McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

John Kim

Major and Classification


Faculty Mentor

  • Dorrine Kondo, Ph.D.


  • Anthropology

McNair Project

Reading Koreatown Coffeehouses: Hybridity and Heterogeneity in Korean American Cultural Space

The concept of assimilation is significant in the discussion of immigration in the United States. Ethnic neighborhoods, specifically insular enclaves, have been described as detrimental to the full assimilation of immigrant groups into American culture (Portes and Manning, 1986). The literature on ethnic entrepreneurship, however, has generally focused on the economic causes and effects of the creation of ethnic enclaves and middleman minority businesses rather than on such cultural aspects. This study examines Los Angeles' Koreatown as a space in which Korean American culture is produced and performed, and questions the relevance of assimilation theories in this space. Research was conducted through participant observation at four coffeehouses in Koreatown, combined with customer reviews collected from the Internet. The analysis of these observations is based on theories of immigrant assimilation and acculturation (suggesting movement between homogenous and absolute cultures) as well as critiques of these theories based on concepts of cultural hybridity and colonization of consciousness. The results show that these coffeehouses, while primarily ethnically insular in terms of customer and worker populations, exhibit many cultural influences from American and European traditions. The hybridity and hetereogeneity observed at these coffeehouses is used to challenge the characterization of "Korean" and "American" cultures suggested by theories of immigrant assimilation. Implications and areas for future research are discussed.