstrosities in Koreatown.

The Lee family’s legacy will be “The Family Who Destroyed Koreatown for Koreans.” Koreatown is the least green space in all of LA County. We have the fewest parks and canopy trees (shade). Careless development and poor urban planning are to blame. This is what you have underneath the splash, flash, and “hipness” of Koreatown.

LA’s Koreatown is booming for David Lee, real estate developers, and corporations. It’s not booming for the rest of Korean Americans and it’s become uninhabitable for many low-income Koreans.

To be continued

Koreatown Los Angeles, What’s Really Happening

In 2012, I was a freelance writer at the LA WEEKLY when the rag declared “Koreatown: The Hippest Neighborhood in America.” Back then, The LA WEEKLY was an influential, alternative news source. It has since tanked. 2012 was also the year that Psy’s mega-hit “Gangnam Style” was released and K-Pop made a massive splash in America.

2012 was also the year that homelessness among Korean and Asian immigrants in Koreatown started to increase. Who are the homeless Koreans in Koreatown? They’re not the successful Korean immigrants that grip the mainstream imagination.

An Homeless Outreach Team I work with in Koreatown

According to Korean American social workers and pastors; and Korean residents and business owners in Koreatown; there are 700-1000 homeless Koreans in Koreatown. My own assessment confirms the numbers. Photos of are a homeless outreach team I’m a part of.

Almost all homeless Koreans that I’ve spoken with were perpetual entry level wage earners. They went from one minimum wage job to another. They come from multigenerationl poverty. Their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were low-income. They tend to be undereducated in Korean. They experienced first language attrition and never learned English. Many came to America alone and are undocumented. They don’t attend church and even if they did, church isn’t a replacement for government and mainstream services.

On the surface, it may seem like Koreatown is rich with Korean language services. It is for non-critical services. It isn’t for critical services. Tenant’s rights services only became available in Korean after pandemic. Low-income Korean tenants are still easily evicted and often times illegally so. As low-income Korean workers age out of the worksforce, they are left without any safety nets. No family. If there is family, their family members are also low-income. An unforseen expense can derail and upend a low-income person’s life. Undocumented Koreans don’t benefit from social security even though many of them paid taxes for decades.

But don’t Korean American nonprofits take care of them? Yes and no. A few do what they can, but it’s not nearly enough to meet the growing need. There are big gaps in services for LEP (Limited English Proficient) Koreans in Los Angeles. There is no nonprofit or community based organization that meaningfully and holistically serves Korean seniors. What I’ve seen are fragmented services and a lot of misinformation.

Korean Americans have one of the highest rates of income disparity. The really rich Koreans level the medium income for the poorest of Korean Americans. When Asian American data is disaggregated, older Koreans and Cambodians are among the most impoverished in Los Angeles. Korean Americans have the highest rate of being undocumented among all Asian American groups.

Who really built South Korea and Koreatown? Who did the physical work? Koreans at the lowest stratas of society. They’re also the first to be pushed out of their homes and Koreatown because of gentrification and the corporate take over of Koreatown.

For decades, entry level wage earners could afford to live in Koreatown. A one bedroom apartment that rented for $500 20 years ago is currently almost $3000. A studio apartment that rented for $400 20 years ago is currently $1200-$1600. A room in a boarding house that rented for $300-$400 20 years ago is currently $600-$1200.

To be updated

How to Report an Anti-Asian Hate Crime in Los Angeles and What Will Really Happen

Everything turns into a cottage industry or industrial complex in America. The Stop Anti-Asian hate movement has resulted in nominal policy changes and marketing. I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of policy changes and marketing. I can feel the effects of it. Three years ago, when I first started my nonprofit, it was nearly impossible to get government offices to even accept the idea that Asian Americans have problems. Now they at least listen to me about the woes of Asian Americans, specifically LEP (Limited English Proficient) or linguistically marginalized Korean immigrants.

Protest in Koreatown in March 2021

These kinds of protests have dwindled significantly. Yet, hate incidents and crimes persist in Koreatown LA. A number of Korean and Asian American nonprofits received funding from California’s Stop The Hate Fund. I know many of the Korean and Asian American organizations that received funding for Stop The Hate activities. I’m scratching my head about what they did with the money.

There’s a big issue with implementation of resources for Asian victims of hate crimes. This much lauded book, “How to Report a Hate Crime” lists phone numbers as resources. It’s clear that the author hasn’t tested those numbers. I sat near Esther Lim, who created the book, at a Department of Homeland Security panel discussion a few weeks ago. I said outloud that these resource numbers are being distributed without being vetted. I was the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime. At this point, I have tested every single phone number that was given to me by anti-Asian hate resource providers. They’re mostly useless.

A supermarket employee verbally threatened to beat me up. I had done nothing to her. She assumed that I didn’t speak English and I wouldn’t say anything back. I should have called the police on the spot, so they could speak to witnesses. I didn’t. I was too shaken and angry. I just wanted to go home. A lot of things that I thought were obvious later became obfuscated. The supermarket is a national chain. They did an internal investigation and got witness statements from people who heard the employee make criminal threats of physical violence against me. However, when a LAPD detective investigated months later, she failed to request those statements. She failed to seek out witnesses.

No, I am not pro-police. But I believe in public safety and safety for all. I don’t see alternatives to policing being implemented in Koreatown. As such, Koreatown is where I and many Korean Americans feel the least safe, in particular older or elder Koreans.

I don’t think the supermarket employee should go unpunished either. She needs to take anger management classes and diversity classes. So far, I have had her tormented with investigations. She was fired because of the incident. She lied to the investigating LAPD detective. There are witness statements about what happened. Witnesses corroborate my allegations.

The supermarket’s third party insurance adjustor offered me a $500 settlement. I refused it. What a joke and an insult.

I received no assistance from Korean or Asian American organizations for resources or systems navigation. These are orgs that got “Stop The Hate” funding. All the orgs that know about the incident believe me. Everyone government office I’ve spoken to believes me.

What is abundantly clear to me is that very few people, if any, have experience engaging with an Asian American person who wants to pursue hate crime charges and receive services for a hate crime. If I have barriers to access, how are LEP (Limited English Proficient) Koreans or Asians faring? They’re being ignored.

The LAPD initially refused to take my criminal report. I had to report an officer for misconduct. They eventually took a criminal report, but refused to take a hate crime report.

I was told by a Korean American LAPD officer that the LAPD is not trained to take hate crime reports. The training will happen this year.

I was told by a Korean American FBI agent that the FBI is trying to implement hate crime training. Maybe it will happen this year. Yes, I filed a federal hate crime complaint.

Los Angeles City started a new office, LA City Civil, Human Rights, and Equity Department. The special investigator I spoke to said that he agrees I was a victim of a racially motivated hate crime. The department took my case, but there’s been very little progress.

Asian Americans for Advancing Justice SoCal was the slowest to get back to me. It took them months. They finally said that none of their pro-bono attorneys would take my case because they all work for corporate law firms who don’t want to be involved in legal action against a corporation.

I submitted an online report to Stop AAPI Hate. I got an email months later and I ended up speaking a good listener. But the person didn’t connect me to services or offer resources. He also works at AAPI Equity Alliance, who is listed as a resource for 211 (LA County) or LAvsHate.

I called LA vs Hate and got a care manager who calls me every once in awhile. She’s a nice person, but again, no real services or resources. A whole lot of money and energy has been spent on getting a small number of people to acknowledge that anti-Asian hate even exists.

The California Department of Civil Rights accepted my complaint. The investigation should have started recently. I complained under the Ralphs Act and Unruh Act. The employee and the supermarket could face fines.

I was at a panel discussion with the Department of Homeland Security in March 2023 and I mentioned the hate crime committed against me. I said the implementation doesn’t exist. I specifically mentioned the ideological underpinnings of treating Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners who are extractive. White supremacist settler colonial narratives are used against Asian Americans by whites and other people of color, “We will burn down Korean or Asian business and our businesses will rise in their place.” Insert other people of color for “our”.

Beef (tv series) Asian Americans Behind the Scenes Part 5

Asian American creative talent wasn’t limited to the showrunner and cast. Helen Huang was the costume designer/stylist and Grace Yun was the production designer. Representation matters behind the scenes. The details add to the visual story telling.

I see a little bit of me or someone I’m close to in all the Asian American characters in Beef.

I recognized Amy Hua’s octaganal glasses. They’re from the company Dita, a pricey eyewear line that bills itself as “a discreet luxury”. I have two pairs of Dita glasses, one prescription (the round version of Amy’s) and a pair of sunglasses.

I recognized Fumi’s penchant for Issey Miyake and Japanese avant garde fashion designers. Fumi is stuck in the 1980s, when this sort of fashion was peaking and so was her late husband’s art career. Her heavy eye makeup reinforces her sense of being held hostage to past glory.

I almost bought the multi-colored Issey Miyake coat Fumi wears. Issey Miyake is my favorite fashion designer of all time. While my choices aren’t as over the top as Fumi’s, Miyake pieces make up a decent portion of my everyday clothing.

Amy’s everyday wear at home and her place of business is “white coastal grandma” with lots of light colors and oversized silhouettes. At times, I come close to this look. However, my look veers away from white grandma to “international Asian creative with a minimalist and avant garde twist”. I look like I write poetry and make my own doenjang. I also look like I don’t get dirty and sometimes shrouded in blanket. I sometimes cocoon myself or hide behind baggy clothing. But the baggy clothing sometimes has an East Asian look to it.

I have high fashion fur pieces my mother and aunt gifted me. One is a Fendi knit mink coat that most people do not assume is real fur. Most people don’t seem to know what kind of material it is. The same with a knit mink Christian Dior poncho I have. Maybe these items are Naomi adjacent. But Naomi wants others to know that she is wearing bling. I don’t want others to know that I am wearing bling.

Naomi carries bling logo bags. I don’t. I have a few that my mother gave me. But when I carry them, I get too many comments. Almost everybody recognizes bling logo bags from “luxury” brands and pseudo luxury bags. Naomi broadcasts her wealth. She wants everybody to know including the cashier at the supermarket. I have a dozen Hermes canvas bags that I toss around like I don’t care. No logos. My go to bags are beat up Longchamp, which I tie with Hermes scarves.

I also have a lot of vintage pieces from different parts of the world, including well worn expensive French shoes. And vintage American clothes, some with a hint of hippy. This shows that I’m worldy (cosmopolitan) and Californian (relaxed, down to earth) at the same time. I also have four custom made hanbok, a 24k gold norigae, and durumagi (traditional silk over coat).

All the wardrobe styling in Beef is detailed and speaks to character.

George, the house husband who makes phallic turd sculptures, is curated in expensive clothes that lack utilitarian purpose. He’s doesn’t need to work or dress for work. His work is fitting in with Amy’s aesthetics. He’s all optics. Danny and Paul are stuck in a mall that George would never be seen in. Isaac is individualistic.

Much has been said about the slats in Amy’s house that resemble a prison. However, I haven’t seen any commentary about her bathroom, which also looks like a prison latrine, albeit an artistic one. Amy’s home also void of any Asian heritage markers. No shoes lined up at the front door. No rice cooker. No Asian foods. A white person could live in her home. She spent a fortune on designing a home that speaks nothing of her except her sense of imprisonment. Whiteness and artsy Japanese are commodities that Amy pursues. Whiteness for it’s entry into capitalism’s wealth. Artsy Japanese for it’s social and art world currency; and pedigree. She gives her plant business a Japanese sounding name, “Koyo” instead of a Chinese-Viet name or non-ethnic name. When she does point to Asianess, it’s her Japanese American husband and mother-in-law, who are probably 2nd and 3rd generation Japanese Americans. It’s no wonder that Danny initially assumes that her husband is a white man. I would too.

Danny’s home is all working class, first or 1.5 generation Korean immigrant. He and his brother, Paul, eat banchan out of take out containers. There is stuff everywhere. It’s not just the disorder. There’s hoarding. Koreans hoard. My parents hoard. I hoard.

I live in Hancock Park, the other Koreatown that is adjacent to the official Koreatown, but a world away from the Cho brothers. But I relate to the way they live more than I do Amy. Shoes are cluttered at my front door. I have a kimchi refrigerator that I bought during pandemic. Covid-19 and anti-East Asian hate, made me become even more entrenched in my Koreaness. Last year, I started making my own kimchi, fermented soybeans (doenjang), fermented chili paste (gochujang), and traditional soy sauce (Joseon ganjang).

My Korean calligraphy desk is in my living room. The Korean silver and brass spoons, chopsticks, fruit forks, and demitasse spoons my mother gave me are in mahogany silver ware chest along with my American and European silver cutlery. My mother also gave me her traditional Korean cast iron and clay pots. I have a 200 year old antique Korean desk with phoenixes carved into them. It was stained with natural plant dyes and the finish is still brilliant. In other words, my parents are from the former yangban class. I have Korean pedigree and heirlooms.

My husband is a French born Algerian chef and culinary instructor. So we have a lot of North African tagines, Le Creuset, and Staub. Our dinner ware is French and English porcelain, North African clay, and Korean bras and celadon. We kind of have the cookware version of Jordan’s crowns. Except, our own cultures are represented. We didn’t appropriate like Jordan. We didn’t divest of heritage culture like Amy and George.

I speak English like Fumi, George, Amy, or Jordan when I want to. They don’t all speak the same way. I can sound as commanding and demanding as Fumi or Jordan. These are codes I use. However, I can also speak like David Choe’s character, Isaac or Samuel L. Jackson.

Beef (tv series) and Asian American Sex Part 4

White America is fixated on the road rage and revenge aspects of Beef (tv series). Asian Americans and the Asian diaspora in the Western world continue to peel back all the layers of Beef. There is so much there in Beef.

When I think of white media portrayals of Asian sexuality, the women are passive, war time prostitutes, or masseuses. Asian men are void of sex.

Asian Americans have sex in Beef. All kinds of sex.

Chinese-Viet-American Amy uses a gun as a sex toy. She tells George, her Japanese American husband, that sex with him is too vanilla. She has furtive, exhilarating, and seemingly liberating sex with Paul. Paul, a Korean American man, is a sexual delivery man. George masturbates to a photo of Kayla, Amy’s assistant. Danny masturbates to a photo of Amy’s butt thinking that it’s Kayla’s butt.

Paul, Amy’s temporary lover

Amy has anonymous sex with a much older white man she met on Yahoo Chess. She keeps herself covered with a blanket and refuses to face him. I won’t read too much into choosing a white man. I think it’s more about the fact that they will most likely never run into each other and he’s out of touch with lifestyle brands like Koyohaus.

Korean American Naomi, leaves her white husband for his billionaire sister. Jordan, a white woman, is the main perpertrator of fetishizing and appropriating Asianness.

Asian Americans have sex in Beef. Because human beings have sex. They have secretive sex. Shameful sex. Exhilirating sex. Glorious sex. Lesbian sex. They have sex alone.

Beef (tv series), Korean American Representation, and Korean Koreaness Part 3

I’ve seen something like Beef before. I’ve never seen anything like Beef before.

I got my hair cut and styled today at a Korean salon in Koreatown. My stylist and I talked about Beef. Specifically about Korean style beef, which always involves an injustice or perception of injustice and revenge. We agreed that Beef (tv series) shares many with elements of Korean Dramas and cinema.

Revenge is a common theme in Korea Dramas (“The Glory”) and cinema. Strangers from completely different backgrounds colliding and becoming deeply enmeshed in each other’s lives is another (“Parasite” or any number of K-Dramas or K-love stories). Greed is another common theme. In the Korean imagination, revenge destroys the avenger or those close to them. Greed is a destructive lust that only grows until it consumes and blinds.

Paul in his bathroom
Parasite characters in their sub-basement bathroom

Beef combines the two tropes. Danny and Amy have a greed for revenge. I’ve seen something like this before. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Beef is so much more.

Beef is also an American rage movie. The series is clicking with Americans of different ethnicities or races. Asian Americans really crave the glory of seeing angry Asian Americans represented on screen and differences between different Asian ethnicities. It’s my favorite Korean American immigrant story and Korean Drama. All of these viewer experiences are true at the same time.

My stylist and I often talk about Koreans and our cultural tendencies. We chatted about the Han and hwa-byung in Beef. The specificty of Korean style beef. There’s a Korean saying, “You want to die together?” or “We’re going to die together today” and variations thereof. The idea is that in the face of injustice, a Korean person will fight to the death. And yes, statements like “I’ll fight you to till I die!” are not uncommon. My stylist and I wondered why we Korean people are like this. Is it because we’re a tiny country surrounded by super powers? Our worst enemy is our own people? North and South Korea are still technically at war. A common Korean sentiment is that Koreans will unite quickly in the face of a common enemy. However, we in-fight brutaly in times of peace and prosperity.

Beef (tv series), Korean American Representation, and Korean Koreaness Part 2

Beef isn’t a story about immigrants in America. Yet, it is the best Korean immigrant story I have ever seen on a mainstream platform.

The show’s creator, Lee Sung Jin, has said “the characters happen to be Asian”. Nobody happens to be Asian. There’s nothing accidental or incidental to the casting and characters. The brilliance of Lee’s writing is that he focuses on character.

The age you were when your family immigrated to America matters. When and where you landed matters. Where your parents came from matters. What your parents did for a living in Korea matters. Who your family was and is in Korea matter. Who you know in America matters. Immigrants do not arrive as blank slates. You make it or sink based on a lot of these factors and more.

Lee Sung Jin, the creator and showrunner of Beef, immigrated to the United States after completing 5th grade. I’m guessing his family moved around 1992. Steven Yeun immigrated to Canada as a kindergartener. I’m guessing his family came around 1990. They both entered America in the 1990s.

My family immigrated from Seoul to Los Angeles in January of 1975. My oldest brother was about 10 years old. I was 5 years old. I had completed two years of preschool. I’m about half a generation older than Lee and Yeun. Many Korean immigrants who came when my family did were part of the professional class or highly skilled in trades. They were largely people who were already doing well relative to other Koreans in Korea and generally better educated than other immigrant groups in America. By skill, luck, chance, hard work, and accidents of history many appear to have made it. Los Angeles also had a strong manufacturing economy. Korean immigrants came to dominate industries like apparel manufacturing.

Danny’s family moved to America around 1990. They specifically moved to Los Angeles two years before the LA Riots/Rebellion. Beef doesn’t mention anything about the riots that decimated Koreatown and Korean owned businesses. But he is deft at painting a portrait of a Korean family struggling in America in a specific place and time. It’s not uncommon knowledge among Koreans in Los Angeles that immigrants who came later had fewer opportunities in Korea and in America.

Danny’s Korean immigrant family is different from my Korean immigrant family. The Cho families struggles are writ large and small. It’s in the loaded dialogue that is not spelled out. The Cho family didn’t reinvent themselves from being working class in South Korea to becoming middle class in America. Their American dream became an American nightmare for many reasons. How do we talk about systemic failures and barriers to accessing the American dream, when one of our own (cousin Isaac) betrayed us?

They are things that writers can write, set designers can design, stylists can style, and directors can direct. Beef has Asian American brilliance in all those aspects and in casting. When Korean American actors are hired to play Korean American characters, they bring their own lived experience to the character. This is not type casting. This is acting. When there are half a dozen Korean American characters in a series, they all get to be something different. They play characters, not stereotypes.

The way Danny speaks halting Korean inflected with English words to his parents, is a scene I saw at H-Mart this morning. The Cho’s speak English with varying degrees of Korean American sociolect and ethnolect. This is Koreatown and Korean American enclave Korean and English. These seemingly mundane details make the characters extraordinarily believable and authentically human in a story whose main arc is outlandishly unreal, where the protaganists/antagonists commit increasingly inhumane acts of revenge.

When Isaac barked out “agassi” (young, unmarried woman) at a server at a Korean restaurant, I cringed, “Low-class trash.” I was shocked. I would never speak to a server that way. David Choe knew how to be crass and flashy in English and broken Korean.

Isaac preys on his own community and hurts his own family