For years, educator Sunny Lee has been supporting the Korean American community by working with parents and helping students at the E-PLEX Education Complex in Buena Park’s Koreatown – Orange County’s newest official ethnic enclave.
Lee, the Preschool and Afterschool Programs Director for E-PLEX, is part of a community of Korean American residents, business owners and workers who have contributed to the city’s economy by creating a hub for Korean culture and cuisine that’s more than 20 years old.
And for her and many of the Korean American entrepreneurs in the Northern part of Buena Park it’s essential that those efforts get an official recognition from city officials.
“Recognition is important, especially for newcomers to get information on where they can find Korean businesses,” Lee said in an Oct. 5 interview. “Koreatown is also important for kids, since they can practice and celebrate their national culture here.”
“It has been official for us for a long time.”
Buena Park politicians agreed.
On Tuesday, city council members voted unanimously to adopt a resolution officially designating Beach Boulevard from Rosecrans Avenue to Orangethorpe Avenue as Koreatown – including putting up signs.
The request for the recognition came from City Councilwoman Joyce Ahn in July and is similar to a request made by City Councilman Connor Traut that was never discussed.
“It’s about time,” Ahn said at the Sept. 26 city council meeting. “The bottom line is it brings the traffic, brings the tourism and brings additional revenue opportunity for the city of Buena Park.”
The designation ushers in the fourth official culture enclave in the county – following the official recognition of Anaheim’s Little Arabia in 2022, the designation of Garden Grove’s Koreatown in 2019 and Little Saigon – OC’s first cultural district – designated in 1988.
City officials hope the designation and signs will help attract even more business to Buena Park and drive up tourism.
According to the approved resolution, there are nearly 11,000 Korean Americans living in Buena Park – about 13% of the city’s population.
Yuna Moon, Grocery Manager of the Zion Market grocery store in Koreatown and Irvine resident, said in an interview last week that recognizing the area shows respect for the community.
“Respect is the baseline of Korean culture,” Moon said. “The city is respecting our culture now.”
She added that K-Pop and Korean drama television shows are helping popularize Korean culture in the U.S.
For Pharmacist Jay Chang, having a Koreatown is about finding community and friendship.
“I was born and raised in Korea, and I like to be able to experience my culture here in Orange County,” he said in an interview last week. “Especially with food and Korean businesses.”
Chang, who owns WOW Pharmacy, notes that having a pharmacist with the same native language makes Korean patients feel more comfortable.
The designation marks the creation of the second official Korean cultural enclave in OC after Garden Grove politicians in 2019 decided to rename the city’s Korean Business District as Orange County’s Koreatown.
According to the Korean American Coalition, a nonprofit, Orange County is home to the second largest Korean American community in the U.S behind Los Angeles.
The recognition of Korean Americans in Buena Park also comes more than a year after politicians in Anaheim recognized Arab American business owners and officially designated a part of West Anaheim as Little Arabia following decades of advocacy by entrepreneurs, residents and activists.
“We’ve seen places like Little Arabia where they had to fight for that for so long. And I think here we’re taking some active approach to recognize the unique draw we already have and unique cultural significance,” Traut said at the Sept. 26 meeting.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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