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Introduction

The Seoul of Los Angeles: Contested Identities and Transnationalism in Immigrant Space is a platform for community storytelling and an online cultural history on the multi-ethnic identity and development of Los Angeles’ Koreatown. 

Currently, Los Angeles has the largest population of Koreans in the United States living outside of Korea.  In an article in 2012, the Pulitzer Prize winning food critic for the LA Weekly, Jonathan Gold, described Koreatown in Los Angeles as “functionally a distant district of Seoul — in capital as well as in culture, in both commerce and cuisine.” With its explosion of spas, restaurants and nightclubs, most visitors understand Koreatown as an extension of Seoul culture, but what most people may not know is that the majority of inhabitants who comprise its residential and working class population are not Korean, but Latino. 

Though the majority of businesses are owned by struggling first generation Korean immigrants or, in some cases, financed by Korean transnational capital, the everyday space of this community is largely inhabited by a mix of immigrants coming from Mexico, Central and South America, and even Bangladesh.  This complex network of national affiliations, each with its own distinct cultural history, converges in the urban space of Koreatown.  This convergence results in a contestation of dominant conceptions of ethnic enclaves being understood as ethnically homogenous. 

Using Koreatown in Los Angeles as a case study, this project examines how immigrant communities shape a sense of place and cultural identity and how these local ethnic communities in large urban cities reconfigure our understanding of transnational identity.  Moreover, this project shows how ethnic enclaves can no longer be understood as homogenous and fixed but rather, are unstable and constructed out of a network of complex, multiple affiliations to race, histories and nations. 

Using a combination of original interviews, archival photographs and written material, this research project is presented as a scholarly website and digital archive.  It utilizes open-source tools to present a unique interface design that reflects the multiple and uneven nature of urban development and transnational identity.  Ultimately, it uses the archive or database as a way to address the complex relationships that comprise Koreatown’s socio-cultural history.