Oral Histories

Interview of Joanne Kim

Chief executive officer at Wilshire State Bank.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Chief executive officer at Wilshire State Bank.
Cline, Alex
Kim, Joanne
Persons Present:
Kim and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Kim's office at the Wilshire State Bank in Koreatown 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.
4.5 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Father’s family background in North Korea—Mother’s family background in North Korea—Kim’s status as the middle child in a family with five children—Her neighborhood in Seoul as a child—Her parents’ marriage and beginning of their family—The first family home—Mother’s conversion to Christianity—Father’s resistance to church activities creates tension—Churches the family attended in Seoul—Kim attends a distant middle school after failing her entrance exams—Succeeds in attending her preferred high school, Hye Hwa Girls’ High School—Friends—The loneliness of having no extended family while growing up—The importance placed on studying throughout Kim’s school years—Food at home—Changes in Kim’s first neighborhood over the years—Sightings of U.S. military personnel while growing up in Seoul—Conditions growing up in a divided, war-torn country—Parents’ strong anti-North Korea feelings—Evidence of the growing presence of Western culture and pop culture while growing up in Seoul—Impression American pop culture made on the young Kim—Limited opportunity for interaction with boys as a teenager—Kim’s strengths in school—Attends Korea University as an English literature major—Being a woman, Kim’s interest in studying political science is deemed futile—Secretarial job after college before marrying and preparing to move to the U.S.—Limited opportunities for women, especially for those from North Korean families, in South Korea at the time—Joins her new husband in Los Angeles, where his family had relocated—Economic growth and political oppression in South Korea during Kim’s coming of age there—Preparations Kim made for her relocation to the U.S.—Her family’s feelings about her departure from Korea—Changes in her father’s job over the years—Limited exposure to non-Korean food while living in Seoul.
Kim’s ex-husband's background and their wedding in Seoul—The flight from South Korea to the U.S.—Her worries regarding what might happen upon landing in Los Angeles—First impressions and experiences in L.A.—First apartments in Koreatown—She takes a job as a loan secretary at California Korea bank—Attends classes at night to develop work and English skills—High levels of stress leading up to her first pregnancy in 1981—Encounters with American food and supermarkets—Church—How recent immigrants from Korea received assistance and guidance once in L.A.—Communication with her parents back in Korea—How Kim got her Western name, Joanne—Gives birth to her first child, Ellen Kim, in 1981—Divorce in 1985—Her enjoyment of her work as a loan officer—Personal qualities that Kim feels are the roots of her drive and ambition—Her difficulty learning to interact socially with strangers, which was one of the requirements of her work—More affluent Korean immigrants begin coming to L.A. during the mid-1980s—Her parents and her two younger brothers move into her Monterey Park home in 1989—She moves everyone to a house in Sun Valley in 1989—Life in the Chinese community of Monterey Park.
Life with seven family members in Kim's Sun Valley home—Kim’s children attend the mostly Caucasian Village Christian School—While vice president of lending at Mid City Bank, she works largely outside the Korean American business community—The rarity of women working as officers in Korean banks at the time—Increase in real estate lending and creation of partnerships among Korean immigrants after the mid-eighties—Kim’s memory of the 1992 Los Angeles riots—Impact of the riots on L.A.’s Korean community—Business lessons the Korean community learned from the riots—Increased presence of 1.5 generation Korean Americans in their own community after the riots—Demonstrations of increased unity in the Korean American community after the riots—Kim shares her community’s feelings of anger and helplessness over the riots—The riots cause the Korean immigrant community to reflect and to analyze their own potential contributions to racial and cultural misunderstanding—Food in Kim’s home—Culture clash between her more Americanized children and her Korean parents—The importance of family love in assessing how her children ultimately turned out—The family moves to Northridge during a period of personal and financial difficulty for Kim—She is hired by Hanmi Bank after being laid off by the struggling American Community Bank in 1993—Adjusting to Hanmi Bank’s more Korean culture—Moves back to Wilshire State Bank in 1999—Becomes Wilshire State Bank’s chief executive officer (CEO) in 2008—Wilshire State Bank’s more open and diverse culture—Her feelings about being a CEO—Her awareness of her status as a role model for women in her community—Different course Kim’s life took compared to her friends' lives back in South Korea—Her feelings about Koreans’ increased assimilation into the American mainstream in the future—The Korean American community’s challenge of maintaining Korean cultural identity and values while becoming more American—Kim’s racial, cultural, and national identity compared to her children's sense of identity—Her hope that younger generations of Korean Americans can retain their cultural identity—Impact and implications of Korean Americans’ contribution to the economy of Los Angeles—Kim’s personal interests and passions.