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L.A.'s darkest days

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"We realized that we had been fighting each other over our own neighborhoods, over gang turf and concrete blocks that none of us owned, instead of focusing on the real oppressor, which was the economic establishment that kept us from economic empowerment," he says.

He also participated in building cross-cultural coalitions between Korean shop-owners, blacks, and Hispanics. He says that steady interaction with leaders of other ethnic groups softened the harsh views he'd held as an isolated gang member.

"When I sat there ... and heard other races venting their frustrations and telling their stories – of losing businesses they had worked their whole lives to build – they became more personal, human," he says.

Jurado spent the first two years after the riots organizing Hispanics to try to gain more political power. He says that the violence and its aftermath woke up Hispanics and other minorities to the fact that one reason they were ignored by the political system was because their voting turnout was so low.

"They were ticked off at the system, but they also were not participating as they should in the system," he says.

"I discovered that the vicious cycle of poverty and gangs and other social problems never ends as long as individuals are not united in tackling them," he says of his college participation in demonstrations and multicultural discussion groups, and of his fellowship at City Hall.

Mira Jang says she was horrified in the riots' aftermath to find Koreans marginalized, without social or political clout. She still has lingering anger over what she feels was the media misuse of images of Korean shop owners wielding guns to protect their businesses.

Stung by the experience, she eventually altered her career path from law or medicine to journalism and civic action. Despite being in city's safer West side, which offered little ethnic diversity, she immersed herself in political and community activities.

She also became editor of a city-wide teen newspaper called "L.A. Youth," where she shared an office with members of other ethnic groups – one a black girl her age. Jang fondly remembers taking the bus far into neighborhoods she'd previously avoided to meet her new friend and shop.

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