Published December 19, 2011
LOS ANGELES – News of the death North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, played on almost every television in bars and cafes Sunday night in Los Angeles's Koreatown, the center of the largest Korean enclave in the United States.
But the mood was quiet in the densely packed neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles. Few people looked up from their food and drinks at the news reports.
Outside, Brian Shin expressed surprise as he smoked a cigarette on the sidewalk in front of his apartment.
"Kim Jong Il died? You're sure about that? No way! I thought he was going to live forever!" the 30-year-old a native South Korean said. "He acted like it. He always wanted to live forever."
As he spoke, his wife ran downstairs to share the news, She didn't think that tensions between South Korea and North Korea would change much because of Kim's passing.
"Even though he died, I don't think it's a better situation or a better world," she said.
About 200,000 Koreans live in Los Angeles County. Many live, work and shop in the normally bustling Koreatown, which is filled with upscale malls, Korean barbecue restaurants and banks as well as older shops in strip malls where signs read only in Korean.
Some Koreans migrated to the United States after the Korean War ended in 1953, and many more came from the South to work and study here after the U.S. eased its immigration rules in 1965.
Karen Fischer of Tempe, Ariz., who was born in South Korea and has lived in the U.S. for 33 years, said she was worried that Kim's death would have a destabilizing effect on the region. She planned to call her relatives in South Korea to see what their reaction is.
"I have family there -- my sisters, brother, nieces and nephews," she said. "It worries me who's going to substitute him."
Grace Yoo, executive director of the Korean American Coalition Los Angeles, called Kim's death a symbolic moment for Korean Americans. Many of her friends have welcomed the news on Facebook, she said.
Hopefully, the new leader will be "someone who cares about their citizens and see everyone deserving of life," she said. Kim's legacy will be his ability to not change while the world was changing around him, she said.
"That's his strength and it's also his weakness," she said.