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Korean connection in the Victor Valley

Koreans flock to Victor Valley for affordable homes, rural lifestyle

Ha-Rry Kim told her mother she wanted to learn English.

The next thing the 7-year-old girl knew, her parents gave up their comfortable life in South Korea and the family of five moved to the United States. The parents, who couldn’t speak much English, wanted to give their three children the best education they could.

English is one of the most sought-after business skills in Korea, and for many people there, living in the United States presents a dream opportunity.

Kim is now an 18-year-old student at Victor Valley College.

“A lot of people, even my friends who immigrated, they came for education,” Kim said in fluent English. “My parents gave up their job just to come here. In one sense, they were very brave because they moved to a place where they didn’t know the custom and the language.”

The Kim family is among about 2,000 Korean house- holds in the High Desert, according to figures from Steve Kim, a Victorville real estate agent and president of the Victor Valley Korean American Association. He said there are nearly 6,000 Koreans living in the area.

The majority are retirees older than 50 who moved from Los Angeles and Orange counties, attracted to the desert’s affordable housing and rural lifestyle.

But Koreans also run somewhere between 130 to 150 businesses in the area, Steve Kim said, including most Japanese restaurants and small stores in indoor swap meets. And they’ve organized about 40 churches, mainly in the Phelan area.

Ha-Rry Kim’s family initially lived in Koreatown, the area around Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles. But her parents wanted to move to a place where children could play and be surrounded by non-Koreans.

“They were looking for a house and found Rancho Cucamonga,” Ha-Rry Kim said. “They wanted to go to a suburban area. While traveling there, they found Phelan.”

Steve Kim said elderly Koreans, many of whom are first-generation immigrants, prefer to live around Phelan and Pinon Hills because the climate is similar to that of Korea. Also, they can own a big enough property to have their own garden to grow plants and vegetables. Some enjoy playing golf at local courses.

And it’s still close enough to make weekend trips to Korean communities in the Los Angeles Basin.

Howard Koh, a Victor Valley resident in his 60s, owns a dry cleaning store in Victorville. He immigrated to the United States after working as a banker in Korea and has lived in the area for 17 years. He said many Koreans of his generation immigrated to the United States for the social equality and economic opportunities. They preferred to start off in Southern California, where they could get support from fellow Koreans.

They can subscribe to a daily Korean newspaper and watch Korean TV shows, even in the Victor Valley. While most of them have U.S. citizenship, many don’t speak English well, Steve Kim said.

“Here, they can enjoy everything like in Korea,” Koh said. “That’s why they come.”

Ha-Rry Kim’s family eventually moved from Phelan to Apple Valley. Her father, who was a government employee in Korea, is now a sushi chef. Her mother works as a hair stylist in Buena Park and Apple Valley.

The family lives a Korean lifestyle at home, Ha-Rry Kim said. She speaks English with her younger brothers and Korean with her parents.

“Korea is like my mother and America is like my father,” Ha-Rry Kim said. “That’s how I would describe it because Korea’s where I was born but America was what actually raised me. That’s what made me who I am today.”

“What I like about the U.S. is that everything is limitless,” she added. “If I have the mindset to do what I want to do, there’s always someone to help me or programs to support me.”

Her goal is to become a psychiatrist, and she’s grateful for her parents who gave her the opportunity to live here. All it took was for her to ask to learn English.

“My word just made our life like this,” Ha-Rry Kim said. “They gave up their future at the time just for us. I feel like I have that much responsibility to succeed.”

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