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Oral history interview conducted by Mary Lui
April 15, 1993
Call number: 1994.007.16
LUI: Can you just introduce yourself?
KANG: How do I do that?
LUI: Just say your name and how old you are and that kind of thing.
KANG: My name is Harrison Kang. I am 31. I have been living in this city forlike 12 years now.
LUI: Okay, I'm going to start with some quick questions about yourself. Wherewere you born?
LUI: What part of Korea?
KANG: South Korea? I don't really know the city name.
LUI: When did you come to the United States?
LUI: Did your family start the shop right away?1:00
KANG: Yeah, about three or four months later, my parents had this shop.
LUI: Did you help out in the store?
KANG: Yeah. I went to school, and after school I would help them out. Then I hadto go to the college. I went for five years. I got a job on Long Island, and I have been there for about two years, and then I came back to this store.
LUI: Do you work here full time now?
LUI: You've been here for about twelve years. Can you tell me what the area waslike when you came?
KANG: It was mixed, with a lot of Hispanics. There was a lot of Norwegians, butnow I don't see much of them. I still see a lot of Hispanics.
LUI: The area right here on 8th Avenue has both Norwegians and Hispanics?2:00
KANG: Like down this way, down to like 60th street, there's a lot of Norwegians,and up to the fourth street, there's a lot of Hispanics.
LUI: What about over on 7th Avenue, or 6th or 9th Avenue? What's that area like?
KANG: I think up to like 6th Avenue and 9th Avenue, there's Jewish people. Downto the 5th, there's also a lot of Hispanics.
LUI: Do you think everybody sort of got along okay?
KANG: Yeah, I guess so, very much..
LUI: What about the Chinese. Were there any Chinese people here when you firstcame here?
KANG: Not many. I hardly see them, but now it's almost like a Chinatown here.3:00
LUI: When did that start happening?
KANG: I guess probably about five years ago, the people started showing up, andabout 2 years ago, there's a lot of Chinese immigrants coming to this area.
LUI: Do many of the Chinese immigrants come into your shop?
KANG: Recently, I see some of them. I don't think the Chinese people do a lot ofdry cleaning. I'd say they are about less than 10% of our customers now.
LUI: Is the clientele growing?
LUI: Who are most of your clients?
KANG: I don't know where they are from. I guess some Hispanics. Maybe some4:00Americans, I don't know where they are from.
LUI: Are there many Koreans in the neighborhood?
KANG: Not many. There are a few, I guess. I guess like less than 10%.
LUI: Are most of them living here, or do they have businesses here?
KANG: They do have businesses. I'm not sure whether they live in this area. Mostof them that I know have small businesses in this area.
LUI: What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood with the Chinesebeing here?
KANG: A lot of new stores opened. It was not really that busy here before, butnow it seems to be getting a lot busier.
LUI: Do you go into any of the stores here?
KANG: Yes, some of the stores, especially restaurants. Sometimes we eat in there.
LUI: I was told that the area around here, before the Chinese came, was pretty5:00quiet. There were a lot of abandoned storefronts. Is that true?
KANG: Yeah, it's a lot busier street. It wasn't a busy street. There were a lotof vacant stores. Now, it's building up, but still it's not full.
LUI: Do you think that most of the people who come here are planning to stay? Doyou think the place is going to get more crowded?
KANG: The Chinese? Yeah, I think they will stay.
LUI: So with the Chinese coming in, are other people leaving? Or - what's happening?
KANG: Yeah, I think with a lot of Chinese coming in, some people have to leave6:00to make space. So people are moving out and people are coming in.
LUI: So who is leaving?
KANG: I don't know. Do you mean by nationality?
KANG: I guess a lot of Hispanics used to live here and I don't see much of theNorwegians. I think they left.
LUI: So about twelve years ago, you saw a lot of Norwegian people still living here?
KANG: Yeah, but I don't see much of them now.
LUI: Yeah, it looks like a lot of the stores have changed.
KANG: The old store, they are still there, but there weren't that many stores anyway.
LUI: What is the old store that's still there?7:00
KANG: There was like a grocery, but they changed owners. These stores have beenthere, especially the groceries. They have been there for a long time. I don't really know.
LUI: How are people reacting to the change in the neighborhood? Is it positiveor negative?
KANG: They don't tell me that much - it's the Chinese way. I guess some peoplelike it, but I don't know.
LUI: How do you feel about it?
KANG: For the business, I don't know. In this business, I pray for theAmericans, because of the business. But if the people come, I don't care. It 8:00doesn't bother me.
LUI: So people don't really say anything to you about what they think in termsof what the community is doing?
KANG: No. I have not heard any bad things. Maybe they say they're getting allthe business. Some people like it because of all these restaurants. That's about it. They don't tell me much about the negative things. Maybe that's because I look Chinese, so they wouldn't tell me.
LUI: Do people ever mistake you for being Chinese?
KANG: Yeah, most of them do, because they cannot distinguish between Korean,Chinese, Japanese, I guess.
LUI: You mean the Chinese people here?
KANG: Even Chinese come in and assume that this is a Chinese store.9:00
LUI: But usually you mean it's the Americans that make that mistake.
LUI: So when you walk into stores here, do they think you're Chinese sometimes?
KANG: Yeah, I guess so, unless I speak Korean, they just assume I'm Chinese andstart speaking Chinese.
LUI: Do you think the business will stay here for a while?
KANG: Yeah, I mean, I don't see why not. We've been here for a long time.
LUI: Even with the change in the community, you think you'll stay.
KANG: Yeah, there's still people who need their clothes cleaned.
LUI: Is there anything else that you think you can tell me about the community,about the change?
KANG: I don't know. We've been here for a long time, but I can't exactly tell10:00you what has changed. But there have been a lot of changes.
LUI: When you first came here, did you think this large number of Chinese peoplewere going to move in? Like, this large a number? Could you already tell that twelve years ago?
KANG: Yeah, even at that time, there were some Chinese. The population wasgrowing, but not this rapidly.
LUI: Were you surprised that it grew so quickly?
KANG: Yeah, yeah right.
LUI: I don't think I have that much more to ask you, unless there is somethingelse that you can think of.
LUI: Can you tell me why you chose to-
KANG: I didn't choose, my parents chose this area because my father's friendlived in this area. This is the first place we came to in the United States. So we've been settled down here. There's no particular reason they chose this area. Just because my father's friend lives close to here.
LUI: Was it hard to adjust to being here, to the community?
KANG: Not really. It was a fairly small community. We didn't have any problemwith them, the neighbors.
LUI: Have you gotten to know a lot of the people who live around here, like your customers?
KANG: Well, it's been twelve years, so eventually you know a lot of people. At12:00the beginning, we didn't.
LUI: Have you seen a lot of your customers leave as a result of the change?
KANG: Yeah, a lot of people left, but a lot of new people also come in. It keepschanging. Now, already, a lot of American leave, and a lot of Chinese are coming in.
LUI: So you said earlier that sometimes you get mistaken for being Chinese. Whatdo you think of when people do that?
KANG: At the beginning, it bothered me, but now, I keep hearing it, so itdoesn't matter very much anymore.
LUI: What was it that bothered you about it?
KANG: Well, because I am Korean. It's not because I don't like Chinese people,but you know, because of who I am. Even like Korean people sometimes say I'm Chinese, so they're part of it also. 13:00
LUI: Because of what you look like?
KANG: They say I look Chinese.
LUI: Would customers that you have for a long time make that mistake, or justpeople you've never met before?
KANG: Even when I've told people once or twice, they just forget. And, uh, Ithink some of them still think I am Chinese.
LUI: I think that's it then.14:00
Oral History Interview with Harrison Kang
Harrison Kang and his family immigrated to America from South Korea in 1980, approximately twelve years prior to this 1993 interview. Kang attended high school and college in New York City; and after a brief stint at a job on Long Island, he returned to Brooklyn to work in his parents' dry cleaning shop. At the time of interview, Harrison Kang was thirty-one years old.
This brief interview was conducted at the Kang family's dry cleaning shop, located at 5214 Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn. In the interview, Harrison Kang mentions his family's emigration from South Korea to New York City. He describes different aspects of the evolution of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park; from relative quietude to a bustling area of immigrants and small business. Kang discusses the neighborhood's change from a mix of Norwegian and Hispanic residents to a primarily Chinese population. By the time of the 1993 interview, Sunset Park was considered Brooklyn's Chinatown. Kang provides an overview of the different ethnic groups endemic to different area streets. Interview conducted by Mary Lui.
Brooklyn Historical Society collaborated with the Chinatown History Museum (now the Museum of Chinese in America) in order to conduct a series of oral histories with residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and English language interviews focused on what was then a new presence of Chinese and Asian immigrants concentrated along Eighth Avenue. Among the topics that are explored in the interviews are tensions between different groups of Chinese immigrants, crime and safety in the neighborhood, Sunset Park's relationship to Manhattan's Chinatown, and how long-term residents of Sunset Park had adjusted to the area's "newcomers."
CitationKang, Harrison, Oral history interview conducted by Mary Lui, April 15, 1993, New Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records, 1994.007.16; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Kang, Harrison
- Asian Americans
- Community development, Urban
- Demographic surveys
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Chinatown (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Chinatown (New York, N.Y.)
- Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidNew Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records