Heritage week talk addresses race relations




There once was a time when Angela Oh could walk by any store's window and know that she could afford to buy even the most expensive goods. That's all changed, because today, the trial lawyer by training has exchanged her paycheck to repay society as a staunch advocate of improved race relations. Oh visited Penn's campus as this year's keynote speaker for Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, a week-long celebration of Asian Pacific American heritage and culture. A political activist noted for her attempts to quell the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and also a member of President Clinton's Initiative on Race, Oh addressed a crowd of about 75 people in College Hall yesterday. For about an hour, Oh spoke from both a personal and public perspective, discussing topics including her work as a trial lawyer, her childhood in Los Angeles as a second-generation Korean American, her experiences during the riots and her general views of race relations in the United States. What she did not focus on in great detail was her role in President Clinton's Initiative on Race -- a panel assisting the president in educating the country on the history of race relations in the U.S, to which she was appointed in June 1997. Only after receiving a question following her talk did Oh directly deal with her experience of working with the president. "The Initiative on Race was an extraordinary experience," Oh said. "When a president says, 'America, we're going to look at race,' it really lifts up the general consciousness." Oh also stressed the racial prejudices that exist in social reality despite written laws mandating equality. The reasons for attending Oh's talk were far more diverse than the audience members. Giovanni Turner, a second-year Law student, came to hear Oh speak because he feels that Penn has neither good nor bad race relations. Rather, he said, "It has no race relations." "Minorities on this campus are underrepresented, and the needs of minorities are unaddressed," Turner said. Turner serves as the vice president of the United Law Students of Color Coalition, one of five groups that co-sponsored the event as part of APAHW's "Intercultural Connections" theme. Ironically, however, few intercultural connections took place as Oh spoke to a majority of Asian Pacific American students. Fewer than 10 white students attended her talk. "It was something I almost expected," said Wharton sophomore Tiffany Lam, who was the co-chair of the speech. "I hoped it wouldn't be this way, but lots of times if it's a cultural event on campus, the majority of the people who participate belong to that culture." One of the few non-Asian-American students in the audience was College senior Ari Alexander, who came because of his strong convictions about breaking down the cultural barriers at Penn. "Typical race dialogue tends to be a black-and-white dialogue both in the country and on our campus," Alexander said. "It's really important that a leading Asian American is giving this talk and it's important for the campus to support it."

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