Oral Histories

Interview of Tammy Chung Ryu

Judge for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Liaison to the Korean American community in the office of the attorney general of California.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Judge for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Liaison to the Korean American community in the office of the attorney general of California.
Cline, Alex
Ryu, Tammy Chung
Persons Present:
Chung Ryu and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Chung Ryu’s chambers at the Compton Superior Courthouse in Compton, 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. Chung Ryu was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few 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.
5.8 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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 B.W. Chung’s family background—Mother, June Chung—Chung Ryu’s parents’ controversial marriage—Family’s religious background—Childhood memories of Seoul during the 1960s—Chung Ryu’s competitiveness as a student—Father’s role in the family when he was home—Situation created by Chung Ryu’s older half sister living with the family—Distribution of responsibilities in the family home—Traditional hierarchy within the family—The novelty of seeing a foreigner in Seoul during Chung Ryu’s childhood—Anti-North Korean propaganda in her early education—Signs of American influence emerge in Seoul—Her relationship with her two younger brothers—Her feelings as a ten-year-old upon learning that her family was going to move to Guam—Early ideas about life in the United States.
Plans and feelings surrounding the Chung family’s move to Guam in 1970—Chung Ryu’s teenage sister’s difficulty with the move—Leaning English—Arrival in Guam—Adjustment to a new life experience and a new language—Home life with father home more than before—Difficulty obtaining ingredients for Korean cuisine—The family’s constant moving to new houses—Chung Ryu learns Christianity via her Catholic school education in Guam—Her relationship with her mother—New household chores—Encounters with Western popular culture—Family controversies over school dances—Chung Ryu follows her sister to Northern California, where she attends high school—The two sisters live together in Moraga, California—Chung Ryu’s parents eventually convert to Christianity after moving to the mainland.
Chung Ryu’s father’s English skills—Her relocation to Moraga on the mainland—Cultural impact of settling in a mostly Caucasian neighborhood—Academic and social life as a high school student in Moraga—Changes upon the arrival of the rest of her family—She applies to the University of California, Berkeley, and is accepted—Challenges with dating and meeting boys—Meets a minimal number of Asian Americans before attending college—The beginning of the Chung family’s church attendance—Begins working once in college—Chung Ryu rediscovers her Korean identity while at UC Berkeley—How she selected law as her career choice—She learns about discrimination against Asians throughout U.S. history and in current events—Beginnings of her political awakening—The family’s earlier visit to California before moving there from Guam.
Reasons Chung Ryu chose UCLA School of Law for her law education—Her family purchases and opens a supermarket in West Oakland, where she works before moving to Los Angeles—Her experience at law school—She decides to pursue law in the public sector—Noticeable cultural differences upon settling in L.A., where there is a much larger Korean immigrant population—Becomes involved in Korean community organizations in Koreatown—Community leaders with whom Chung Ryu worked—Her church, Robertson Church, the oldest Korean church in Los Angeles—She engages in an act of civil disobedience directed at UCLA School of Law’s minority admissions policy while she was there—How she met her husband, James Ryu—Number of Korean law students at UCLA while she was there--Influential UCLA law professor Ken Graham—Generational and linguistic differences within the Korean community in L.A.—Marriage.
How and why Chung Ryu got involved in the Korean American Coalition (KAC)—Legal issues that faced many Korean immigrants upon settling in L.A.—The church’s function as an aid to immigrants’ socialization in the U.S.—Community organizations that provided services to new immigrants—How the 1992 Los Angeles riots shifted priorities in the Korean community—Korean-owned businesses begin to proliferate outside Koreatown—Koreans move to areas where schools are considered to be superior—Chung Ryu’s experiences meeting Koreans adopted by non-Korean Americans—The beginning of her tenure working in the office of the California State Attorney General—She has her first child, Nicholas Ryu—Her interview for the attorney general’s office job—Numbers of Asian woman and men attorneys at the attorney general’s office—The Ryus eventually relocate to Rancho Palos Verdes after fifteen years in Lomita—More legal issues that faced Korean immigrants—Chung Ryu’s travels back to South Korea—Organizations which invited her to visit South Korea.
Changes Chung Ryu saw in South Korea during her return trips there as an adult—Language issues as she raised her children—Her parents’ divorce and her father’s return to Guam—Attorney generals under whom she worked—She serves as liaison to the Korean American community for Attorney General Bill Lockyer—History and work of the Korean Family Service Center in L.A.—The strength of women in the Korean American community—Chung Ryu’s memory of the beginning of the riots in Los Angeles in April 1992—She and her husband find themselves in the middle of looting and violence during the riots—Korean immigrants who lost their family businesses due to the riots—The Los Angeles City Council passes legislation preventing Korean owners of liquor stores in neighborhoods like South L.A. from reopening their businesses—Discussing the most appropriate word to describe the events of April 1992 in Los Angeles.
Changes in Korean community organizations and their leadership after the 1992 riots—Increase in Korean American involvement in local politics after the riots—How immigrants became educated about American politics and government—Fate of Koreatown business owners after the riots—Changes in Koreatown since 1992—Suburban Southern California cities to which Korean Americans have been locating—The future of Koreatown—Korean businesses endeavor to become less exclusively geared toward a Korean clientele after the riots—The strongly individualistic nature of Koreans—Koreatown’s lack of a central attraction or trademark building—Nightlife in Koreatown—Changes in recent Korean immigrants' status and choice of living place—Impact of the ’92 riots in South Korea—Reasons Chung Ryu became a judge—Increase in the number of Korean American judges and lawyers—Benefit of having more Korean Americans on the bench—The role of the church in the future of the Korean American community.
The Korean community in light of anti-immigration sentiment in the present-day United States—Conditions which have changed the status of present-day Korean immigrants coming to the U.S.—Chung Ryu’s feelings about U.S. efforts to prevent illegal immigration form south of the border—Increase in the number of Korean American attorneys in the private and public sectors—The contribution of Korean immigrants to the Los Angeles area and to the nation—How Chung Ryu defines herself as a Korean American—How she is reminded every day that there is racism in America—How she feels as a Korean American when she travels to South Korea—Her views on the potential for reunification of North and South Korea—Reasons she ended her involvement with the Council on the Democratic and Peaceful Reunification of Korea—Crucial role of the judiciary branch of government in providing the necessary checks and balances to protect Americans and their constitutional rights—Chung Ryu’s feelings about her current role as superior court judge and about community expectations around advancing to a higher court position—Her constant awareness of her status as a representative of the Korean American community.