YOK Center Inspires Recognition of Riverside Site as the First Korea Town in the U.S.

Recognition as the city’s first Point of Cultural Interest acknowledges the historical significance of Pachappa Camp. No original structures remain, so the site is not eligible for historic landmark status.

Research by UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies resulted in the Riverside City Council declaring the site of the nation’s first Korea Town a Point of Cultural Interest on Dec. 6, 2016. The resolution recognizes “Pachappa Camp: Site of the First Organized Korean American Settlement.” ucr yok center file

Groundbreaking research by UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies resulted in the Riverside City Council declaring the site of the nation’s first Korea Town a Point of Cultural Interest on Dec. 6.

The resolution to recognize “Pachappa Camp: Site of the First Organized Korean American Settlement” is an important development in rewriting Korean American history and the legacy of Ahn Chang Ho, who established numerous organizations to support Korean independence from Japan early in the 20th century, said Edward T. Chang, director of the YOK Center and professor of ethnic studies. The YOK Center submitted the application seeking recognition of the 3-acre site at Cottage and Commerce streets, near downtown Riverside.

Recognition as the city’s first Point of Cultural Interest acknowledges the historical significance of Pachappa Camp. No original structures remain, so the site is not eligible for historic landmark status.

“I am really proud, and pleased, and feel a sense of accomplishment about the role the Young Oak Kim Center played in achieving the Point of Cultural Interest designation,” he said. “More than 70 people attended the council meeting. They shouted when the City Council approved the designation. It got wide coverage from Korean media in Los Angeles and the Yohan News wire service in Korea, whose coverage was picked up by several daily newspapers there.”

Ahn Chang Ho in a Riverside orchard. ucr yok center file

Ahn Chang Ho in a Riverside orchard.
ucr yok center file

Historical references to Ahn’s activities in the U.S. rarely mention Riverside, focusing instead on Korean American communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chang said. But the Riverside community was significant in the Korean independence movement, Chang said. Visitors often referred to the Riverside settlement as “Dosan’s Republic.” (Ahn adopted the pen name Dosan, which means island mountain, perhaps inspired by Hawaiian volcanoes he observed on a stopover from Korea to California.)

“Korean laborers in Hawaii were dispersed to the plantations to work,” Chang said. “San Francisco was a landing destination, however, because of anti-Asian sentiment and lack of job opportunities, Korean immigrants did not stay.”

Over the past 18 months Chang uncovered previously unexamined documents at Riverside’s Calvary Presbyterian Church, Korean headstones in city cemeteries, and newspaper articles in English and Korean, all of which make it clear that Pachappa Camp was the first established community of Korean Americans in the United States.

Ahn Chang Ho arrived in Riverside on March 23, 1904, and established a Korean labor bureau, which was key to attracting Korean workers to the city, Chang said.

“Korean immigrants could easily find work, especially in the citrus groves. Women worked in packinghouses, in service-related industries, as maids, and at the Mission Inn. They began to congregate at Pachappa Camp,” Chang said. “There were all kinds of community activities – Korean and English language classes, church services, weddings, baptisms, and other activities. Between 1905 and 1918 Pachappa Camp was a vibrant, thriving Korean settlement.”

Professor Edward T. Chang ucr

Professor Edward T. Chang
ucr

Pachappa Camp originally housed Chinese immigrants who built the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s. Those workers left when the railroad was completed and were followed by Korean immigrants. Japanese Americans began moving into the camp in the 1920s, followed by Mexican workers in the late 1930s. The camp, composed of approximately 20 buildings, was razed in 1952 to make way for a Fisher Oil Storage facility and a meat market, according to the Cultural Point of Interest application. Sempra Utilities and Mobil Oil Corp. occupy the site today.

Chang said he hopes the recognition of Pachappa Camp as the first Korea Town in the United States will inspire young Korean Americans to learn about their history and use that information as a source of identity and pride.

“Riverside is a city that celebrates its rich cultural diversity,” he said. “We are grateful that the city of Riverside is embracing this designation.”

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