Korean Americans living in the neighboring cities of Buena Park and Fullerton have over the years formed a community that crosses city boundaries — and local leaders are questioning whether it’s on the radar of state redistricting officials.
Residents in both routinely travel to the other for work, places of worship in the community, restaurants, shopping centers, and grocery stores like H-Mart.
But now there’s worry that this year’s state redistricting process could fragment their voting power, as the California Citizens Redistricting Commission races against the clock to nail down what new electoral maps will look like for the next decade up and down California.
To Cecilia Cho of the Korean American Public Action Committee (KAPAC), a non-profit community organization based in Buena Park, the two towns are “inseparable.”
Much of the concern lies in the redistricting commission’s plans for redrawn state Senate districts, which over the course of this month have mulled over keeping the two cities in different electoral districts.
Newer, more official map drafts released by the commission on Nov. 11 have made an effort to join parts of the cities together, but still largely separate them.
City of Buena Park officials expressed that very concern to state redistricting commissioners in a Nov. 10 letter, stating that “Korean-Americans living in (Buena Park and Fullerton) share many of the same resources,” and adding that their sense of community “extends past city boundaries.”
Earlier, hypothetical map drafts from Nov. 2 also spitballed lumping Buena Park in with parts of Orange County’s Little Saigon, home to an immense Vietnamese American community in central county cities like Garden Grove and Westminster.
It’s a prospect some warned could have fueled the common misperception of Asian Americans as a monolith.
“What they did was lump the Korean community with the Vietnamese community, but they’re different,” Cho said in a phone interview.
Buena Park city officials agree.
“Our Korean American community doesn’t identify with the Vietnamese American community in all the same ways,” said Buena Park City Clerk Adria Jiminez, who has been tracking the state redistricting process for the city.
“That’s where the lack of understanding of the difference between different subgroups of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities came in,” Jiminez added, talking about the older, Nov. 2 map visualization.
The redistricting efforts are supposed to wrap up this year despite some delays in getting the population demographics commissioners need to inform the redrawing process
The Nov. 11 draft maps no longer lump Buena Park in with Garden Grove — one of Little Saigon’s core cities — but the city is lumped in with Santa Ana, including Santa Ana’s west end, which is home to many Vietnamese Americans.
Buena Park council members at their Nov. 9 meeting, where they discussed the redistricting issue, stated they didn’t see any shared interests with Santa Ana.
The issue of electoral cohesion has come up in Little Saigon as well.
Redistricting Buena Park into a different state Senate district “will be detrimental to Buena Park as it has more community ties and shared community goals with these north Orange County counterparts than other cities within the central Orange County area,” reads the city’s Nov. 10 letter to the commission.
The letter mainly took issue with the state Senate map shapes from the Nov. 2 visualization, which state officials have said aren’t official drafts, but merely hypothetical scenarios illustrating what’s possible.
One day later, the commission released its official draft maps.
Jiminez said the draft “does still largely keep us separate from Fullerton and other north Orange County cities that we have a lot of mutual interests and actual agreements with.”
Having the cities split this way “is absolutely still a concern for us,” Cho added.
The redistricting commission has a set of ranked criteria it’s supposed to abide by when redrawing district maps.
Number one on the list: “Districts must be of equal population to comply with the US Constitution.”
The criteria of keeping communities together comes in at #4.
“Buena Park and Fullerton share many of the same ethnic and cultural communities of interest that may not be realized by the Commission,” the city’s Nov. 10 letter reads.
Buena Park Councilmember Sunny Park, elected in 2018, is currently the panel’s only Korean American elected official.
In Fullerton, City Councilmember Fred Jung made history as his city’s first Korean American — and Asian American — elected official.
History was also made last year when Republican Young Kim became one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress, representing the 39th district which spans an area that includes both cities,
Though there are other issues, beyond electoral cohesion for the Korean American community, driving Buena Park officials’ push to stay unified with other north county cities.
For example, Buena Park and Fullerton share the same regional council district within the Southern California Association of Governments, an agency in which the towns collaborate on issues of transportation, sustainability, housing and other topics.
“If Buena Park is separated from Fullerton, this could lead to competing interests when asking for state funding or advocacy on key issues,” reads the city’s Nov. 10 letter.
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