Oral Histories

Interview of Johng Ho Song

Executive director of the Koreatown Youth and Community Center.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Executive director of the Koreatown Youth and Community Center.
Cline, Alex
Song, Johng Ho
Persons Present:
Song and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Koreatown Youth and Community Center administrative 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. Song 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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 and early life in Seoul, South Korea—Song’s neighborhood and schooling in Seoul—Impressions of the United States based on the export of its popular culture--Father decides to leave South Korea for the United States, leaving the family for one year—Father sends for family, and Song moves from Seoul to Los Angeles in 1974—First impressions of Los Angeles—Adjusting to culture and language issues—Attends Van Ness Avenue Elementary School—Early experiences with other Korean immigrants in the area—The beginnings of Koreatown--Father buys a gas station in Inglewood and moves the family there—Failure of the business and move to Glendale, where schools were considered superior—Life in Glendale, where there were few Koreans at the time.
More on early days in Los Angeles—Brother, Jin Ho Song--First mentor, Peter Chung—Name calling and alienation at school—Learning English—Interest in the popular culture of the 1970s—Ignorance of most classmates about Korea and its culture--Song’s academic pursuits and experience attending Glendale High School—Decides to attend college at UCLA—Becomes one of the only Korean Americans in the psychology department—Works as a counselor at the Korean Youth Center (KYC) before graduating with his degree in psychology.
Beginnings as a counselor at the KYC—Decides he is unsuited to counseling due to the increase in his own stress level as a result of his work—Early services and activities of the KYC—Small number of service organizations available for Korean immigrants in Los Angeles during the 1980s—Song’s own analysis as to what has motivated him to choose a profession in which he essentially helps other people—Changes in the Korean population and business community in the 1980s—Meets his wife, Kathy Kim Song, during 1994 Northridge earthquake relief efforts.
History of what is now the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC)—Issues which are particular to Korean immigrants in Los Angeles--Growth and changes in the mission and focus of the organization as Song changed positions—Influential figures in the KYCC’s evolution—Impact of the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles on the Korean community and on KYCC--The decision to make the organization’s focus the geographic area known as Koreatown rather than the ethnic group of Korean Americans—More on meeting Song’s wife—The diverse residents of Koreatown and their diverse needs—Growth of KYCC after the uprising and expansion of its services and facilities—KYCC changes its name from Korean Youth and Community Center to Koreatown Youth and Community Center--Raising funds for programs to help the Koreatown community.
The many divisions and facilities of present-day KYCC—Sources of funding for some of KYCC’s programs—Changes in Koreatown and issues facing it as it continues to grow and attract investment—Meaning of being Korean American—Services now in place to help Korean immigrants who come to Los Angeles—Changes in the needs of present-day Korean immigrants—Issues which continue to affect Korean Americans in Los Angeles--Relationship of Korean Americans to their homeland—Song’s career-long role in KYCC’s service to the community--The future of nonprofit organizations in Koreatown and beyond.