Oral Histories

Interview of John Lim

Head of the law firm Lim, Ruger, & Kim, John S.C. Lim. Co-founder of the first Korean American law firm in Los Angeles.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Cline, Alex
Lim, John
Persons Present:
Lim and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Lim's office in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, interviewer, UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interviews by conducting extensive research on the history of Korea and of Korean Americans, particularly Korean immigrants who settled in the Los Angeles area, via books, periodicals, and online sources. He also consulted with advisors who are closely connected with L.A.’s Korean American community and who are acutely knowledgeable about it, including attorney and activist Angela E. Oh and UCLA associate professor of anthropology and faculty member of UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies Kyeyoung Park. Assistance from series interviewees such as Johng Ho Song and Lim also frequently proved invaluable.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Lim was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
6.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series includes full-life histories of a number of prominent Korean Americans who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965. The series focuses on the remarkable growth of the Korean American community in Los Angeles; that community’s impact on the history, economy, and culture of the city; and the development and evolution of Koreatown, the only such officially designated community in any city in the world. While concentrating largely on Korean immigrants who are part of the so-called 1.5 generation, or immigrants who relocated to the United States from South Korea while still relatively young, the series also includes influential members of the L.A. area’s Korean community who are first- and second-generation Korean Americans.
Family background—Quality of life as a child in Seoul, Korea—Parents and siblings—Encounter with a family friend who was the first lawyer Lim was aware of—His neighborhood in Seoul—Characteristics of life in post-war, divided Korea—The family’s religious life—His older siblings’ relative levels of adaptation to American life and culture—Lim’s father elects to go to the United States in 1965 seeking to enhance his higher education—The challenge of having to learn English—Feelings about leaving Korea for the U.S.—The flight to Los Angeles—First impressions of Los Angeles, 1967—First residences in the L.A. area--Lim’s parents’ employment upon settling in Los Angeles—The church’s role in the family’s life in L.A.—The Lims buy their first home in Koreatown—Lim’s experience as a student at Hobart Avenue Elementary School—Food—Memories of American culture during the late sixties—Lim’s siblings’ adjustment to life in a new country and culture—Impact of the Vietnam War on Lim’s family—His status as an Asian immigrant at his elementary schools—His feelings upon encountering new cultures and ethnicities as a youth.
More on Lim’s family and L.A. neighborhood—Lim is bussed to Walter Reed Junior High School in predominantly white North Hollywood—Racism at school—Benefit Lim derived from his experience at Walter Reed—His interest in music as a teenager—Academic pressure—Lim’s circle of friends—Jobs he worked in order to supplement his family’s income—His interest in girls as a teen—Attends Fairfax High School—Places Lim used to go in L.A. and where he went to hang out—His emphasis on having fun before settling down while in college—His interest in law—Attends California State University, Northridge, where he obtains a degree in accounting—His relationship with his family’s Christian culture while in college—Resides near college in the San Fernando Valley—Others’ perception of what being Korean American meant by the time Lim was in college—His own perception of his racial identity as a young man—Meets his future wife at Northridge—Attends law school at the University of California, San Francisco—How Lim was able to afford to go to law school—How he selected business law as his focus—Marriage and family plans—Koreatown booms in the early eighties while Lim toils as a young lawyer—Births of the Lims’ three children—Lim starts his own law firm in 1986, the first Korean American law firm—Some of the Korean American businesses which Lim’s law firm served.
Korean friends of Lim’s who, like him, didn’t fit the image of the studious Asian youth—Characteristics of Korean immigrants who came to L.A. during the eighties—Korean businesses in the eighties—Characterization of the different generations of Korean immigrants—Immigrants’ perception of local politics and government—Tong Soo (T.S.) Chung’s contribution to L.A.’s Korean American community—South Korean politics as a factor in immigration—Political complexion of the Korean immigrant community—The community’s perpetuation of anachronistic Korean culture and values—The stage for the 1992 L.A. riots is set by the Natasha Harlan case—Lim’s memory of the ’92 riots—Media coverage of the riots—Members of the Korean American Bar Association, with then president Lim, are mobilized to assist Korean American victims of the riots with pro bono legal services—Other organizations which provided relief to the Korean immigrant community—Lim’s struggle to provide pro bono legal services while keeping his firm afloat at the same time—How the riots changed the Korean American community—Generational division in the perception of the direction the community might take after the riots—Perception of the city’s handling of the riots and of its receptivity to the Korean American community’s needs—More organizations which aided victims of the riots—Frustration of many over the Korean American community’s voice not being heard via the media after the riots—South Korea’s perception of the riots--Lim returns to his regular work schedule.
Lim’s assessment of newly-elected South Korean president Lee Myung Bak—The political direction of present-day South Korea—Reunification—Survival of Korean-owned businesses in L.A. after the 1992 riots—The unique kae system of providing financing for Koreans in need—Lim’s client base—Changes in L.A.’s Korean American community after the riots—Developments in the area of investment in Korean businesses—Possible changes in future modes of investment as the generations progress—The Korean community begins to increase its effort to attract a market outside itself—How Lim has raised his own children vis-à-vis their Korean heritage and their Christian faith—Christianity in light of Korean immigrants’ families increased assimilation into the American mainstream—Lim’s relationship with his father—Korean immigrants’ contribution to the economy of Los Angeles—Lim’s wish that Koreatown would build a “village” representing Korean culture and commerce as an attractive center of the community—Koreatown’s appeal to first-generation immigrants who have raised their families in the suburbs—The possible emergence of smaller Koreatowns in surrounding areas of Los Angeles—Lim’s present-day interests and hobbies—How he sees his own identity as a Korean American—The role of language in retaining one’s cultural heritage—The possible impact of new South Korean policies on Korean American immigrants—Local and personal impact of South Korea’s rise as an economic power—L.A.’s Korean community’s relationship with neighboring Asian immigrant communities—Interracial marriage—The Korean work ethic—Lim’s plea for the Korean American community to come together, to be more inclusive, and to assimilate more willingly and successfully—Current status of Lim’s family—His “hands-off” parenting style—His recipe for what he views as true success.