Oral Histories

Interview of James Ryu

Korean American founder and publisher of KoreAm journal.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Korean American founder and publisher of KoreAm journal.
Cline, Alex
Ryu, James
Persons Present:
Ryu and Cline.
Place Conducted:
The KoreAm Journal offices in Gardena, 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, interviewer, UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interviews 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. Ryu was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections.
5.2 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Family background—Early life in Seoul, South Korea—Ryu’s father, Jung-shig Ryu—His mother, Kwang-oak Ryu—Musical activities in the Ryu family—Most childhood associates are fellow piano students—Lack of need to travel to other areas of Seoul—Church activity—Food—Early encounters with non-Asians in Seoul—Propaganda against North Korea—First contact with American entertainment and food—Father stays in the United States for two years to get his master’s degree in communications from Syracuse University—Ideas about the U.S. commonly held by Koreans at the time—To pursue his Ph.D., Ryu’s father moves the family to Eugene, Oregon, in 1973, where he will attend the University of Oregon—Last-minute effort to learn English before leaving Korea—Excitement about the journey to the U.S.—Stopover in Hawaii—The family stays with relatives in Los Angeles for a week before moving to Eugene—First impressions of Eugene—Changes in family roles and responsibilities—Activities with other Korean student families—Ryu’s difficulties with English cause challenges in school—Discovers sports while living in Eugene—Friends—Food at home while in Eugene—Ryu excels at basketball by the ninth grade—In 1977, father finds employment teaching mass communication at Miami University in Ohio—The family relocates to Oxford, Ohio—The long drive east from Eugene—Impressions of Oxford—Church involvement while living in Eugene—Effect on the family of living in very close quarters while in Eugene.
Americans in Eugene have a minimal awareness of Korea and Koreans—Father’s excitement at becoming a professor contrasts with the family’s disappointment with their new location, Oxford, Ohio—The Ryu family purchase a house in Oxford—Neighbors in Oxford—Ryu’s high school experience—His involvement in basketball while in high school—Decides to pursue a career as an architect—Girls—Church activities—His brother Young Key Ryu’s pursuits after high school—Attends Miami University for two years—The family decides to move to Los Angeles in 1982—Father’s change in job after moving to the L.A. area—Ryu begins attending the Robertson Korean United Methodist Church—Works various jobs for a year before returning to college at California State University, Long Beach as a business major—A sushi-making job leads Ryu to go into business for himself—Simultaneous work and college studies—Reasons he decided to start his own businesses—Ryu’s church connects him to the L.A. area’s Korean community—Increased contact with other Korean Americans increases Ryu’s overall comfort and confidence level.
Reasons Ryu chose to attend English language services at his church upon coming to L.A.—Korean students at California State University, Long Beach—How he met his wife, Tammy Chung Ryu—Marriage and first home in 1988—Switches to the publishing business with his father in 1990—His desire to meet the need for more English language material on the Korean American experience leads him to start KoreAm journal in April of 1990—KoreAm journal’s target demographic—Content and financial status during the magazine’s first year—The magazine’s distribution—Other magazines targeting Asian American readers at the time—Koreatown in the early 1990s—Ryu’s magazine business renders him essentially broke after one year—Richard Choi Birch becomes Ryu’s 50-50 business partner for a few years—Struggles to get advertising and articles on prominent people to keep the magazine afloat—Brings another businessman, Spencer Kim, into the company in 1977—Kim teaches Ryu better business practices but the increased expense of hiring knowledgeable people ends up putting Ryu further in debt—Influence of the 1992 Los Angeles riots on Ryu’s determination to keep publishing his magazine—KoreAm’s approach to addressing the riots and the issues stemming from them—Ryu’s personal experience and feelings about the riots—The Korean community’s reaction to the city’s and the mainstream media’s response to the riots—How the riots changed the Korean American community—Emergence of English-speaking leaders in the Korean community after the riots—Impact of the riots on the later content of KoreAm—Changing concerns of potential Korean immigrants and of Korean American citizens after 1992—The churches' response to the riots.
Sacrifices Ryu’s parents made in order for their children to have greater opportunities—Lack of English language skill hampers Ryu and members of his family while his much younger sister, Me Young Ryu, experiences no such hindrance, ultimately becoming a doctor—His relationship with his sister—Differences between Ryu’s and his siblings’ relationship with their parents—Parents’ support for his effort to start KoreAm journal—KoreAm’s presentation of the Korean community’s views following the 1992 riots—Political stance of the Korean community after the riots—How KoreAm endeavors to reach its intended audience—The magazine’s gradual improvement in content and presentation over the years—How it stays in touch with its readers’ interests and needs—Its function as a window into the unique culture of Korean Americans—Difference between Ryu’s generation of Korean immigrants and the generation that has come to the U.S. more recently—Changes in South Korea since Ryu left—The continuous change in his own sense of identity since moving from Oxford to L.A.—Ryu’s children and their questions and concerns about their identity—Korean language education for his children—Role of the church in the lives of the next generation of Korean Americans—The challenge of keeping Korean pastors in English language ministries—Hazards of immigrant parents pushing the achievement level of their children—First- versus second-generation Korean Americans’ characteristics—Changes in Koreatown—Contributions of Korean Americans to the Los Angeles area—In 2003 Ryu starts Audrey, a magazine to target Asian American women—How Audrey became the magazine’s name—Korean immigrants’ relationship with other Asian immigrant communities—Present difficulty keeping the magazine business going—Ryu’s marriage and family life—Opportunities he sees for his children and their generation—Future of the Korean American community, particularly after the election of President Barack H. Obama.