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Asian-American conference turns to talk of injustice


An article in Sunday's Sun should have stated that an Asian-American conference in Arlington, Va., was sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Heritage Council Inc.

The Sun regrets the error.

ARLINGTON, Va. -- An essential thread linking many of the workshops at the first national conference of Asian-Americans yesterday was the Rodney King trial and its aftermath.

The issues up for discussion -- the "glass ceiling" above which minorities do not rise, career development, Japan-bashing, the 1990 census and its consequences -- were overshadowed by a sense of injustice at the King verdict and an awareness that the violence could have erupted close to home.

"We are putting ourselves in their [blacks'] shoes," said Carol Huang, president of the Asian Pacific American Corp., a coalition of two dozen organizations that sponsored the conference. "If that could happen to them, that could happen to us. What are we going to do?"

Many Asian-American civil rights groups are urging action. "Like all the other communities, we are outraged," said Karen Narasaki of the Japanese American Citizens League.

She said her group was among the many who approached the Justice Department, imploring it to bring civil charges against the four white police officers acquitted in the beating of the black motorist.

Some of the more than 400 Asian-Americans in attendance scoffed at the idea that the looting of Korean-American stores in Los Angeles was racially motivated. "It's more people going wild," said David Than, a member of the Maryland Ethnic Heritage Commission. "For every Asian or Korean store looted, there are 10 others. It's just a bunch of people who went wild and out of control."

The tensions between blacks and Asian-Americans are being hyped, said Susan Shin, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park and president of the newly formed Asian American Student Union. "I think the tendency is for the media to divide the minorities," she said.

The aftermath of the jury's decision exposed underlying racial tensions, according to at least one Asian-American.

"Everybody thought the whole King case was about the black community against the white establishment," said D. Patrick Okura, a retired National Institute of Mental Health psychologist and vice president of the Heritage Council. "But it's more than that. We saw a lot of Asian people getting hurt."

Korean-Americans are unfairly getting flak for setting up shop in predominantly black neighborhoods, Ms. Huang said.

"Suppose we don't have Korean people opening up the stores," she said. "Where would they [residents] get the service?"

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