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Laura Vanderkam
Where Did the Korean Greengrocers Go? « Back to Story

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@Scott S.
"As America is flooded with legal and illegal immigrants, the quality of life declines. Loss of habitat occurs as people (mainly immigrants and their offspring, since they have a higher fertility rate) push animals out of their homes, and displace already rare flora.

Yet America seems mystified as to why so many animals and plants go extinct every year, why so many animals are killed because they 'invade' human territory."

Scott S., you must be a Native American. Only the past Native Americans lived harmoniously with nature. We all know the European immigrants were the first to come; cutting down forests to build cities, killing animals to near endangered status, polluting the water and air during the Industrial Revolution and so forth. If you are not a Native American and are part of the aforementioned group of immigrants, then I am at a lost of word at your hypocrisy.
Patricia An Leen May 28, 2013 at 1:22 AM
I think it's sad that they were doing this to Korean shops. I think they are sort of picking on Koreans because in my experience it is common to argue about money paid & things like that. :(
Great article, Laura,this is a country formed of immigrants! It's good to read about the Koreans. I'm sure reading all You Posts, they are terrific. Do hope & pray to learn from You. Blessings!
exactly why i am looking for black owned businesses.. i don't like spending my money where ppl don't like me, judge me, or don't respect me and just want my money..
Great article - so well researched. I remember when the Italian deli on my corner of E. 88th and 3rd Ave. went Korean in 1980, and then it seemed they were everywhere. I left NY in '84 and hardly see the ubiquitous Korean market when I return for visits. End of an era.
This is an extraordinarily thoughtful, well-researched and engaging article. Who in NYC has not enjoyed the benefits of a local Korean Market? Who in NYC cannot be rejuvenated by this vivid presentation of work, social evolution and integration? Thank you for sharing this.
In 1985, when I couldn't find work as a geologist, because of the oil industry debacle, I went to work in a school helping as a teaching assistant in an advanced English class (at that time it was a class which would give college credits.) In the class there were several Koreans, Chinese National, Vietnamese, and two Hispanics, along with the American born.
The Asian students amazed me, they did their homework (most learned to speak, read and write English in less than a term i.e. four months)and had to work for their parents or families at outside jobs, in order for their families to make ends meet.
These students were not only intelligent, but also respectful, well disciplined,and industrious. They went on to college, the first generation for most to even finish High School, much less college.
The poorest students in the class were Hispanics, who barely spoke English when they came into the class and had little desire to learn English before they left, few of them went to college.
So maybe we need to take a look at how these young people were brought up and learn something from them. Yes, their families were grocers, the younger children delivered newspapers, and so on. All the money made went into the family budget to pay bills and buy the necessities.
I think we should learn from the past and figure out how to improve the future based on what we have learned.
Patrick, I'm sorry but I just had to respond to your post. I'm tired of reading the stereotype that Asians lack innovation. What exactly do you mean by "innovation?" Do a quick google search of silicon valley and you might learn something. Or Vera Wang and fashion. Or Gary Locke and politician. Or Jim Yong Kim and PIH and Dartmouth. Or myriad other examples of Asian-Americans who are not just producers but leaders in their respective fields. I trust you are a relatively fair-minded person if you're reading this site so I'm curious to hear your response.
The Koreans have assimilated well, but my concern with many of these East Asian groups is their ability to innovate and create. It seems as if the Chinese and Koreans are culturally reared to produce, but these rigid work expectations leave no room for the cultivation of new ideas.
They are great, but the children they produce are like Jane Kim, San Francisco Supervisor, who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
As a resident of East Flatbush and a repotter, I found this article very insightful. You focus on the present decline of Korean green grocers and you say that they bought their businesses from retiring Jewish and Italian business owners. I believe that in 10 years the delis and groceries of Koreans will be bought from those of Middle East descent.
Interesting article
Really inspiring story. But it's a letdown that Ron Kim became -- a New Yorks state bureaucrat. Is that really a step up from his parents' grocery business? The story would have ended happier if he had gone into the private sector.
I have to agree with J.Norman Sayles - it is all very well lauding the work-ethic of the Korean immigrant - he has come from a country un-corrupted by a welfare state that encourages idleness and dependency. It is no good decrying the slothfulness and non-entrepreneurship of the native population when that is actively encouraged by the policies of the big-government 'nanny-state' as it is here in the UK. Furthermore, these immigrants owe no real allegiance to their host state, they have no attachment to the history or culture of the country that gave them their 'big break' and would be off to pastures new if their hard-earned 'stash' was under threat.
Great article about the evolution of korean owned groceries. It explains the classic immigrant story of the 1st generation owning a store, the second generation becomes doctors and lawyers, the third generation becomes art historians and investment bankers. Yes- the path of my own Eastern European Jewish family. It also says a lot about race relations in NYC-- and the increasingly corporate/bland state of NY retail stores.
This is a good article, but it must be mentioned that there are consequences to this type of work ethic. There is a high suicide rate within the Korean community, in both the US and in Korea, due to the constant pressure to perform and conform to society. Even minor slights in character can cause one to jump off a roof. The Korean community has lost many well known political, economic and cultural icons to suicide.
Ms. Vanderkam:
Thank you for a most informative article. One slight point not mentioned; religion. Most Koreans are christian. Many are Presbyterian and quite a few Roman Catholics. And they practise their religion. Their churches thrive. And yes, they do 'stick together". Through the use of the ki system they give each other great financial and moral support.
Many Thanks
William Vanson
Stewart Manor,NY
"why can't we teach this ethos to African-Americans? If we could most of the country's problems would dissapear."

Always an ignorant response... smh
It appears from this article that fewer Koreans than i expected purchased the property under their stores using informal loans from other Koreans that were quickly paid off. To my understanding, that was the traditional path, used by successive waves of immigrants, to creating cash cows for very small retail outlets around New York City. In fact, without mortgages, insurance, and other overhead, such businesses could fend off the chain outlets. This article does not seem to take account of these factors.
The Sanity Inspector January 20, 2011 at 10:50 PM
The Korean work ethic is truly astounding. I know one family, parents are medical professionals, and daughter is in high school. They go full tilt all day and see each other twice a day, at breakfast, and at 10:00 pm.
I would hope these hardworking Americans of Korean ancestry would be just as disgusted by this as I am:
Well written and properly researched piece. A lot of writers could learn something about journalism by reading this.

My daughter lived in Korea for a year, as a student and a teacher, as well as holding a significant position in a Korean entity here in the states for some time. She suggested I read this. I'm glad she did.
Most immigrants throughout history whether fleeing religious persecution or economic hardships etc. and handicapped by language problems, cultural differences and so on had to put up with the manifold hardships which they invariably encountered wherever they settled. Matters are made worse if the mainstream host community treats them with disdain, suspicion and even rejection and whom they perceived to be intruders who are in their country on sufferance, besides constituting a threat to the former's livelihoods and lifestyles. Those newcomers who end up being self-employed, initially do so for lack of choice since most occupations are reserved for the denizens of the country where they have settled. It is an acknowledged fact, that, for example, among the other reasons moneylending was one of the 'favourite' occupations of the Jews of the Diaspora in Christendom, was because this was one of the few occupations (with the unpleasant occupational hazard that the creditor could end up destitute if their debtors defaulted on their loans.... well, they had no modern banks of today to bail them out or modern day goverments to bail out the banks in dire straits!) that was not forbidden to them. The indomitable but "inscrutable" Chinese (so they seem to those who resent their presence) who worked on the building of the Central Pacific Railroad in 19th Century faced considerable hardships and were brutalised both by the living & working conditions and other humans too ( a great account of it can be read in Simon Schama's superb book on America). Japanese immigrants in the US during the WW2 were incarcerated because it was thought that that there was the danger that they might become the Fifth Column (but could it not have also been because of the prejudice and fear of the "yellow peril", so what more timely excuse ie. wartime, could have presented itself to get "out of sight, out of mind" a community not exactly a gregarious one?) Indians of South Asian provenance who had their property expropriated and then, to add insult to injury, kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin in the '70s, willy-nilly, ended up in Britain (some elsewhere). They bought over the street corner newsagent, opened retail outlets etc. and led frugal lives, scrimping and saving so that their offspring would get a better education than they had - and many did - in order to have a more secure life for themselves. The Chinese who emigrated centuries ago to SE Asian countries, for example, the then Malaya (now modern Malaysia), came with only a knapsack over the shoulder, often braving the hazardous sea journey in rickety, barely seaworthy vessels packed like sardines. Those that survived the journey landed on the shores of their destination not without some trepidation, but at the same time harbouring in their palpating hearts a little sigh of relief, a glimmer of hope that this, the future, was going to be better than what they had left behind. (Just like the American Dream!) My forbears led a spartan existence which included a daily diet of self-denial,thrift, industry, ingenuity and innovation (the very same precepts that make up the Protestant work ethic, which has made America a creative and productive country) that enabled them to carve out a more comfortable existence later on, both for themselves and the generations which followed.
Great article. Thanks!
Thank you. I enjoy reading essays like this. Even if I had not myself wondered where those groceries have gone (I last lived in Manhattan in 1986, and have been perplexed by this shift in the streetscape) I should have admired your account of the process by which their numbers came to dwindle. I hope that you are commissioned to write -- or find yourself moved to write -- at this venue again.
Very interesting article. There are several Korean owned fruit/veg stores in my immediate neighborhood (Jackson Hts), but I don't know when they were established. /I want to point out that it is extremely difficult for Koreans to learn English, since the two languages have nothing in common, so the "rudeness" of Korean greengrocers was due mostly to low levels of English proficiency, and presumably high stress levels. Inevitable, when working long hours, and the languages are so different. Truly, it's not satisfying to make a friendly comment to the worker and get only a blank look, but I understand the underlying problem. Ironically, in Jackson Heights, the Koreans have had to learn some Spanish to deal with "hispanic" customers who don't speak English at all.
Very nice article! We knew a Korean woman - divorced from her husband, she worked day and night at a nail salon, finally bought her own salon, all for her daughter, who went to Stuyvesant High and is a doctor today. She relied on a host of family contacts as well. Culture yes, with strong family connections.
Attorney SEO Services January 18, 2011 at 3:21 AM
Nice blog, this may help the Korean grocers aware what are happening around. Despite of the declining numbers of the Korean grocers, they still have the economic success. Business entrepreneur help this Korean. I'll visit this site very often.
why can't we teach this ethos to African-Americans? If we could most of the country's problems would dissapear.
As America is flooded with legal and illegal immigrants, the quality of life declines. Loss of habitat occurs as people (mainly immigrants and their offspring, since they have a higher fertility rate) push animals out of their homes, and displace already rare flora.

Yet America seems mystified as to why so many animals and plants go extinct every year, why so many animals are killed because they 'invade' human territory.
Another 'this is why we come here' piece. Thanks!!
Those early Korean immigrants who worked over 100 hours labor per week were also mindful of seeing their children de-Koreanized by adopting the names like Ron, John and Emma along with their high aspiration. As you can see, the Koreans today do not stick with this trend. Perhaps, it is because the old melting-pot theory is in fading out.
So it takes Asian immigrants to show Americans how to climb the ladder to independence? And without a government bureaucrat advising , just colleting taxes and fines? Bully for them! Their kids are not thumbing their lives away with play stations and other electronic diversions. Let the Koreans keep their secrets to success, we fell on our faces with LBJ programs that destroyed both families and ambitions.
Very well written piece of journalism!