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    Korean-Americans have lived alongside white residents in Palisades Park for decades without significant problems, even as they grew from a minority to a major cultural and political force in this eastern Bergen County borough

    In the last few months, however, after Councilman Chris Chung announced his run for the Democratic nomination for mayor, two racist social media posts about Koreans have revealed simmering racial tensions that have been rarely expressed publicly.

    “There is so much racism going on in this town now,’’ Audrey Dellosa, a longtime resident and teacher, said at a recent Borough Council meeting. “You don’t see this in the classroom. It's taught; it comes in from the older adults. I’m an older adult. It doesn’t go on in my family because you can’t teach hatred.”

    Palisades Park, for decades a hub of European immigrants and their descendants, has become more diverse, with Koreans now accounting for about 57 percent of its population of nearly 20,000. Like the Italians, Germans and Irish immigrants who preceded them, Koreans flocked to Palisades Park to fulfill dreams of better job and educational opportunities.

    Over time, they have become a force in Palisades Park, operating many of the businesses along Broad Avenue, the borough’s commercial thoroughfare, and winning seats on both the school board and Borough Council. They have also founded community and civic organizations in town.

    Elynn Park, of the New Jersey Korean-American Association, said she moved to the borough more than 10 years ago in part because of the large Korean community, saying that her mother felt comfortable living in a town where she could go to church and attend Korean services. She said she continues to live in the borough because she can experience Korean culture at local Korean restaurants, karaoke lounges and spas. She said she has lived harmoniously with her non-Korean neighbors.

    “A few people have told me bad stories about that type of stuff, but not me,’’ Park said, referring to racist comments. “Whoever I meet here, Korean or non-Korean it’s the same.”

    On Tuesday, however, Anthony “Willie” Sambogna, an independent candidate for mayor, accused Chung on Facebook of making the November general election about "Korean power" and urged voters not to cast ballots for Korean candidates. Sambogna, who admitted writing the post, said he didn't think it was racist and that he supports the borough's Korean residents and businesses.

    The posting came a month after the mother of Mayor James Rotundo, whom Chung narrowly defeated in the June Democratic primary, wrote another racially charged Facebook post.

    The mayor disavowed his mother's post, which she quickly deleted, and said she was upset about the race but regretted writing it. He apologized, but some Korean-Americans said it was not enough. The post inspired rallies against racism and hate in the borough.

    The racial tensions that the Facebook posts revealed were on display on the borough's streets on Thursday. A few non-Korean residents interviewed by The Record and NorthJersey.com expressed anti-Korean sentiments. Several said that Koreans in the borough have not assimilated enough, and that Koreans had been racist toward them.

    “There are tensions, there have been tensions for 25 years. What can I say, look at the avenue,’’ said Colleen Blackmore, a lifelong borough resident who added that she has been treated rudely by Korean shop owners on Broad Avenue. “I’m angered by the lack of assimilation by the Korean community, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way. I don’t feel that they are American, and there is nothing American about that main street, and it makes people upset.”

    “Go to hell PALISADES PARK, let the GD KOREANS have this F'n town,” Lorraine Rotundo wrote. “All of us AMERICANS are so done. I am going to suggest that only English be spoken in our Boro Hall at least while an AMERICAN is still the mayor.”

    David Lorenzo, the borough administrator, said the council has acknowledged the heightened racial tensions and has been “trying to quiet it down." He said for the most part, since Koreans began to move into the borough more than three decades ago, relations have been amicable.

    “For the past 20 years, there has always been a tone of racial divide, but it's been an acceptable level,’’ he said. “Those feelings have become exacerbated. I think if both sides were to more openly communicate their needs it would be better.”
    Historical patterns

    What is occurring in Palisades Park is not an anomaly. Carol K. Park, a researcher at the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside, said historically, Koreans became targets of discrimination as they moved into communities like Los Angeles and started businesses in areas that were traditionally non-Korean.

    “This new community of immigrants coming in, opening shops, and all the old residents that are there, or were there for so many years, are feeling this new influx,’’ she said. “So you are going to experience some kind of dynamic order, be it racism, discrimination, or some other form of dynamic, and it’s going to happen, and in this case you are seeing it in the political scene.”

    Park said she is seeing more incidents of discrimination against members of all minority groups since the election of President Donald Trump, who has made it a priority to restrict both illegal and legal immigration.

    "Everyone is all up in arms right now, so you are going to see stuff like this," she said. "And again, if you have a population that is 57 percent Korean in a small community like that, I'm not surprised at what I'm seeing.''

    Park, who lived through the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and wrote a book called "Memoir of a Cashier: Korean Americans, Racism and Riots,'' said that disparaging remarks and racist comments have led to violence in the past.

    "Every unrest or riot that targets a minority, or an immigrant community, if you look back at it, you are always going to find that it started out with 'We don’t want those Koreans here,' or 'We don’t want those African-Americans here,' " she said. "It always starts off with some discrimination or marginalization of a community, a minority or an immigrant."
    Building bridges

    Park, of the Korean-American Association of New Jersey, credits Rotundo for taking Korean residents into consideration on various town initiatives, including erecting a memorial in 2010 in memory of comfort women, a term used to describe the tens of thousands of women and girls, many of them Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The memorial, which sits near the town library, was the first of its kind in the nation.
    Rotundo, who did not return a phone message on Thursday, also traveled to South Korea in October 2012, where he visited one of the country's oldest Buddhist temples and met with surviving comfort women.

    “People trust him, but after the election, they were really mad because he didn’t act right away," Park said. "And even though he apologized for his mother’s posting, they feel it’s not a real apology."

    Jeff Ryu, owner of the Kudos Society Downtown Café, said he has also noticed a divide, although he said he has never felt discriminated against.

    “I feel the tension,” said Ryu, who is of Korean ancestry, noting that his customers represent “all walks of life.”

    “It’s a small town," he said. "Everyone really is trying hard to get along, but there is a frustration.”

    As a business owner in town, Ryu said he remains politically neutral, but did note that the divide goes beyond race. Even Koreans, he said, are torn on whom to support come November.

    “They’re not just going to vote for you because someone told them to,” he said.
    But others on Thursday echoed some of racist comments on social media against Koreans and other immigrants.

    Debbie, who asked that only her first name be used to she could express herself freely, said growing up in the borough was great. It was where she met her husband. When she was a child, she said, the town’s population was made up of people of European descent, and people knew their neighbors.
    But she said things began to change about five years ago.

    Now, she says, the rise of duplexes, which have replaced single-family homes, has given way to a population that is more diverse.

    “Now there are just too many people here, especially immigrants,” Debbie, who moved out of Palisades Park a couple of years ago, said while she visited the town pool on Thursday. “No one knows who anyone is now and people who are coming aren’t adjusting. I felt the town was much safer back then when I lived here and it’s why I moved out.”

    In 2015, when some members of the Korean community wanted Broad Avenue to also be known as Korea Way, some residents resisted.
    Rotundo, as mayor, formed a committee to explore the issue, and said at the time that he would want the question to go to a referendum to allow voters to weigh in on any change.

    Blackmore, the lifelong borough resident, said she opposed the idea, saying it was not American. She also said she didn't support the Korean signage along Broad Avenue.
    "The Italians didn't open stores and put Italian signs, and the Germans didn't open stores and put German signs, because they wanted to be American,'' she said. "That's the difference."

    "And I remember people saying back then that they will assimilate, but here we are 30 years later, and nothing has really changed,'' Blackmore said.
    She also said that she doesn't like that Chung has been described as possibly the borough's first "Korean mayor.'' No previous mayor, she said, has used his heritage as a descriptor.

    Chung said he is qualified to become mayor, and has been inclusive in his campaign.
    There has always been a small segment of people who have harbored anti-Korean sentiment, he said, but he added it wasn’t common. But now, he said, he is hearing about it being expressed more freely.

    “We all have to work together, and that is what I believe and have been trying to do,’’ he said. “Recently, I don’t know if it's animosity, certain people are just not so comfortable, to say the least, even with my candidacy. What is going on right now just bothers me.”

    Younger borough residents say they welcome their Korean neighbors and the traditions and customs they bring.
    Katie Nascenti, 27, a summer employee at the town pool, said she has lived in Palisades Park her entire life and that the demographic changes she has witnessed strengthen the community.

    "I’ve learned to be more open-minded,'' she said. "The town is a melting pot and it’s a great community here. I feel safe here and I’m proud to call Palisades Park my home. I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.”

    Dante Gonzalez and Anthony Varela, both 18 and lifeguards at the pool, described Palisades Park as a “normal small town” — one that is diverse, with people accepting one another.

    “There are a lot of people, but we still know everyone and our community here,” Gonzalez said.

    https://www.northjersey.com/story/ne...ark/800376002/

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Anti-Korean Facebook posts expose simmering racial tensions in Palisades Park started by EB88 News View original post


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