The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
Community activist/attorney Angela Oh
From The Asian Reporter, V14, #3 (January 13, 2004), page 10 and 11.
Making Korean America
Open: One Woman’s Journey
By Angela E. Oh
16 full-page landscape photographs by Sae Bhang Lee
UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 2002
Paperback, 135 pages, $15.00
"Korean America," says street-toughened and tender-souled community activist/attorney Angela Oh, "was born on April 29, 1992." This may be, by Asian standards, a strong statement. It might even get ducked as a rather immodest declaration, were it not for the speaker’s moral authority. Angela Oh is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest. She talks truth, she has lived it. She arguably is Korean America, to the extent we carefully imagine, then deliberately accumulate, then articulately express ethnic minority "community."
Building community is hard work. The author writes as a worker who did the heavy lifting. Open is a collection of essays drawn from her two decades of lawyering, teaching, and street-level community activism.
April 29, 1992 was the spring day Los Angeles Koreans "experienced the kind of chaos and devastation that can barely begin to be understood by the physical damage sustained. Over two thousand family-owned, small businesses were destroyed, approximately a billion dollars worth of property damage was done to immigrant, family-operated stores .…"
The five days of burning and beating and looting followed the acquittal of several white police officers accused of brutalizing Rodney King, a Black man. California Koreans got caught in the middle. Media covered the madness, day after day. Law enforcement stood back and let it burn. In the wake of the storm, according to Reverend Oh, spectacled and abandoned, Korean America was born as a "new political community and collective consciousness."
Open: One Woman’s Journey is an attempt at rendering a history and plotting an architecture for Korean America. As such, it is hard to read Open without feeling squarely in Angela Oh’s bones.
The elements found there include, naturally, a number of core Korean cultural values, and some of the desperate moments between her immigrant community and our host society. To these, on account of their cultural contrariness and historical collision with mainstream America, the author aspires to add what she calls "openness."
Without openness, the "blessing" of "meeting the right teacher, finding the right path, hearing the defining voice," she writes, would be truly impossible.
"What has given me my greatest gift in life," says Rev. Oh, "has been openness. In this, I have found both pleasure and pain, inspiration and disappointment, laughter and tears. In short, I have found a way to grow."
Angela Oh’s Open: One Woman’s Journey is many many things packed into a dense and subtle narrative. It is sweaty, even ugly. Sometimes remaining Korean seems hopeless. It is humbling; the men and women she recounts are superhuman in their persistence, for their quiet suffering. Her young Koreans inspire for their idealism. Underlying them all, Reverend Oh startles, for her simple honesty, for her steadiness in not withdrawing, for her willingness to be open.