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Many Korean Americans Skeptical Of President Trump's Meeting With Kim Jong Un


We want to get some reaction now from Korean Americans to the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim. Los Angeles has one of the country's highest concentrations of Korean Americans, and that's where we've reached NPR's Kirk Siegler. Hey there, Kirk.


CORNISH: So exactly where are you in LA?

SIEGLER: Well, I am in the bustle of Koreatown, which is basically a whole city within a city in a lot of ways. This neighborhood is where many Korean immigrants first came to the U.S. and started settling after the Korean War. You now have generations of families here and younger people who were born in the U.S. I'm standing, actually, right out in front of the Radio Korea building. There's a vibrant Korean media presence here, newspapers and TV. And a lot of people have been watching the news from home and following this summit closely, as you might imagine.

CORNISH: What are some of the things they're telling you?

SIEGLER: Well, there was a lot of cheering, I should say, initially at a watch party, at least, last night at this pub up the street, a lot of applause when people saw in this crowd the two leaders appearing on TV for the first time, lots of symbolism there. But, you know, interestingly, Audie, I think now that it's sort of sunk in, it's the next day, people want to know what's next. I just visited with Joon Bang in his office. He's the director of the Korean American Coalition of Los Angeles, which actually put on that watch party. Let's hear what he has to say.

JOON BANG: Quite honestly, as symbolic and as meaningful as that meeting was, if nothing really comes out of this, if the suffering in North Korea continues to happen, if there still isn't a peace treaty and there isn't some sort of reunification effort, like, what does this all really mean?

SIEGLER: So, Audie, you know, you can detect some skepticism there. But there's also a wide range of views. And Bang hinted to me that there's even a bit of a generational divide over how Korean-Americans are taking all of this in.

CORNISH: Tell me more about that, especially when it comes to the optics of this summit.

SIEGLER: At one of the, you know there's many little malls tucked off of Wilshire Boulevard here on a side street. And we talked to a guy named Ian Lee. He was a younger guy who was eating at a cafe as the summit was coming together. And, you know, he described it to me like this. He said many of the older generations were raised under the notion that North Koreans are the Communists and the enemy. But he thought that was sort of an old way of thinking.

IAN LEE: I think among, like, the younger generations, we tend to align with more, like, global views. He want to see hope. We want to see change in the Koreas. We want to see, like, a reunification of borders.

CORNISH: What about that idea? Kirk, were you able to find someone a little bit older who has a different point of view?

SIEGLER: Right, not hard to do actually. So in the same plaza, I met a business woman named Angela Lee, no relation. She's lived here in the states and this neighborhood for 20 years. Now, she's speaking in Korean here and her son was translating to me. But she said that she couldn't trust Kim Jong Un and, frankly, didn't know what his motives are.

ANGELA LEE: (Speaking Korean).

SIEGLER: Now, Audie, I'm summarizing here. But according to her son, she said she isn't sure reunification is ever possible because, as she put it, citizens from one regime were, she said, brainwashed and willing to die for their leader, while South Korea, she says, is much more open and Western.

CORNISH: We talked a little bit about how people are feeling about what has just happened. Did you get any sense from people in Koreatown about what they want to see next?

SIEGLER: Well, I think it's safe to say people want action. But I'd be remiss, Audie, if I made it sound like everyone here on the streets is talking about this and is, you know, sort of laser focused on every detail like we hear from Washington right now. You know, people out on the streets are just as apt to give you an earful about the homeless crisis, housing and traffic, all the problems facing inner city neighborhoods in America. And, you know, I think that's a testament that people here, many people here, have lived here for a long time.

And while the homeland is, of course, important and they're following the summit, they're also very concerned about local issues.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler speaking to us from Los Angeles. Kirk, thanks so much.

SIEGLER: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.