A Photographer Pays Loving Tribute to the Korean Community in Flushing

“This is a love letter to where I grew up,” says photographer Janice Chung, whose new series “Han in Town” captures the vibrant, bustling, and very much evolving New York City neighborhood of Flushing. “If you’re from this part of Queens, you constantly go to Flushing: to do business, hang out with your friends, eat food, get your hair cut,” she adds. “In a way, I wanted to capture my childhood because Flushing is changing so quickly. I felt this urgency to document these places because in one year, two months, even tomorrow, these businesses could disappear.”

Downtown Flushing is nearly 80% Asian, but in the 21st century’s first decade, its Chinese inhabitants doubled while its Korean population declined by 30%. That shift is due in part to aggressive luxury development (spurred by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and Chinese developers in the 2000s) that displaced small business owners and longtime working-class residents, many of whom were Korean. Community leaders say the number of Korean businesses has plummeted dramatically as a result.

Chung, 29, first picked up on the change about seven years ago, following the emergence of pricey high-rise apartments and a subsequent shift in local demographics. The 2010 demolition of a five-acre municipal parking lot used by the customers of surrounding Korean stores was also a turning point. “It used to be a bubble, a Korean ethnic enclave,” Chung says, adding that “Han in Town” (which means Koreatown) is how longtime Korean business owners still refer to downtown Flushing. Today, many of those businesses have moved from the area around the Main Street subway terminus to points further east—Murray Hill, Bayside, even Long Island.

Chung shot most of the series—which pictures nearly 25 businesses—over the last year, persevering despite barriers of language (Chung claims her Korean is poor, and many business owners didn’t need to learn much English given their customer base) and personality (she’s shy and had never taken on a project that required approaching so many strangers). But she believes those deficiencies eventually endeared her to certain subjects: “Maybe that was an interesting selling point—like, ‘Why is this girl who can’t really understand me interested in my story?’” Some even said she reminded them of their daughter, and they eventually developed a jeong, or a connection.

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