- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A museum expected to unite the city’s Korean-American community, the largest outside South Korea, instead has divided it over differences about money and management.

A grand opening ceremony was scheduled yesterday at the Korean National Association Memorial Hall, though questions about who will run it and even whether admission will be charged were still unanswered.

Some involved in the dispute said it is a symptom of a community divided between recent Korean immigrants and those whose families have been here for generations. It’s a divide experts said is common in Korean-American communities, where large gaps separate waves of immigrants.

“What I’ve noticed is, we don’t think alike, even though we’re all Korean,” said Christine Lee, a deaconess at the Korean United Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, one of the parties in the dispute. “We want to leave this beautiful legacy for the future, but we’re not doing a good job because everybody is fighting over who will be leader.”

The church owns the modest, four-room house in West Los Angeles where the museum is located. Through pictures, newspapers and documents, the museum tells the story of the first Korean immigrants to arrive in California in the early 1900s.

For decades, the house was the U.S. headquarters of the Korean National Association, whose founder, Korean political hero Ahn Changho, came to California in 1902.

The association led an international independence movement against the Japanese occupation of Korea and sparked a nationalist fervor among Koreans overseas.

During the height of its influence, the group had 126 branches worldwide, funded an exiled Korean government in Shanghai and officially represented Koreans to the U.S. government. Nearly all Korean-Americans belonged to the association and gave 10 percent of their annual income to the group.

“Korean-Americans love Ahn Changho. They know he is the founding father and the earliest community organizer,” said Jacqueline Pak, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

“If you look at his accomplishments and what he was all about, he’s comparable to Gandhi or Sun Yat-sen. That’s why they fought so much over how to preserve this building.”

The Korean United Presbyterian Church holds the key to the dispute: ownership of the former KNA headquarters and current museum property. The church took over the headquarters when the association disbanded. A 1984 court settlement gives the church ownership until 2083.


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