Uncovering the History of America’s First Koreatown


Good morning.

It was 1904 when Ahn Chang-Ho, the revered Korean independence activist and Korean immigrant chief, left San Francisco for Riverside.

Drawn by the booming citrus trade that made the metropolis one of California’s richest at the time, Ahn began an employment company to assist different Koreans discover work close by. Slowly, a settlement grew from just a few dozen to some hundred residents. At its peak, almost 1,000 people had been residing in what was often known as Pachappa Camp, named for the road the place it was began.

Life there was tough: The settlement was segregated. The picket shacks that housed its residents had initially been constructed by railroad development staff in the 1880s, and deafeningly loud trains would often rumble previous. There was no working water or electrical energy.

Much of that wasn’t uncommon in the communities the place California’s first Asian residents lived. Japanese immigrants toiled in the fields and lumber mills of the American West at the flip of the 20th century. Chinese immigrant workers endured treacherous situations as they constructed the Transcontinental Railroad by mountains and desert.

But Pachappa Camp was distinctive, stated Prof. Edward T. Chang, a professor of ethnic research and the founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

For one factor, he instructed me just lately, “it was a family settlement” — versus the largely bachelor societies fashioned by different immigrant laborers. Men and ladies lived collectively at Pachappa Camp.

The largest factor that set Pachappa Camp aside, nonetheless, was the incontrovertible fact that it was a distinctly Korean neighborhood — the first in the United States, predating the founding of Los Angeles’s Koreatown by the businessman Hi Duk Lee by greater than half a century.

And whereas Ahn’s life and legacy have been deeply studied, extensively documented and honored, his position in founding a Korean neighborhood in Riverside was just about unknown till about 5 years in the past, when Chang stumbled throughout a 1908 map issued by an insurance coverage firm. It had a caption labeling a Korean settlement in Riverside.

“I thought, ‘Korean settlement? In Riverside?’” he stated.

Chang stated it was identified that Ahn spent a while in Riverside. He had seen an image of Ahn picking oranges there. And a 1913 episode often known as the Hemet Valley Incident — which concerned Korean fruit pickers Chang later decided had come from Riverside — has been broadly cited as a pivotal second for the Korean nationwide identification.

But what Ahn was doing in the Inland Empire for greater than 5 years earlier than he moved his household to Los Angeles in 1913 was a puzzle. That puzzle changed into what Chang described as the most gratifying analysis of his profession.

“People said it’s like destiny,” he stated. “I’ve been teaching in Riverside for almost 30 years, and I didn’t know anything about it.”

As it turned out, Pachappa Camp was additionally a spot the place Ahn honed many of the democratic concepts that he introduced again to Korea, which had been a monarchy and was occupied by Japan.

“I was able to trace the birth of whole democratic institutions to here in Riverside,” Chang stated. “I was uncovering all of this and I was so shocked.”

With the assist of graduate pupil interns from Korea who translated paperwork from older Korean, Chang final month printed a e book of his findings, “Pachappa Camp: The First Koreatown in the United States.”

Chang himself moved to Los Angeles from Korea together with his household as an 18-year-old in 1974. He enlisted in the Army partly to pressure himself to be taught English, and finally grew to become one of the first students in the nation to get a Ph.D. in ethnic research from U.C. Berkeley.

He stated that it had been highly effective for him to have the ability to assist strengthen the historic foundations of Asian-American identification — and poignant to see parallels between historical past and the fraught current.

In Pachappa Camp, residents abided by strict guidelines: Women wore white. No smoking or ingesting was allowed.

That sort of self-regulation, Chang stated, stemmed from satisfaction. But it additionally got here from an impulse to show worthiness of a spot in America, to be “model citizens,” in the face of violence and discrimination. Ahn left San Francisco in the first place partly as a result of anti-Asian violence and discrimination prevented him from making a residing.

Chang stated that it was irritating that it took a surge in anti-Asian hate to convey the subject to the fore. Still, he stated, “Asian-American invisibility in the national dialogue on race is finally being cracked.”


“If there was ever a perfect time to make a life change, this is it,” The Times’s Well columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote this week.

Behavioral scientists have lengthy stated that occasions of disruption and transition are additionally alternatives for development. And, nicely, I don’t have to inform you we’ve all skilled loads of disruption currently.

So on Monday, Tara will kick off Well’s Fresh Start Challenge, sending readers each day texts with ideas for conscious residing, forging deeper connections with family and friends, and constructing wholesome habits. To enroll, simply textual content “Hi” (or any phrase) to 917-809-4995 for a hyperlink to affix. If you don’t need to obtain texts, you may nonetheless take part on-line.

Just bookmark this page, and also you’ll discover a new problem posted each day.


A programming notice: I will likely be out on trip for the subsequent couple of weeks, however my colleagues will hold you updated on every thing that you must know.


California Today goes dwell at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you need to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this e mail? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported throughout the state, together with the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — however she all the time desires to see extra. Follow alongside right here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.





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