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Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival

Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival: Korean Greengrocers in New York City

Pyong Gap Min
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival
    Book Description:

    Generations of immigrants have relied on small family businesses in their pursuit of the American dream. This entrepreneurial tradition remains highly visible among Korean immigrants in New York City, who have carved out a thriving business niche for themselves operating many of the city’s small grocery stores and produce markets. But this success has come at a price, leading to dramatic, highly publicized conflicts between Koreans and other ethnic groups. In Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival, Pyong Gap Min takes Korean produce retailers as a case study to explore how involvement in ethnic businesses—especially where it collides with the economic interests of other ethnic groups—powerfully shapes the social, cultural, and economic unity of immigrant groups. Korean produce merchants, caught between white distributors, black customers, Hispanic employees, and assertive labor unions, provide a unique opportunity to study the formation of group solidarity in the face of inter-group conflicts. Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival draws on census and survey data, interviews with community leaders and merchants, and a review of ethnic newspaper articles to trace the growth and evolution of Korean collective action in response to challenges produce merchants received from both white suppliers and black customers. When Korean produce merchants first attempted to gain a foothold in the city’s economy, they encountered pervasive discrimination from white wholesale suppliers at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. In response, Korean merchants formed the Korean Produce Association (KPA), a business organization that gradually evolved into a powerful engine for promoting Korean interests. The KPA used boycotts, pickets, and group purchasing to effect enduring improvements in supplier-merchant relations. Pyong Gap Min returns to the racially charged events surrounding black boycotts of Korean stores in the 1990s, which were fueled by frustration among African Americans at a perceived economic invasion of their neighborhoods. The Korean community responded with rallies, political negotiations, and publicity campaigns of their own. The disappearance of such disputes in recent years has been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in Korean collective action, suggesting that ethnic unity is not inevitable but rather emerges, often as a form of self-defense, under certain contentious conditions. Solidarity, Min argues, is situational. This important new book charts a novel course in immigrant research by demonstrating how business conflicts can give rise to demonstrations of group solidarity. Ethnic Solidarity for Economic Survival is at once a sophisticated empirical analysis and a riveting collection of stories—about immigration, race, work, and the American dream.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-398-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    When members of a particular immigrant group concentrate in a particular trade, depend heavily on nonethnic suppliers, and serve exclusively nonethnic customers, they usually have a high level of business-related conflicts with other groups and government agencies and thus rely on ethnic collective action for economic survival. They need more than start-up capital, business information, and unpaid family members and co-ethnic employees to successfully establish and operate their businesses. They need to approach commercial activities collectively to neutralize external threats by establishing an ethnic trade association.

    Because immigrant or ethnic entrepreneurship involves a moderate or high level of collective approach,...

  6. Chapter 2 Immigration, Settlement Patterns, and Backgrounds
    (pp. 12-27)

    This chapter describes Korean immigrants in New York City in terms of their immigration and settlement patterns and socioeconomic and religious backgrounds—the context for the business-related intergroup conflicts and reactive solidarity among Korean greengrocers. To highlight unique patterns of Koreans’ immigration and settlement, and population characteristics, I often compare Korean immigrants with Chinese and Indians, the two other major Asian immigrant groups in New York.

    In 1960, there were only some 400 Koreans in New York, a significant proportion of them students at Columbia University, New York University, and other schools in the region.¹ Other Koreans at the time...

  7. Chapter 3 Concentration in Retail and Service Businesses
    (pp. 28-47)

    Here I outline background information about Korean businesses in New York, specifically, the high self-employment among immigrants, changes over time in that rate, the clustering of Korean businesses in particular industrial categories, and those changes over time. Both changes in self-employment and categories of industries are tied to the theme of this book, the radical reductions in business-related intergroup conflicts and ethnic solidarity. The final section examines the effect of concentration in the ethnic economy on ethnic attachment.

    Large Korean populations are settled in China, Japan, and the former Soviet Union republics (especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). None of these groups,...

  8. Chapter 4 Conflicts and Ethnic Collective Action
    (pp. 48-67)

    Korean-owned produce stores are similar to Korean-owned grocery stores in that both sell food-related items. Korean greengrocers, however, were subject to more discrimination and greater physical violence by suppliers because of the different ways the two groups purchase retail items. Greengrocers need to visit HPM and other produce wholesale markets a few times a week, whereas grocers get merchandise delivered by suppliers. The Korean produce business is sociologically interesting mainly because Korean greengrocers used ethnic collective action in reaction to many conflicts with their white suppliers.

    Host hostility and intergroup conflicts as a causal factor for ethnic solidarity is consistent...

  9. Chapter 5 Black Boycotts and Reactive Solidarity
    (pp. 68-96)

    The Korean Produce Association (KPA) was more concerned with black boycotts than any other Korean trade association in New York City, primarily because produce stores were targets of five of the seven long-term boycotts of Korean stores. However, when any boycott occurred, all Korean stores in the same neighborhood were affected. Moreover, not only the KPA but many other Korean ethnic organizations and individuals also participated in collective action to terminate the boycotts.

    Korean-black conflict is probably the most hotly pursued topic relating to Korean immigrants’ adjustment to American society; scholars have focused on the topic from different theoretical angles.¹...

  10. Chapter 6 Latino Conflicts and Reactive Solidarity
    (pp. 97-118)

    Korean immigrant merchants have depended heavily on Latino employees and prefer them, both documented and undocumented, to African American workers mainly because they are cheap and reliable. This means that, like other business owners, many Korean merchants exploit Latino employees by not paying minimum wage and overtime. In response, helped by local labor unions and encouraged by government labor agencies, Latino employees in many cities have picketed against Korean stores. Although all types of Korean businesses in New York City have depended on Latino employees, retail produce stores in Manhattan have become the primary targets of the picketing. The Korean...

  11. Chapter 7 KPA Activities and Services
    (pp. 119-146)

    The Korean Produce Association (KPA) was established as a friendship and mutual aid organization (Sangjohe) among Korean greengrocers. It has organized many activities to facilitate fellowship and friendship networks among its members, and provided all kinds of services to its members, to the Korean community, and South Korea. Other Korean trade associations in the New York–New Jersey area provide services to its members and the Korean community, but cannot match the KPA in scope of services and money spent for the Korean community. In addition, no other Korean trade association in New York has done as much as the...

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 147-154)

    Because Korean immigrant merchants have used ethnic collective action mainly through their trade associations, it is effective for a systematic examination to focus on a particular association. As shown throughout this volume, because of the structure of their business and location of their stores, Korean produce retailers encountered more intergroup conflicts with white suppliers, black customers, and Latino employees, and more clashes with government agencies regulating small business activities than Korean merchants in any other type of business. Korean produce retailers and the Korean Produce Association were therefore the ideal choice and context in which to examine the positive effects...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 155-168)
  14. References
    (pp. 169-184)
  15. Index
    (pp. 185-200)