RIVERSIDE – The 1992 Los Angeles riots fundamentally changed how Korean Americans view themselves and their role in local politics and multiethnic, multiracial coalitions. Scholars and community activists will examine the social, political and cultural implications of the riots in a daylong conference on April 28. The event commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest.

The conference, “Confronting Sa-I-Gu: 20 Years After Koreatown Burned,” will begin at 9 a.m. at the Garden Suites Hotel in Koreatown, 681 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles. Sa-I-Gu means “4-29” and refers to the day that rioting began. Registration is $20. Student registration is $10. Contact Carol Park at carol(dot)park(at)ucr(dot)edu to register for the event.

In the last two decades Korean Americans have emerged as one of the most visible Asian American groups in Los Angeles, said Edward T. Chang, professor of ethnic studies and director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside. The YOK Center is leading the Sa-I-Gu Consortium that is hosting the conference.

“Prior to the riots, Korean Americans were unknown, invisible and unrecognized in American society,” Chang said. “After Sa-I-Gu, Korean Americans became active in city politics and proactively involved in multiethnic and multiracial coalition building in Los Angeles. Korean Americans began to exert their political clout as they fought to gain visibility, accountability and representation in the city of Los Angeles.”

The riots followed the acquittal of four white and Hispanic Los Angeles police officers in the beating of a black motorist. A total of 53 people died, thousands more were injured, and damage to businesses – particularly those owned by Korean and other Asian immigrants – and other property topped $1 billion before the violence ended on May 4.

Chang said that race relations between Korean immigrant merchants and African American residents have improved since then, in part because of the demographic shift of business ownership in South Los Angeles to Latinos, Arabs and Southeast Asian immigrants.

“As both Korean immigrant merchants and black residents suffered during and after the riots, they realized how dependent they are on each other,” he said. “During the riots, many Korean stores were burned down and African American residents had to walk several more miles to shop for their basic needs. Korean immigrants also realized that they have to reach out and become part of the community if they wanted to succeed in their businesses.”

The Korea Foundation has awarded $20,000 to UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center to support the conference, which will feature three panels with speakers who will discuss: Perspectives: Tales from the Frontline; Transformations, Where is our Community Today; and Looking Ahead, a Roundtable Discussion.

Among the speakers are: Connie Kang, a former Los Angeles Times reporter; Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Deputy Emile Mack; Rev. Eric P. Lee, president/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California; Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance; Grace Yoo, executive director of the Korean American Coalition; and Edward Chang, professor of ethnic studies and director of the Young Oak Kim Center.

Established in 1991, the Seoul-based Korea Foundation is an independent organization affiliated with Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is supported by public funding and private donations, and works to enhance Korea’s image and global reputation by promoting academic and cultural exchange programs.