Oral Histories

Interview of Min Jung Kim

Chief executive officer, president, and director at Open Bank.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Chief executive officer, president, and director at Open Bank.
Cline, Alex
Kim, Min Jung
Persons Present:
Kim and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Kim’s office at the Nara Bank Building 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 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. Kim was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
6.2 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Father’s background—Kim’s close relationship with her paternal grandmother—Mother’s background—How Kim’s parents met—Conditions surrounding her parents’ marriage—Kim is essentially raised by her grandmother—Lack of closeness with her mother’s side of the family—Father’s early unwillingness to embrace his responsibilities as a husband and father—Younger siblings being raised by mother causes a separation in the family—Their neighborhood in Juwon--Reasons Kim’s family moved to Seoul two years before their father joined them there—Adjustments Kim had to make upon moving to Seoul—Subjects in school that were of particular interest—Early impression of non-Koreans—Elements of Western popular culture Kim remembers gaining in prominence during her youth—Family’s religious background—Once father joins the family, they move twice together to larger homes—Life after the return of Kim’s father—Visits to grandmother—Change in the relationship with her siblings—Father moves to the United States in 1973 and eventually sends for the family to join him in Los Angeles in 1974—English language skills and challenges—Feelings about relocating to the U.S.—First impressions of Los Angeles—Pain at leaving her grandmother in Korea—Prospects of a new beginning for the Kim family—First neighborhood and neighbors in L.A.—Encounters with other Korean immigrants—Kim’s enjoyment of her new life.
Increased challenge of learning English in a mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhood and school while speaking Korean at home—Changes upon moving on to attend Fairfax High School—American pop culture and fashion demonstrated in high school—Kim’s academic strength in math—Food—Her circle of experience outside school is limited mainly to the Korean community—She applies to attend college at the University of Southern California (USC) and is accepted there—Her relationship with her protective father during her teen years—High school boyfriends—How her siblings adapted to life in L.A.—How Kim decided to major in finance and pursue a career in banking—Her status among the groups of students studying business at USC—Parents’ support of her professional direction—Her lack of a social life during her first three years at USC—How and when she met her husband--Mother’s job at a fish-packing plant downtown—Kim’s grandmother is eventually brought to live with the family in L.A. but ultimately goes back to Korea—Grandmother returns to L.A, where she dies after prolonged illness—Kim’s regrets about her response to her grandmother’s decline.
Reasons Kim attended USC rather than UCLA—After interviewing, Kim fails to land an officer training position at any local bank—She acquires a temporary teaching credential and continues to teach math at Brendel Junior High School—Lacking real interest or passion in teaching, she interviews at Wilshire State bank for what turns out to be a teller position—After declining the teller job, she is counseled by her future husband, Keith Kim, to follow her passion and take the job anyway—She takes the teller job, thus beginning her career in banking in 1982—After rising through the ranks at the bank’s main branch, Kim agrees to transfer to a new branch in an African American neighborhood as supervisor—Difficulty being accepted at the new branch—Steps she took to improve conditions at the bank which eventually won over the employees there—Kindness she received from her coworkers—Difference between the two bank branches at which she worked—How Kim and her old friend Keith Kim got together and ultimately married.
After the Adams branch of the Wilshire State bank is closed, Kim leaves for an assistant treasurer position at Hanmi Bank—Adjustment required to work in the exclusively Korean culture at Hanmi Bank—After one year she applies for a loan officer position, resulting in discrimination against her due to her gender—She is given the job after constant persistence but receives no training or assistance—The lock Hanmi Bank had on the flood of new Korean immigrants who needed financial assistance—How Kim managed to generate loan clients in the face of total opposition—After six months, she has a larger client base than her boss—She rapidly rises through the ranks at Hanmi via promotions, becoming the first female branch manager at age thirty-one—Strong performance and service help her overcome the gender discrimination at the bank—Setting specific goals help Kim succeed in her career—The importance of reputation in achieving career goals—The support system at home which enabled her to focus on her career—Husband Keith Kim postpones his law education for ten years while their family is established—He ultimately becomes a criminal attorney with his own practice—The Kims’ personal needs are met in Northridge where they live, making trips to Koreatown unnecessary—Koreatown as a transitional location for new Korean immigrants—Outlying cities in which Koreans would ultimately settle—Ways by which new immigrants would receive assistance upon arriving in Los Angeles—Common reasons Koreans moved to the United States—Reasons Koreans tend to become entrepreneurs after establishing themselves in the U.S.—Role of the church in the lives of Korean immigrants—Kim’s reaction to South Korea upon returning there to visit eighteen years after leaving it.
Why Kim didn’t sue Hanmi Bank for discrimination—Her memory of the 1992 Los Angeles riots—The bank assesses losses to its borrowers after the riots and responds with a lending plan—Feelings in the Korean community after the riots—Changes in the Korean community after the riots—Speculation as to why the Korean community seemed to get such poor support from L.A. city government agencies—Changes in Korean merchants’ choices of business after the riots—Korean Americans’ dissatisfaction with how the riots were explained in the mainstream media—Growth of Koreatown and economic strength of the Korean business community—Slowing of South Korean investment in Koreatown at present—Two different types of present Korean immigrants to the U.S.—Kim becomes branch manager for Hanmi Bank’s Western branch in 1993—The struggling branch turns profitable within six months, ultimately becoming the bank’s most profitable—Reasons she left Hanmi Bank for NARA Bank in 1995—Holds many positions at NARA Bank under her old Hanmi Bank boss, chief executive officer Benjamin Hong—Hong and Kim build up the bank’s stability, assets, and profit margin—NARA Bank becomes the market leader within three years’ time—The bank’s more Western culture—The long, circuitous, and at times agonizing route that ultimately led to Kim becoming NARA bank’s CEO in 2006 after Hong retired—Increase in acceptance of women executives in the Korean American banking world—The Korean community’s contributions to the city of Los Angeles—Her role at the Koreatown Youth and Community Center—Her present-day lack of a personal tie to South Korea—Close interrelationship between South Korean events and business in L.A.’s Korean community—Current status of Kim’s children, Justin and Nellie Kim—Her pride in being Korean American—South Korean banking still shows no increase in women executives—The hardships of being the CEO of a bank—Comfort and support she receives from her involvement in her church—Her awareness of her status as a role model for Korean American women—Aspiration to be a role model as Christian woman.