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Koreans In U.S. Have Mixed Reaction To North's Threats


Here in the U.S., the largest Korean population is in California. It's actually the largest concentration outside of northeast Asia. People in that community have been especially alarmed by North Korea's recent threats. But as Doualy Xaykaothao reports from Los Angeles, many Koreans living there think the North's provocations are mostly bluster.


DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO, BYLINE: Backstage at Royce Hall Auditorium, members of the UCLA Korean-American Student Association are busy constructing stage props for their annual cultural night. Student Robert Park is one of the producers of the play.

ROBERT PARK: The night before the show, we usually just have a tech time. So, we test the lights, the sound, we have a live band, so. It's also a musical.

XAYKAOTHAO: Park says he's a little stressed out about the play, but because he's a poli-sci major, he's also worried about North Korea's missile tests.

PARK: In Korea, I saw pictures of angry demonstrators, like burning pictures of Kim Jong Un. That makes sense 'cause there are, like, adults that grew up during the Korean War or experience, like, the pains of the division of the country. But here, most of us are born here. We don't really think it requires any protest.

XAYKAOTHAO: North Korea's latest provocations probably will not lead to war, says another student, Kevin Hong.

KEVIN HONG: For me personally, I honestly think that they're blowing smoke again. To be honest, they don't have the kind of political power or the kind of manpower to really pull something off like this.

KYEYOUNG PARK: You know, it brings back all the horrible tragedies and devastations and violence. You know, and nothing is worse than that.

XAYKAOTHAO: UCLA professor Kyeyoung Park is with the Korean Study Center. She says for her parents and those still waiting for reunification, these times are difficult. Picking up a local Korean newspaper, Park points to a new civic group that was established directly because of the escalating tension on the Korean peninsula.

PARK: You see, there is even when did it happen. April 10, there is a new group formed and action for one Korea. They want to go beyond the ideology and they want to work on unified Korea.

XAYKAOTHAO: But for North Korean defectors, one Korea is hard to imagine. Kim Cheal owns a restaurant in Koreatown, only 10 miles from UCLA. When there's an increase of provocative acts by North Korea, he says he begins to sweat and feels overly stressed at work.

KIM CHEAL: (Through Translator) He himself is fine, yeah. They are here only by themselves. Hundred percent of their family are in North Korea. He wish, he hope there is no going to war. But if there is a war, he think his family member will die.

XAYKAOTHAO: But for a younger generation, the feeling is more detached. Hannah Song is president and CEO of a Torrance-based group called Liberty in North Korea. They've helped a number of North Korean families who have resettled in Los Angeles.

HANNAH SONG: They are so used to this type of cycle of provocation that it's not really a big deal to them.

XAYKAOTHAO: Song says the provocations, the missile test, these are used as a propaganda for North Korea.

SONG: We are paying a lot of attention to the politics and the nuclear issues, but perhaps detracting away from the more important issues that are also taking place inside of that country to the North Korean people.

XAYKAOTHAO: To date, only about 150 North Korean defectors have managed to get asylum in the U.S. For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Los Angeles.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.