Ethnic Enclave Tour: For the next several ethnic enclave posts, I will be focusing on the upper Orange County area where I have found an amazing cluster of immigrants communities.
Orange County Enclaves
On a single day, I traveled from Little Arabia to Little Cambodia to Little India to Little Seoul. All these places offered a sudden and obvious change in demographic. The language spoken on the street wasn’t usually English and the local businesses changed dramatically. Often, I spotted food and stores I couldn’t identify.
These ethnic enclaves are not only idiosyncratic because their communities are steeped in the traditions of their homeland, but most of these enclaves will likely exist only for a short time. Ethnic enclaves generally only last one generation. The immigrants cluster together in a certain area, but they tend to have children who speak English fluently and then want to integrate into the larger existing culture. That makes these enclaves impermanent. It could very well be that within the next two decades, the demographics will shift within these blocks entirely.
Korean Business District
So today I present Little Seoul in Garden Grove. Designated as such in 2002, this Korean Business District has a large variety of stores. Not only restaurants and churches, but cell phone stores, computer stores, The Korea Times, Queen (the local Korean radio station), the Korean Bookstore, hairdressers, print shops, Kitchenland (with lots of rice cookers) and Korean dentists. Signs are in English-Korean or just Korean with stores that every once in a while have a French name.
In Korea Plaza, the A.R. Supermarket is lavish and so are the Korean Food Court and Korean clothing stores. There is even a Red Ginseng store. Across the street, the the H Mart outdoes itself as a grocery store. The exotic food items divinely displayed feel like a ‘take me away.’ Probably the most fun are the aisles of kimchi.
A Brief History
Little Seoul is a vibrant, and yet no book or local history exists. The Garden Grove Historical Society doesn’t include anything about Korean Californians, so I’ve only gleaned some preliminary findings of their history.
Koreans didn’t come to California on the wave of the Gold Rush, but instead arrived as patriots of their country visiting America. Then in 1905, the U.S. recognized the Japanese occupation of Korea and so Korean immigration was even prohibited for four decades. The immigrants who did enter the United States had Japanese passports and were predominantly concerned with gaining independence for their country.
From 1945-1965, the number of Korean immigrants remained small and the largest number included dependents of American service members.
It was really after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that Koreans began to enter the country, almost all from South Korea. (North Korea’s restrictions on travel have been so tight that immigrants don’t generally find their way across the Pacific). The number of Koreans in America for the 2000 U.S. Census was 1 million, with the largest population living in Los Angeles at 234,435.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Garden Grove saw an influx of Korean immigrants in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. There’s even a 1988 article that describes the area as run-down, but having excellent Korean BBQ restaurants. After the Rodney King Riots, however, the numbers likely increased.
The riots in Los Angeles had a devastating impact on Koreatown in Los Angeles. Hundreds of Korean-owned businesses were looted and burned down. Koreans were also physically attacked. In the aftermath, a large population of Korean residents left and moved to other places, including Garden Grove.
Ten years later, in 2002 the City Council designated the stretch along Garden Grove Boulevard between Brookhurts Street and Beach Boulevard as the “Korean Business District.” Today, it’s a vibrant community with churches, media and a kind of community that makes you feel that you’re in the middle of Seoul for the afternoon.
There’s more to come about Korean Californians!