Oral Histories

Interview of Jimmy Choi

Founding board member of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Founding board member of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.
Cline, Alex
Choi, Jimmy
Persons Present:
Choi and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Choi’s dental 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, UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interview by conducting 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, including attorney and activist Angela E. Oh and UCLA associate professor of anthropology and faculty member in UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies Kyeyoung Park. Assistance from series interviewees such as Johng Ho Song and John 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. Choi was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
4.2 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Choi’s parents—Early life in Manchuria—Family moves back to Korea when Choi is nine years old—Siblings and other relatives—Interests as a youth in school—Aspirations to teach dental history in college fail to be fulfilled—Factors that led to Choi’s decision to leave Korea for the United States—How Choi became a practicing dentist—An encounter with U.S. GIs as a child in school—Mistakes the U.S. made during their handling of the conflict in Korea that led to the Korean War—How Choi met his wife and married her.
Choi’s religious background—More on factors that led to Choi’s decision to leave Korea—Three years spent as a dental surgeon in the Korean army—The Choi family relocates to Los Angeles in 1971—Challenges of learning English and maintaining the Korean language and identity—Feelings about leaving the rest of Choi’s family in Korea—The Chois’ first home and Choi’s first employment—Attends the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in order to become licensed as a dentist in California—How Christianity serves as the center for Korean immigrant life in Los Angeles—Koreatown during the 1970s—Culture clash between Choi and his now Americanized children—Available aid for Korean immigrants during the 1970s—The Chois travel outside L.A.
Dissident Koreans who organized societies in Los Angeles—Choi decides to visit North Korea in 1981—Choi reports on his North Korean experience, both positive and negative, to Korean groups in Los Angeles—Meets exiled dissident Yun Han Bo, who inspires followers to establish the Min Jo Hakyo, or Korean Resource Center (KRC)—The KRC endeavors to educate Korean youth about their history and culture—Common suspicion in L.A.’s Korean community that KRC members were communist sympathizers—Choi’s views about life in North Korea in the 1980s—Individuals involved in the KRC—Common political views held by the majority of Korean immigrants—Effect of Choi’s activities on his relationships within the Korean community—Choi’s aspiration to be a bridge between the U.S. and the two Koreas—Changes Choi perceives in South Korea since he left—Changes in the Korean American community in L.A. since recent changes in South Korea—Choi discusses the simultaneous settlement of South Koreans, North Koreans, and American-born Koreans in Los Angeles—Koreans who, like Choi, settled eventually in Glendale—Different perspectives of different generations of Korean immigrants—Impact of the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles on the Korean community—Toppling of the military dictatorship in South Korea creates a change of focus at the KRC—The future status of Korean Americans—The role of the church in shaping Korean American values—The future of Koreatown—Choi’s view of his identity as a Korean American—The future of North and South Korea.