A tree’s betrayal, and a community’s resolve

Posted by on Nov 24th, 2010 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

We all know about the deal that went down last weekend. A new owner, Jenny Nam, head of New Star Realty, bought the historic blue house on Foothill west of Rosemont, which included our much fought-over Morton Bay Fig Tree, and immediately proposed to cut down every tree on her property. There was a lot of scrambling by the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council, and Ms. Nam was warned that the community would come unglued. Naturally she promised that the Fig Tree wouldn’t be cut, and apparently, just as naturally, she called a tree service and ordered them to come and start cutting.

The reaction by the community was astounding and inspiring. That Saturday rally in front of the butchered tree was a who’s who of local leaders and organizations. In the crowd of protesters was nearly every member of the CV Town Council (even those that lost the recent election), the leadership from the CV Chamber of Commerce, the Korean community, the Historical Society, plus the City of Glendale in the form of Councilman Drayman. There were kids and teenagers, old men and women, and every age in between. There was nearly every race and ethnicity in the valley represented there – Latinos, Chinese, Koreans, American Indians, Armenians, and lots of Anglo-mutts like me.

One of the many heroes of this incident was newly elected CV Town Councilman Dr. Suh who is for the first time bringing the local Korean community onto the civic playing field of our community. He was able to keep a line of communication open with the property owner, and amazingly, kept this whole incident from spiraling into overt racial overtones. Dr. Suh (pronounced phonetically “uh” with an “s” in front) has entered the local political vacuum of Korean leadership with an explosion of energy and optimism. He managed to keep this potentially racially divisive issue from careening out of control.

So, let’s talk about that elephant in the room, because really we shouldn’t fool ourselves: human nature often compels us to make snap judgments based on race. I’m guilty of it. When the tree cutters first showed up I was furious at the betrayal, and in the darkest corners of my mind I was angry with Koreans in general. It was blind, irrational anger that lumped “them” all together, and caused me to think of “them” as invaders. I reflect now that this is what the average American felt after Pearl Harbor – the mind-set that allowed us to create the internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

Fortunately Dr. Suh was able to face down this potential ugliness and demonstrate that this was not the community versus Koreans. This was the community, including the Korean community, versus an unscrupulous and arrogant businessperson.

Attending that rally on Saturday were many Korean faces, including for the first time, the Korean media! Dr. Suh made it very clear that he had been lied to, the community had been betrayed, and the reputation of the local Korean community had been thrown under the bus by the bad decision of one deceitful person.

I see this avoidance of a racial divide as one of the few wins of this sad event. The tree was certainly not saved. The owner agreed to stop cutting (for now), but the tree is about 1/3 of its former size. It may survive, but its grandeur is gone forever. None of those who were at the rally are fooling themselves to think that Ms. Nam will keep her agreement. We’ll fight this battle again. It’s obvious that New Star Realty intends to scrape this lot of its heritage and put up another ugly office box like the one going in next door.

But what was achieved is that the community didn’t roll over and take this. They hit us, and we hit back harder, and they came away with a black eye. We showed that we will not be disrespected; that we demand to be dealt with honestly.

What we won on Saturday was our self-respect. Jenny Nam and New Star Realty learned that the hard way.

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