Julia Lee

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I am Korean-American. I was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Korean immigrants who owned a liquor store in Inglewood, a predominantly black neighborhood. I remember the racial tensions, how my parents feared losing their business during the LA Riots, how they followed the story of Latasha Harlins and Soon-Ja Du. But other than reading some Toni Morrison in high school and taking the obligatory American history course, I knew very little about the history of African Americans in this country.
It was only until graduate school, where I was pursuing a PhD in English literature, that I first really studied African American literature and culture. And it was because of Skip Gates. I took a course with him and found myself absolutely fascinated. Ten years later, I’m an assistant professor of African American literature, and people often look at me quizzically. Why am I, a Korean American woman, interested in African American culture? My answer is always, why not? The history of African Americans in this country is the history of America, period.
My parents, who never thought their daughter would get a PhD, much less one in African American literature, are thrilled. And they’re watching “Many Rivers to Cross.”

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