LA's Koreatown reacts to Kim Jong Il's death

The front page of the Korea Times, Monday, December 19, 2011.
The front page of the Korea Times, Monday, December 19, 2011.
Corey Moore/KPCC

Residents of Los Angeles’ Koreatown harbored mixed reactions Monday when it came to the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Jong Il died over the weekend of an apparent heart attack. He led North Korea for nearly 20 years.

Under him, North Korea lost more than two million people - 10 percent of its population - to starvation. So it's hardly surprising that many reactions were less-than mournful.

“I think it’s really a fantastic thing he die[d]," said Chan, a Chinese-born engineer who resides near Wilshire Boulevard and Serrano Avenue. "But we just pray for the best...[that] whoever succeed him have more passion for people.”

Japanese-American Hiroshi Mori was less joyful about Jong Il’s death, remaining hopeful but pessimistic about the political climate of North Korea under the leader’s son and successor Kim Jong Un.

“Probably more of the same for a while and then, who knows?" he asked, rhetorically. "Hopefully it’ll be stable and not get worse.”

At the Radio Korea studio on Wilshire Boulevard, Assistant News Director William Choo said a majority of call-in listeners agree with Mori's skepticism. Most are concerned about the potential transition of power to the North Korean leader’s son, Kim Jong Un.

“He’s too inexperienced because he’s 29 years-old," said Choo. "And [our listeners] heard that he didn’t even go to the military... It’s going to be very difficult for him in North Korea and it’s going to be very difficult for him to get respect from the older people from North Korea.”

Koreatown's older generation, many of whom were born overseas, expressed more optimism about what they called North Korea's "potential liberation." But some second and third generation young people said they were indifferent about Jong Il's death and what may happen next.

Daniel Yoon is from L.A. but his father was born in North Korea. Yoon said he hadn't spoken to his father yet about the leader's death, but he’s eager to have the conversation.

“I think he’s rather neutral about it," Yoon theorized. "But his concern might [come from] what will be taking place...and who’s gonna be in charge.”

Almost 30 percent of the population in Koreatown is Korean, and the area as a whole has one of the highest population densities in L.A.