1994.007.016 Oral History Interview with Harrison Kang 1993/04/15


This brief interview was conducted at the Kang family dry cleaning shop, located at 5214 Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn. In the interview, Harrison Kang mentions his family 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 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 Chinatown. Kang provides an overview of the different ethnic groups endemic to different area streets. Interview conducted by Mary Lui.


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 for like 12 years now.

LUI: Okay, I'm going to start with some quick questions about yourself. Where were you born?

KANG: Korea.

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?

KANG: 1980.

LUI: Did your family start the shop right away?


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 had to 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?

KANG: Yeah.

LUI: You've been here for about twelve years. Can you tell me what the area was like when you came?

KANG: It was mixed, with a lot of Hispanics. There was a lot of Norwegians, but now 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?


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. Down to 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 first came here?

KANG: Not many. I hardly see them, but now it's almost like a Chinatown here.


LUI: When did that start happening?

KANG: I guess probably about five years ago, the people started showing up, and about 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 of dry cleaning. I'd say they are about less than 10% of our customers now.

LUI: Is the clientele growing?

KANG: Yeah.

LUI: Who are most of your clients?

KANG: I don't know where they are from. I guess some Hispanics. Maybe some
Americans, 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. Most of them that I know have small businesses in this area.

LUI: What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood with the Chinese being here?

KANG: A lot of new stores opened. It was not really that busy here before, but now 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 pretty
quiet. 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 lot of 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? Do you 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 leave
to 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?

LUI: Yeah.

KANG: I guess a lot of Hispanics used to live here and I don't see much of the Norwegians. 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?


KANG: There was like a grocery, but they changed owners. These stores have been there, 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 positive or negative?

KANG: They don't tell me that much - it's the Chinese way. I guess some people like 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 the Americans, because of the business. But if the people come, I don't care. It
doesn't bother me.

LUI: So people don't really say anything to you about what they think in terms of what the community is doing?

KANG: No. I have not heard any bad things. Maybe they say they're getting all the 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.


LUI: But usually you mean it's the Americans that make that mistake.

KANG: Yeah.

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 and start 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 tell
you 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 people were 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 was growing, 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 something else that you can think of.

[Interview interrupted.]


LUI: Can you tell me why you chose to-

KANG: I didn't choose, my parents chose this area because my father's friend lived 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 problem with 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. At
the 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 keeps changing. 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. What do you think of when people do that?

KANG: At the beginning, it bothered me, but now, I keep hearing it, so it doesn'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.


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 just people you've never met before?

KANG: Even when I've told people once or twice, they just forget. And, uh, I think some of them still think I am Chinese.

LUI: I think that's it then.

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