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Racial Tensions Brew Against Korean Immigrants in New Jersey Town

There was a controversial push in 2015 to rename Broad Avenue in Palisades Park, New Jersey to Korea Way (Google Maps).

A racist Facebook post by the mother of Palisades Park’s ex-mayor sparked protests and controversy last month. The incumbent mayor James Rotundo, who was defeated by Korean American challenger Chris Chung in this year’s Democratic primary, immediately issued an apology on his mother’s behalf and confirmed she had deleted the post.

Still in Palisades Park, a New Jersey town where 27 percent of residents are Korean American, racial tensions continue to brew, especially online. NorthJersey.com followed up on a handful of recent Facebook posts that could be offensive to Korean Americans.

Interviews with non-Korean residents revealed “anti-Korean sentiments,” according to The Record and NorthJersey.com. Some expressed frustration that the Korean American community was slow to assimilate and that racism in town was a two-way street — Koreans had been racist towards them as well.

“I’m angered by the lack of assimilation by the Korean community, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way,” said resident Colleen Blackmore. “I don’t feel that they are American, and there is nothing American about that main street, and it makes people upset.”

The main street of Palisades Park is called Broad Avenue, though the influx of Korean American-run storefronts inspired a 2015 petition to rename the street Korea Way.

Blackmore, who is a lifelong borough resident, not only opposed this idea, but wanted to rid the street of Korean signage as well because it was not American.

“The Italians didn’t open stores and put Italian signs, and the Germans didn’t open stores and put German signs, because they wanted to be American,” she said. “That’s the difference.”

However, the younger generation of Palisades Park residents seemed more open to living in a multicultural town. Those interviewed said the town’s diversity strengthened the community, describing it as a “melting pot” and a “normal small town” that is safe and welcoming to all races.

“There are a lot of people, but we still know everyone and our community here,” said 18-year old resident Dante Gonzalez.

Media coverage on the town’s growing racial tension began in June when then-Mayor Rotundo’s mother posted a racist rant after her son’s nomination loss: “Go to hell PALISADES PARK, let the GD KOREANS have this F’n town … All of us AMERICANS are so done. I am going to suggest that only English be spoken in our Boro Hall at least while an AMERICAN is still the mayor.”

Then last week, an independent candidate for mayor, Anthony Sambogna, warned residents against voting for any Korean candidate on Facebook; he also accused Chung of making the election about “Korean power.”

“This is not the year to vote for any Korean candidate,” Sambogna wrote. “None of them have the vision or knowledge to be serving on our town council.”

According to the U.S. Census, Asian Americans have made up roughly 55 percent of the town’s population for the past two decades.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. RE: Racial tensions Bre Against Korean Americans In Nee Jersey Town:don’t get the complaints about the signage when there is English in them. Also, pretty sure the Italians over in NYCs little Italy did put up signs in Italian.

  2. RE: Racial Tensions Brew Against Korean Immigrants in New Jersey Towns: Also, plenty of signs in polish over in greenpoint, brooklyn

  3. RE: Racial Tensions Brew Against Korean Immigrants in New Jersey Town: The early European settlers didn’t assimilate into Native American way but commit genocide on the original inhabitants.

  4. The United States doesn’t have an official language!
    In some parts of the US there are signs in Spanish, Chinese, etc. Let the Koreans have their signs too.

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