Monday, June 4, 2012

Pittsburgh's Koreatown . . . in Squirrel Hill.

A piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Sunday looks at growing diversity in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood that borders the city's biggest employers (the universities and the hospitals) and brings people and businesses from all walks of life. This blurb caught my eye, from the owner of Murray Avenue's Aseoma C.K. Kim:
"[B]eing that this is a traditionally Jewish neighborhood, I think there's acceptance here," Kim said. "Some people are calling this an emergence of a Koreatown in Pittsburgh."
Yes, some people are. From this blog in March:
Squirrel Hill is starting to feel like a teeny-tiny Koreatown: there's a Korean grocery in Young's (영스), Korean food at Green Pepper and Aseoma, and now a Korean bakery on Murray Avenue.
And again in the post on Aseoma a couple of weeks ago.

The not-exactly-yet growth of a Koreatown in a Pittsburgh's Jewish neighborhood is interesting for a couple of reasons, and we can find some context for Kim's quotation. Koreatowns, and other newer ethnic neighborhoods, developed and expanded in cities across the country by supplanting older-generation ethnic communities that moved out or sprawled into the suburbs as the need for their enclaves decreased. If a real Koreatown develops in Squirrel Hill---and it's unlikely that it really will, beyond a grocery and a couple restaurants---or if another ethnic group there in larger numbers, it will be following a familiar pattern.

More recently, we've read about Koreans and their, I suppose, back-handed admiration of Jewish people through stereotypes, a trend that made Kim's comment stand out. I am reminded of things like this from a 2011 Jewish Chronicle Online article:
The Talmud is a bestseller in South Korea - even the government insists it is good for you, and has included it on the curriculum for primary school children.

Lee Chang-ro heads a literature research team at the Ministry for Education. He says: "The reasons why Korean children are taught Talmud are pretty obvious. Koreans and Jews both have a long history of oppression and surviving adversity with nothing but their own ingenuity to thank. There are no natural resources to speak of in Korea, so, like the Jews, all we can develop is our minds."
Or by Korean producer and pop star JYP in 2008, on the need for Korean industry and culture to downplay its nationalism:
There are always Jews behind all the world’s industries, but they never state in the world market that the products they made are Israeli (이스라엘 것).”

JYP strenuously emphasized, “In US, Japan, and other markets of more than 100 million you can grow in any area, but in a market of 40 million like Korea it’s hard. There are a lot of Jews among the owners of Hollywood and America’s record company presidents. But we should pay attention to the fact that since they’ve removed the taint of nationalism they have been able to obtain a practical hegemony and sell cultural products in the world market.”
Korean press and tabloids have drawn attention, too, to senses of obligation and duty to the motherland that Koreans and Korean-Americans do, or perhaps should, show. The Korean-American Youth Action Coalition was quoted as saying, on measures designed to bring Korean-Americans to South Korea to teach:
[KAYAC] said the [Korean] overnment needs to learn from China, Japan and especially from Israel. ``The Jewish people work hard to embrace their kindred all around the world. There are about 850 Jews in the White House, for example, and they are the power and driving force of Israel,'' said Lee, who also served as president of the Korea-American Association of New York.

``We should do something for young Koreans overseas. If we don't, there will be no more chances and our children will have no roots,'' Lee added.
There's nothing about Kim we can infer from his forty-odd words in the paper the other day that makes him as far out as the others quoted above, but it does provide some context. But whether new residents and shopkeepers are Jewish, Korean, Mexican, or anything else, anyone who brings diversity and new development to the neighborhood is more than welcome. I'm just waiting for someone to bring another one of my posts to the Tribune-Review, the one where I talk about the need for a genuine, Asian-style 노래방.