Koreatown: A Longtime Home of a Fusion of Cultures and the Possibility of Transformation
It’s still too early to predict my home neighborhood’s future, but the signs are probably here
Maybe it‘s best to begin with saying that Koreatown has been my home since I was born. As much as I love exploring the city of Los Angeles, Koreatown is a place that is hard to let go of. I may be a 22-year-old college student still living with his parents in a one-story apartment in this neighborhood at the time of this writing, but I’ve seen a lot happening from my doorstep.
Although the name Koreatown refers to the Korean population who call the neighborhood home for decades, Latinos, primarily from Mexico, have made up the majority of the population. On the north side of Koreatown, a significant South Asian community, primarily from Bangladesh, has been thriving for decades.
Growing up, I would pass by Korean beauty salons and Latino travel agencies as office buildings along Wilshire Boulevard loomed in the background. Meanwhile, the Wiltern Theater is a top concert venue, drawing audiences all over the city, and it’s cool to go to a show that’s just a few blocks away. I’m a big food fan and I’ve witnessed Koreatown becoming a culinary mecca, as longtime Korean barbecue hangouts and bakeries specializing in Mexican and Central American treats coexist with up-and-coming South Asian biryani spots and trendy vegan joints.
Recently, development projects in Koreatown, whether in the planning stages or already under construction, have been sending signals that something is coming. I may have been too young to notice at first, but an early sign was the Solair condos next to the Wilshire/Western subway station. The historic Hotel Normandie underwent a $5 million renovation, offering a chic experience. Nightlife is booming. But on the other side of things, homelessness has entered the discussion, as plans for a shelter threw residents into a debate, with many in opposition arguing that they had no say on the project and that City Hall poorly informed them of it.
While I’ve lived here most of my life, I‘m interested in knowing more about the people who call Koreatown home — the experiences of immigrants and their American-born children, along with those who moved in from another neighborhood in the city. Do they believe change is coming or is it here, and are they welcoming to it or are they worried?
Both Korean-language and Spanish-language media have a strong presence in Koreatown. Although I speak with my parents in Spanish, I read English-language publications more than they do, as they get most of their news in Spanish. I follow the LA Times and the Washington Post, as well as Urbanize LA and the Los Angeles Magazine. Yes, I follow Twitter for local news, too. Aside from having an increased presence on culture beats, I feel that in local news, Koreatown is covered every once in a while, and when news reporters come over, the coverage may or may not sit well with everyone.
It’s still early to say that gentrification has arrived, but subtle sights from my longtime backyard has told me that a shakeup might be coming, with the question being when. There will come a day that I will leave the nest, but what would Koreatown be like in five or ten years?