Some Korean-Americans Not Too Worried About Rhetoric Between Trump, North Korea

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John Yi of the nonprofit Korean American Coalition in Los Angeles says he's not too worried about his family in South Korea, despite recent increased rhetoric between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea. (Susan Valot/KQED)

As rhetoric flares between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, there's understandable tension in California's Korean community.

California has the largest Korean population of any state in the U.S. -- and Los Angeles has the largest Korean-American population of any city in the country.

John Yi calls L.A.'s Koreatown home. He's a board member of the Korean American Coalition, a nonprofit that helps with immigration, housing and other issues in the community. He says that while his parents are here, he still has family in South Korea.

"The conversations in our family have been more on the side of, 'Man, this is just crazy what's going on.' But there's no, at least from my parents, there’s no deep fear that one day South Korea's going to be blown up or Guam is going to be bombed," says Yi.

Yi says his family is not fearful that North Korea will use nuclear weapons to bomb South Korea.


"If you think about it, all Korean males have to go into the military, so the reminder that they are in a state of war, that they have, you know, an enemy literally miles north of the capital, of Seoul, just sitting right there, I think is a reminder that they have since they're born," Yi says.

He says he believes that the threat of nuclear weapons from Kim Jong Un is simply that: a threat.

"If North Korea wanted to, they could level Seoul without a nuclear weapon," Yi says. "And this was for decades. So if North Korea's option was to somehow militarily get rid of South Korea, they would have done it a while ago. And there was a Korean War. They tried. But I think it's clear that the nuclear weapons are linked to the North Korean regime's survival."

Some Korean-Americans Not Too Worried About Rhetoric Between Trump, North Korea

Some Korean-Americans Not Too Worried About Rhetoric Between Trump, North Korea

So Yi says in South Korea and in L.A.'s Koreatown, it seems like business as usual.

For 20-year-old Pomona College student Audrey Jang, who also has family in South Korea, the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea has reminded her of a carnival game.

"You know those groundhog games, where things pop up and you, like, whack it down?" Jang says. "That's not the way to resolve such a big thing."

She says she's more worried about her family overseas today, but that they're going about their lives as normal, just as they have after similar threats in the past.

Fellow student Rachael Lee, who spent her summer in Koreatown but studies at Georgetown University, says she wishes President Trump would not provoke North Korea. Lee's grandparents live in South Korea.

"Right now, there's just been such a disregard for everyone in that region," Lee says. "Like they're not really thinking about how many lives you could lose by going to war. But he just brings it up so casually. It's not something that should be joked about at all."

On the other side of Koreatown, Kyung Hee Kim, 61, has a different take. She came to the U.S. from South Korea nearly 30 years ago and still has family in both the north and south parts of the Korean Peninsula.

Kim is glad that President Trump is standing up to the North Korean dictator.

"Nobody wants to have war. Everybody knows that. But if that's the necessary, it has to be," Kim says.

Kim thinks that right now the South Korean government has been weakened by the recent impeachment of its former president. She says the U.S. has the strength necessary to step in.

But first, Kim would like to see China step up and cut off oil and other supplies to North Korea, forcing the country to come to the table to negotiate diplomatically. She wonders if Trump standing up to North Korea will ultimately lead to the reunion of the north and south, so she can finally meet her family in North Korea for the first time.