Underage Drinking in Korean American Culture

By Steven Han for KoreAm Journal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies underage drinking as a major public health problem. For members of the Korean American community drinking at an early age can be seen as the norm…and the availability of alcohol to minors in Los Angeles’ Koreatown is an issue community organizers are taking on.

Writer Steven Han explored the issue of underage drinking amongst Korean youth for KoreAm Journal. Here’s a few highlights from his piece Protecting Youth from ‘Culture of Drinking’.

A strip mall on Western in Koreatown. (Photo: Youth Radio)

When my father offered me a sip of his whisky for the first time when I was 10, I felt like it was a rite of passage, as if he were ushering me into manhood. Years later, when I was a high school student and my father was visiting me in L.A. (by that time, he was living and working in Korea), I remember him inviting me to do shots of soju with him after dinner. By that point, I think he assumed that I regularly drank with my friends, even though I was just a teenager.

- Steve Han| @steve_han

Hobart and 3rd, LA’s Koreatown (Photo: Youth Radio)

“Kids have told me directly, ‘Yes, it is very easy to get alcohol in Koreatown.‘ They knew all the liquor stores that sell to minors. They knew it all by word of mouth. I even learned that some liquor stores charge more, like an extra five or 10 dollars, when minors come in to buy alcohol.”

— Carol Lee, a community organizer at KYCC

Wilshire & Western in the heart of LA’s Koreatown (Photo: Youth Radio)

“I think the perception of smoking has slightly changed [in the Korean American community]. I think there’s a recognition that ‘I don’t want my kids to smoke.’ But I don’t think drinking has caught up to that yet. I think that it’s still much more acceptable.”

— Sam Joo Director of Children and Family Services Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC).

Read all of Steven Han’s Protecting Youth from ‘Culture of Drinking’ at IamKoreAm.com the official website for KoreAm Journal.

KoreAm Journal is an award-winning bimonthly magazine that covers and analyzes the news, culture, entertainment, sports, politics and people of Korean America.

Excerpts republished with permission from KoreAm Journal.