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L.A.'s darkest days

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Race relations were so bad that when Jurado joined the police department Explorers – a group intended to recruit future officers – he became a victim of what he felt was abuse, when a white officer yanked his jet-black hair for no reason Jurado could see except that he was Hispanic.

A scholarship gave him a three-year "escape" to high school in Rochester, Minn., where he gained perspective on his hometown's troubles. When South-Central exploded in 1992, Jurado perceived that racial tension between blacks and Koreans wasn't the only reason for the rage.

There was growing unemployment and encroachment by Hispanics on traditionally black areas. Twenty-five years before, the 70-square-mile area of South-Central had been 80 percent black. By '92, it was 55 percent Latino.

"It was clear to us that residents of black neighborhoods were feeling the displacement of their numbers by immigrants from all areas south of the border," says Jurado. "Hispanics in general, and Salvadorans in particular, felt that blacks were blaming us for their downturn."

Because of this underlying tension, Jang was relieved that her parents had just months before the riots sold their South-Central hamburger stand. In 1985, when she was 7, Mira and her family had emigrated from South Korea to L.A.'s Koreatown, the largest concentration of ethnic Koreans outside the Korean Peninsula. Her parents had college degrees, but in America they worked at hard, low-pay jobs in bad parts of town, as dishwashers, cooks, and cashiers, in addition to running their own small business. For years her father worked a dangerous late-night shift at a liquor store.

"I prayed for their safety every day," says Jang.

Fortunately for her family, the riots came just months after they'd sold their hamburger stand in order to finance a move – for Mira's sake – into an affordable fringe of the safer but high-rent Beverly Hills school district. Many who lost shops and livelihoods were not as fortunate. Koreans suffered the loss of 1,800 businesses.

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