Oral Histories

Interview of Paul Park

Businessman and dharma teacher at the Dharma Zen Center.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Businessman and dharma teacher at the Dharma Zen Center.
Cline, Alex
Park, Paul
Persons Present:
Park and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Dharma Zen Center 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 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. Park was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
3.3 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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 Seoul, South Korea—Park’s childhood home in Seoul—Relationships with his parents and two siblings—Religion and culture in the family—School and activities as a youngster in Seoul—Exposure to Western popular culture as a youngster in Korea—Reason his father decided to leave South Korea for the United States—Park’s feelings about eventually moving to the U.S.—Awareness of the communist north and its threat to South Korea’s safety and security—Preparations for the family’s relocation to Los Angeles in 1970—The flight to L.A.—First impressions of L.A. and his new apartment home—Junior high school Park attended—The Park family receives assistance and information from the Korean church after arriving in L.A.—His mother’s distaste for Christian churches—His parents’ jobs—Racial dynamics in Park’s neighborhood—Korean businesses in the area at the time—His father dies of a heart attack in 1972—Park’s uncle takes over his father’s business, then stops his support of the family—His mother takes over caring for all the family’s needs—Differences Park noticed between life in Korea and life in the U.S—Moves to Bancroft Junior High School, then attends Los Angeles High School—Relocates to Fairfax High School for his senior year—His mother searches for a Buddhist temple to attend—Park and his mother visit the then new Tahl Mah Sah Buddhist Temple in Koreatown, where a meeting with Zen Master Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim changes her life—Seung Sahn becomes a close friend of Park’s family—Park’s older brother co-founds Dharma Zen Center while Park is overseas in the army—Reasons he enlisted in the army after high school—Racial discrimination he experienced in the army—Changes he saw in L.A.’s Korean community when he returned from his stint in the army in 1980—Christian Koreans’ relationship with their Buddhist countrymen—He works at the family gas station before beginning classes at L.A. Valley College—His siblings’ vocations—Park’s theory that a learning disability prevented him from enjoying school—His mother’s concern about his future.
A return to Korea was never an option for the struggling Park family—Park attends L.A. Valley College while working the graveyard shift at a Thrifty Drug Store in Koreatown—After having to leave the job at Thrifty and after working for 4-Day Tires, he buys a teriyaki house business in Arcadia—He sells the restaurant and buys a sandwich shop in Diamond Bar—Becomes inspired to begin practicing doing five hundred bows each morning, which begins to change his life—Park marries and begins his family in the late eighties—Homes he bought before his first child was born—Begins a kido practice, which leads to his first house being sold—People and activities at the Dharma Zen Center in the early nineties—Korean attitudes about doing sitting Zen meditation—The different ways in which Seung Sahn dealt with his Korean students versus his Western students—His approach to dealing with Park—Seung Sahn’s encounter with a professor from Brown University ultimately leads to the establishment of his first Zen center in Providence, Rhode Island—Seung Sahn’s ongoing friendship with Park’s family—Directions Park’s siblings’ lives took—Park’s feelings about becoming a dharma teacher—His attention deficit disorder—Buddhism in L.A.’s Korean community—Park’s experience during the 1992 Los Angeles riots—His feelings about the Korean American victims of the riots—The Korean American community after the riots—What he thinks Korean immigrants can and should offer to the U.S.—Korean culture and language as generations of Korean Americans progress—Koreans’ relationship with other Asian communities—Park’s wishes for the Korean American community—His thoughts about his own future—His impressions of present-day South Korea—Thoughts about the situation between North and South Korea—Korean orphans adopted outside Korea—The evolution of Park’s own sense of his identity—Contribution he hopes he can make as a Zen practitioner—Change he would like to see in the way Koreans approach education—His hopes for Koreans becoming better balanced as human beings—Park’s mother at age seventy-seven—Reflections on Seung Sahn’s achievements.