Oral Histories

Interview of William Kil

Attorney at Kil and Sinkov.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Attorney at Kil and Sinkov.
Cline, Alex
Kil, William
Persons Present:
Kil and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Kil’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, UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research; musician.Cline prepared for the interview 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 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. Kil was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
6 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Father’s background in Pyongyang, North Korea—His father flees with his younger brother to South Korea during the Korean War—Mother’s family background in Pusan, South Korea—Kil is born in Seoul after his family moves there in 1960—Religious background—His neighborhood in central Seoul—First encounters with Western culture—Elementary school experience—The relative safety of his childhood environment—Food—Kil’s close relationship with his mother—His relationship with his father—His parents’ relationship with each other—Kil begins English language study in preparation for part of the family’s move to Hong Kong in 1970—His older brothers are sent to Guam to receive an English-language education—Initial language difficulty after moving to Hong Kong—His mother’s care during the first few months away from home—Kil’s freedom to socialize and have fun in Hong Kong—He switches to a more academically demanding school during his fourth and last year in Hong Kong—His sister helps the family get their visas to the United States—His father’s reasons for wanting the family to ultimately settle in the U.S.—Kil’s childhood in post-war, communist-fearing South Korea—His feelings about relocating to the U.S. with his two brothers in 1975—Reasons the Los Angeles area was selected as their U.S. destination—First impressions of L.A.—The three brothers move into an apartment in Glendale—First months living and going to junior high school in Glendale—Experiences of discrimination in mostly-white Glendale schools—Two close Caucasian friends help introduce Kil to local mainstream culture—Difference between his cultural experience in Glendale and that in Hong Kong—Hard studying prevents Kil from participating in American popular culture of the time—Difficulty with his life until his parents, grandmother, and housekeeper join them after ten months.
More about Kil’s parents—The Korean market and surrounding area where he and his brothers shopped in Koreatown in 1975—Kil’s parents join the brothers in late 1975 and the family moves to a two-bedroom apartment in Glendale—Kil’s family searches for a business to purchase, settling on an Alta Dena drive-in dairy in Rosemead—His parents’ feelings about relocating to the United States—How his family coped with running their business with little in the way of knowledge about it or language skills—Other businesses the family purchased and consequently moved near—Kil compares living in Reseda with living in Glendale—He moves back to Glendale and finishes his senior year in high school back at Glendale High School—The family purchases Giuseppe’s Italian restaurant in Glendale—Challenges of running Giuseppe’s—The family opens a small department store in Koreatown, catering exclusively to a Korean clientele—Kil decides to attend Pomona College—Factors which led him to begin attending church while in high school—Traditional Korean observances and rituals in the Kil household—Koreatown circa 1980—The family buys its first home in Glendale—Kil’s experience at Pomona College—How he wound up at the University of Colorado for graduate study in law—The matchmaking tradition for finding marital partners as it was practiced in Kil’s family—Challenges Kil faced during his first year of law school in Denver—His father dies at the age of fifty-nine in 1982—His mother is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies at the age of fifty-three in 1986—Kil’s continued close relationship with his mother after moving to the U.S.—His mother becomes a devout Christian during her last years, inspiring the entire family to become more truly Christian—In accordance with one of his mother’s last wishes, Kil marries his sister’s friend Caroline in 1986.
Level of ignorance about Korean shown by Kil’s non-Korean peers at school—Kil confronts his own resentment of Japanese people—His interest in and enjoyment of American history and principles—Businesses Korean immigrants typically bought and ran—Role of the church in assisting new immigrants—The Korean Federation—Kil’s interest in South Korean politics increases when he reaches college age—How he decided to study law—Initial difficulty with law study—Opportunities for legal work in the Korean community during the 1980s—Increase in the number of Korean American lawyers leads Kil to involve himself more in community work—Nature of his early relationship with his wife and changes that led to the solidity of their marriage—Homes the Kils lived in after marrying and starting their family-Change in the relationship between his sister and his wife after he got married—The Kils’ children—The Korean population increases in the La Crescenta/La Canada area during the 1980s—First news of what became the 1992 Los Angeles riots—Kil and his brothers stay at the family department store in Koreatown to guard it during the riots—Doubt and disillusionment Kil experienced because of the riots and how the unrest was handled by the authorities—He volunteers to help Korean American victims of the riots—How the riots motivated Kil to become politically active—Changes in the leadership within the Korean community in L.A. after the riots—Kil supports the election of Mayor Richard J. Riordan and is appointed to city commissions during Riordan’s tenure—He administers the Edward Lee Scholarship Foundation Fund—Steps taken to change the Korean community’s history of insularity—New voices of advocacy emerge for the Korean American community.