Dallas Koreatown’s long push for official city recognition intensifies after filming

Joann Roh was surprised by the limited police presence around her Dallas restaurant the day after a shooting at a nearby hair salon last week injured three Korean women.

“I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we’re a Korean community,” Roh, owner of Sura Korean Bistro and who knew the owners of the lounge, told NBC Asian America.

Local advocates say a sense of safety and community could be bolstered by having the neighborhood officially designated as Koreatown, a status and recognition of the city that it currently does not have.

The area is home to the second largest South Korean American community, outside of Atlanta. In the last decade in particular, residents have banded together to demand the designation. Its importance was highlighted by the shooting.

On Tuesday, authorities arrested Jeremy Theron Smith, a 36-year-old black man on three counts of aggravated assault, and declared the May 11 shooting a hate crime.

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia said Smith suffered “panic attacks and delusions when he was with a person of Asian descent” after a car accident two years ago with a Asian male.

City police said last week that two other recent shootings at Asian-run businesses may be linked, indicating the attacks may be motivated by hate. Garcia said Tuesday that police are still investigating whether Smith was involved. The description of the suspect’s car was the same in all three, police said.

Asiana Plaza in Dallas.Raul Rodriguez for NBC News

A portrait of the neighborhood

The red and blue taegeuk, a symbol featured on South Korea’s national flag, is dotted on a large sign near Harry Hines Boulevard and Royal Lane. The vivid whirlwind, similar to yin and yang, signifies the ever-changing but complementary forces of life: light and darkness, good and evil. Here it could be considered an unofficial mark of the area known as Koreatown.

The area, known to some as the first or former Koreatown, stretches about a mile into the 2.5-mile-long Asian Commercial District, largely made up of Korean-owned businesses, banks, from plazas, malls to salons, restaurants, bakeries and other small businesses. It has been around for at least 40 years but still has not received the official recognition and protection that would preserve important and valuable historic resources.

While Koreatowns in other major cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, have been officially designated, a Korean community that has roots in the city for at least 50 years is still demanding the right to own their common space.

Roh said the owners of the salon frequent his restaurant at least once a week during lunch breaks or for dinner to unwind after their store closes. Her husband often had his hair cut in their salon. Owners would often order yukgaejang, a spicy brisket soup with ferns, or chulpan nakgi bibimbap, spicy stir-fried octopus, she says.

Roh said she wondered what security measures would have been in place if the shooting had taken place in a predominantly white neighborhood. She pointed out that many recent immigrants do not know how to raise security concerns with authorities, due to language barriers, lack of familiarity with the system or lack of resources.

The push to be Koreatown

John Lee of the Greater Dallas Korean American Chamber of Commerce said that in the early to mid-2010s, when he was the organization’s president, he lobbied for a designated Koreatown. The group revitalized its efforts last year, including meetings with city planning and urban design officials and city council member Omar Narvaez.

Lee believes that once the Royal Lane area from Harry Hines Boulevard to Luna Road is designated, it will provide refuge and identity for immigrants who work long hours to provide their families with a safe and comfortable life in a metropolis with quick access. growing Asian American population.

“It creates a sense of community and a sense of self-control,” Lee said of an official Koreatown designation. “When you don’t have that, you don’t have it as much as you want. By doing this, we have the opportunity for our community to own an area that we can call our own. We can create that sense of belonging and community, and that sense of support for each other.

The area currently has no official sign, which community leaders are asking the city for.

“The sign is the most important part, like you have on 32nd Street and Broadway,” said Lee, who serves on the organization’s board of directors, referring to Manhattan’s “Korea Way” sign. “We need this listing, and we want this designated.”

Lee said that due to the pandemic and bureaucracy, such as personnel changes, they are still in the early stages, although they have been discussing the designation for some time. He pointed out that although there are different forms of designating an area, such as a historic district, a special district or a business district, the organization always works with the city to agree.

Jennifer Brown, spokesperson for the city, wrote in an email: “We are still working on what this designation would look like, so we are unable to comment in detail on the process or potential content at this time. .”

Brown added that the official designation is in the “very early stages” and the city is “now helping them identify a boundary, priorities and potential resources.”

Lee said that while the community has a “strong and exceptional relationship” with the city and the police, this issue brings to the fore the need for additional security measures in a community sense.

John Jun, a city councilman from the Dallas suburb of Coppell, said the area transformed in the early 1980s from an industrial region notorious for crime to a thriving neighborhood after wholesale businesses were set up. In the region.

“Thanks to the brave Korean entrepreneurs who started their business there, it evolved into what it is today,” he said.

For owners like Roh, that means increasing surveillance cameras in the area.

“We have CCTV inside our restaurant, but not outside,” Roh said. “I wish we had more cameras to allay customer fears.”

Senior Corporal. Melinda Gutierrez, a Dallas police spokeswoman, said “additional officers have been assigned and are patrolling the neighborhood” and each station has been asked to increase high-visibility patrols in Asian communities.

Another police spokeswoman, Kristin Lowman, said the department began installing three trailer cameras in the area after the living room shooting: one is now at Royal Lane and Harry Hines, a second was installed Tuesday in the neighborhood and the third will be in Walnut Hill. and Harry Hines.

Still, locals like Roh wish tougher measures could have been implemented before the shooting.

“These efforts should take place before a tragedy occurs in anticipation of this one,” she said. “And we have to maintain it. If it’s just a passing fixation after this incident, we’re still going to see tragedy after tragedy. I don’t want something like this to happen again.

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