Interview with the Korea Daily: Memories of a 2nd-Gen Korean-American [25th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots]

4.28.17 Being an avid reader as a child, some of my favorite authors when I was nine years old were Eleanor Estes, Ann M. Martin, Kate DiCamillo, Lois Lowry, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume. While I loved reading about the characters in these stories, I could not fully identify with them due to cultural differences. When I first started on the manuscript for my children’s novel Please Love Umma in 2014, my purpose was not to shed light on the Los Angeles riots but to give children a rich story that had difficult topics with a strong Korean-American female protagonist. I wanted to give Korean-American children a main character they could identify with and learn about their parents’ lives through, and at the same time, I wanted to reveal more of the Korean-American experience to non-Korean children from a unique perspective. The riots became a strong, historical part of my novel although it isn’t revealed until the final few chapters.

I knew that death and God would be a part of this coming-of-age story, but whether Umma (mom) would die or Abba (dad) would die and how the story would end were all undecided when I first started writing. As I weaved my way from line to line and carved each scene over and over again while developing the character and the plot, the struggle and heavy burden on Umma climaxed to a point where it had to be she who died. She dies of a heart attack but the cause of the heart attack can be a myriad of reasons. I wanted the cause of her death to be somewhat of an enigma in that ultimately it was left to the reader to explicate and comprehend it the way they wanted to.

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Here is the Korean to English translation for the interview with the Korea Daily Newspaper:

Gracie Kim has included the Saigu (April 29 or 4.29) Los Angeles Riots in her novel ‘Please Love Umma.’  

“The novel’s setting is 1991-1992. Of course I would not exclude the Los Angeles riots with a story that takes place during this time.” Kim states that at the time, she could not really comprehend the reality or severity of what was happening. “I was too young to understand, however I could sense that there was something terribly wrong. Schools were closed, and I was not allowed outside. The adults around me were extremely anxious, fearful, and seemed very stressed.” 

Gracie Kim writes this children’s novel based on some of her own experiences during the riots while portraying the Korean immigrant’s life from the point of view of a young child. “This novel reveals one child’s experience before, during, and after the riots. There are scenes of older boys with guns atop the roof in the main character’s neighborhood as well as a portrayal of Umma who was working at a video rental shop during that time.” Gracie Kim has written this book for children, ages 9-12. “I wanted to write a book for the next generation and place emphasis on their identities as Americans because it’s so hard to find novels for children with Korean-American main characters.”

Gracie Kim graduated from UCLA.