Now that "9-11" is being uttered by the nation as shorthand for terrorism, Edward Chang, an associate professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, fears that mainstream American culture will turn away from another important date: "4-29" the date 10 years ago when fires and chaos broke out in South Central Los Angeles.
Just saying the date "4-29" in Korean, Sa-I-gu (saw-ee-goo) is shorthand for the devastating affects on the Korean-American community of the Los Angeles civil unrest. For Chang, it is also shorthand for the important issue of racial injustice. It would be a mistake to forget, he said.
Recognized as a leading expert on the events of April 29, 1992, Chang said the nation needs to remember the anniversary of the violence, and take stock of what progress has been made in race relations. He contends that progress has not been as fast as predicted, given the national implications of that day's fires, looting and chaos. "The underlying socio-economic factors have not changed at all," he said. "There has not been major investment in inner city Los Angeles."
He said talks between people of different backgrounds immediately after the unrest did not lead to lasting change, although certainly there is some hope. For instance, he said, relationships between Korean merchants and their African-American customers are better now than they were before the civil unrest.
"Ethnic Peace in the American City," a 1999 book by Chang and co-author Jeannette Diaz-Veizades, examines underlying causes of the riots, and suggests some solutions for a more harmonious future.
"The students that I teach today don't even know why it happened," he said recently. "Essentially we haven't taught them the lessons of 1992. We need to take more proactive measures, such as focusing on race relations in the school curriculum. We have to get beyond celebrating diversity, and talk about economic and political issues. Our political leaders have to take more chances and invest in economic development."
In 1990, Edward Chang wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Korean/African-American relations, little suspecting that just two years later his knowledge would be called upon to help heal broken relationships between Korean immigrant shopkeepers and their mostly African-American clientele in South Central Los Angeles. He put together a book, in Korean, about the culture of African-Americans, about the legacy of slavery and the concept of soul, which translates to "Han" in Korean.
He served as a field reporter and consultant for LA is Burning: Five Reports from a Divided City, a PBS Frontline special program on the unrest. Since then, Chang's continued research and speaking on matters relating to building peace in interethnic communities has shown that his interest in this subject goes far beyond one of crisis management and beyond the issues of one urban neighborhood.
He is currently working on a project that will preserve the written record of the civil unrest and its aftermath.
Chang can be reached by telephone at (909) 787-4577, ext.1825 or via email, email@example.com