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Wet Sand (Sa-I-Gu, Part 5)

June 16, 2012

When I went back to interview Mrs. Jung Hui Lee ten years after the Los Angeles riots, she recalled the first anniversary of Sa-I-Gu.

I was impressed by the rows and rows of chairs in the Ardmore Park, the same park where a thousand and thousand gathered at the time of the riots and chanted, “We Want Peace.” The organizers thought that even larger crowd would come to remember the tragic upheaval. My husband, daughter and I went a little early and sat on three chairs in the front row. All the major and minor media came. Even a helicopter was flying. As time ticked, I kept looking at my watch. A way past the time to start. Still more than the two-thirds of the chairs were empty. Even now, I can see an image of one camera person who was slowly winding a long wire to pack up and leave.

A deep sigh.

You know, in 1992 when the stores turned into ashes in flames and audible and inaudible wails felt like stirring the earth and the sky, we Koreans were united. But only a year later . . . .

A long pause.

Unity is like wet sand. When the sand is wet and if we put the wet sand in our fist, it becomes a great, big lump.  But when the sand dries, all the sand slips through the fingers and nothing is left.

That’s how the title of my second film about April 29 was born: Wet Sand.

Mrs. Jung Hui Lee, seated at her son’s grave

During the production and subsequent public screenings of Sa-I-Gu, I was stunned to learn that many Americans think of the L.A. crisis as something that happened across the river, with no bearing on their lives. More shocking, I learned that they don’t really relate to the afflicted people as fellow human beings.

And now? I feel my worst fear came true. Clearly, racial equality improved legally and “Whites Only” signs disappeared, but did racial justice really improve? I do not have to be the bearer of the bad news. Anyone can see that racism is popping up everywhere, with more pronounced discrepancy between the rich and the poor. If racism and poverty seem to have diminished, it is because they have gone underground, overpowered by the delusion of many who want to believe that all is better, if not well.

At the Harvard Conference held April 27-28, 2012, The LA Riots Twenty Years Later, I was privileged to forge the collective memories and assessment of the current state of racial justice and equality. The majority of artists, scholars and activists at that conference lamented the worsening racism, made more dangerous by a great sprawling mess of disastrous economy. The volcano, if it erupts now, it is going to be so much worse than the 1992 eruption. This time, the revolt is not going to be just from the poor and new immigrants in the inner cities but middle class people without jobs and the increasing poor whites. So the racism, plus worsening economic situation, will bring a violent gust of wind and spread the fire so wide and deep that no rain coming down in torrents can stop.

To be continued.

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