Oral Histories

Interview of Angela Oh

Lawyer, teacher, and lecturer. Member of President William J. Clinton's President's Initiative on Race.
Korean Americans in Los Angeles after 1965
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Lawyer, teacher, and lecturer. Member of President William J. Clinton's President's Initiative on Race.
Cline, Alex
Oh, Angela
Persons Present:
Oh and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and four: Oh’s office at the Western Justice Center Foundation in Pasadena, California; Sessions two and four: conference rooms in the UCLA Library 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. Oh was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
4.3 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who represent their community’s tremendous expansion during the period after federal anti-Asian immigration laws were repealed in 1965.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.
Family background—Oh’s parents meet as students at Pepperdine University--After early youth spent in South Los Angeles, Oh and her parents relocate to the San Fernando Valley—Curiosity about Oh’s cultural identity at elementary school—Language issues in the Oh family—The family’s Christian religious background—Relatives in North Korea and tales of Oh’s father’s escape from there—Financial security parents achieved through their strong work ethic—Food at home—Early school experience—Parents’ feelings about the Japanese—Sociocultural environment at home vs. at school—Father decides to return to medical school, which he succeeds in doing by studying in Mexico City—American popular culture in the Oh household—Parents’ contrasting approaches to old age—The new house and neighborhood in Granada Hills in the early seventies.
Junior high school years in Granada Hills—Parents’ political stance—Circle of friends and their activities as teenagers—Parents’ attitude toward their children’s academic performance—Their expectations regarding their children’s social engagement with their peers—How Oh wound up attending UCLA—Her college career takes her through psychology, business, public health, and eventually law—Involvement as a student in the early courses in Asian American studies at UCLA—Her more activist involvement while at the School of Health advocating for health and safety issues—UCLA when Oh was a student versus how it is at present—Her concern about the level of consciousness of today’s student body—Issues surrounding health and safety versus profiteering set the stage for Oh’s increased level of social awareness and engagement—Works for the Federated Firefighters of California in Sacramento to educate them about health hazards in the workplace—Her work in Sacramento leads Oh to study law at the University of California, Davis—Her inclination toward constant academic continuation clashes with the values of her Zen training—Involvement in protests while in law school leads to an arrest, which remains on her record—Begins practicing labor-side law after graduating from law school, ultimately returning to work for a law firm in L.A. in the late 1980s—Her view of her experience working in Sacramento—Involvement in organizations addressing issues in the rapidly growing Korean American community in L.A.—The Women’s Organization Reaching Koreans and its activities—The development of Koreatown—The focus of new Korean immigrant communities coming to L.A.—Marriage and matchmaking issues—The influx of new Korean immigrants in the late 1980s—Impact of music and events in the late 1960s on Oh—The 1971 Sylmar earthquake.
The Soon Ja Doo case and its impact on the racial climate between Korean Americans and African Americans in L.A. prior to the 1992 Los Angeles riots—Communication between Korean American and African American communities in L.A. prior to the riots—Outbreak of the ’92 riots and media coverage of them—City government response to the riots—How Oh became the most visible spokesperson for the Korean American community in the wake of the riots—Her appearance on Nightline with Ted Koppel—How the ’92 riots changed the Korean American community in L.A. and nationwide—Leadership in the Korean American community after the riots—The issues of language and culture in the younger post-riot Korean American community—How the riots affected Oh’s own life and career—Reasons she never chose to pursue politics—Her view of herself as something of an anomaly in her own community—How she came to be approached to serve on President Clinton’s Initiative on Race—Her sense of where race relations are in the present-day United States—Koreatown after the riots—Reasons she went into the practice of criminal law and reasons she left it—Characteristics of newer Korean immigrants in L.A.—Legal issues that challenge L.A.’s Korean immigrant community—Gender issues in the Korean American community—Oh’s professional activities after leaving her law career.
Oh’s Christian family lineage—The dissolution of her law practice and the end of her involvement with the President’s Initiative on Race leads Oh to reflect on the direction of her life—A meeting on politics and advocacy with a Zen master in Hawaii ultimately leads to Oh’s regular committed involvement as a student at his monastery, Chozen-ji—Frequent return visits to Chozen-ji as a Zen priest—The challenge of her work as executive director of the Western Justice Center Foundation—Future initiatives she envisions for the foundation—Her parents’ feelings about Oh’s present-day life direction—Her view of herself as someone who is not necessarily a nice person—What she perceives her Zen training has done for her—Oh’s personal sense of identity at her current stage in life—Her sense of what the attitude of the present-day younger generation is—Her view of present-day Korean immigrants—Present-day Koreatown—The historical and cultural imprint of Koreans on Los Angeles—Oh’s vision of her own near future.