Blue Dreams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the midst of the violent eruptions inspired by the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, Korean Americans captured their first sustained mainstream attention when Koreatown business owners appeared on television, brandishing guns in an effort to protect their property from incendiary looters. BLUE DREAMS: KOREAN AMERICANS AND THE LOS ANGELES RIOTS responds to what Abelmann and Lie see as the mass media’s oversimplification of the riot as a “black-Korean conflict” by thoroughly explaining the historical, transnational, and economic factors leading up to the presence of Korean business owners in inner-city settings.

In a concise, eloquent manner, enlivened by the insights of Korean American residents interviewed soon after the horrifying events, Abelmann and Lie counter the prevailing image of Korean Americans as a model minority by situating the rise of this conception in the conservative climate of the 1980’s. The authors persuasively argue that when mainstream observers assert the continued viability of the American dream by pointing to Korean Americans as an example for a predominantly African American urban underclass to follow, they ignore the tremendous economic and social difficulties faced by all minorities. BLUE DREAMS also demonstrates the value of understanding the complex relations of Korean Americans to their ancestral homeland, and the differing forms of such relations for various generations.

The authors explain their title by noting that sky blue traditionally represents the color of hopes and dreams in Korea, as well as the aspirations of succeeding waves of Korean immigrants lured by the promise of the American dream. Contrary to predominant notions of Korean Americans as a model minority, that dream has proven increasingly elusive to most Korean immigrants, who often transfer such aspirations to their children. BLUE DREAMS finally poses a formidable challenge to the dismaying simplicity of America’s predominant conceptions of its minorities and of itself.