Sun, Jun

Korea Day in LA: A Bond That Began More Than 100 Years Ago


GELFAND ON … CULTURE-It was a grand occasion. Last Friday, Mayor Garcetti, flanked by numerous dignitaries including Yeon-sung Shin, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea, spoke to a substantial crowd gathered in San Pedro for the reopening of the newly restored Korean Friendship Bell. The ceremony served to commemorate our ties to South Korea and to give thanks for a wonderful gift.  

The newly refurbished bell and the shrine in which it hangs overlook the Catalina Channel high on a hilltop looking over the Pacific. The Republic of Korea covered the costs for a substantial part of the restoration, and the effort has paid off remarkably well. 


The Shrine and its bell were the gift of the Republic of Korea in honor of the Bicentennial of the USA back in 1976. It's been an attraction to visitors, foreign and domestic, ever since, but its magnificent location has had a toll. The ocean fog and wind are wearing on any man-made structure. The supports for the massive bell were corroding and the ornate decorations of the shrine were fading after 37 years. 

Luckily for San Pedro and for Los Angeles as a whole, an organization led by Ernest Lee worked not only to develop the funding for the shrine's restoration, but also to find the people who could do it. Ultimately, the organization that originally built the bell supplied the skilled craftsmen to repair it, and the Republic of Korea supplied funding and additional  skilled workers. The story can be found in a recent Los Angeles Times piece.  

The timing of this event was not a coincidence. Monday, January 13 is Korea Day in the United States. Most Americans are probably not familiar with this celebration, so let's explain. Officially, the day commemorates the group of 102 Korean immigrants who arrived in the United States in the year 1903, thereby establishing the first substantial and sustained colony of Koreans on our territory. The idea of a Korean American Day developed as a result of the centennial of this immigration, and in 2002 the US Congress established January 13 officially as a day of commemoration and appreciation. 

Los Angeles is one of the great Korean enclaves outside of Korea itself, with approximately half a million Korean-Americans. Angelenos are aware of the term Koreatown (or "K-Town" for short), but are not always aware of the strong historical ties that connect the U.S. with the Republic of Korea. 

Connections-One of the early immigrants to the US was Ahn Chang Ho, who arrived in the early 1900s with his wife and worked to improve the lot of early Korean immigrants. Writing under the pen name Dosan, he stressed education and hard work among his countrymen. He was also determined to free Korea from the yoke of foreign occupation. He did organizing in Los Angeles but eventually moved back to Asia, where he became the head of the Korean government in exile. He died in Japanese captivity in his Korean homeland shortly before the United States entered the Asian war. Dosan Ahn Chang Ho is commemorated in several places in the Los Angeles area, notably at the interchange of the 110 and I-10 freeways, in the South Los Angeles neighborhood where he worked during the early 1900s, and in Riverside. The Republic of Korea has also commemorated one-time Los Angeles resident Ahn Chang Ho as a national hero. 

Since the days of the Korean Conflict, Los Angeles has welcomed the arrival of a Korean-American community that now numbers around half a million in our area alone. Our economic links are strongly forged at the high tech and industrial level. 

One important thing that most Americans are not aware of is the newly forged Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. City Watch has talked about the importance of international trade to the Los Angeles region previously. It is one of the few sectors projected to grow substantially over the next several years, and much of American trade will pass through the twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach. Trade has become a two way proposition in recent years. The U.S. exports its own high tech materials to Korea including aircraft, and exports an increasing amount of agricultural goods including meat and fruits. 

The relationship between our Korean-American residents and the rest of us will be critical in building a newly vital Los Angeles economy. Their contribution to the Los Angeles economy has been underappreciated, but we expect that to change.


(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch and can be reached at [email protected]






Vol 12 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 14, 2014


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