Los Chinos or Los Coreanos?
Man Ku Baek begins every morning practicing the same taekwondo forms he taught U.S. soldiers in Seoul, South Korea, in the 1960s. He bathes, then eats a typical Korean breakfast of rice with pickled and spiced vegetables. After his morning routine, he commutes from his Rio Rico, Ariz. home to his clothing and general merchandise store, Susan’s Fashion, in Nogales, Ariz.
Tightly-packed racks of generic men’s and women’s clothing line his walk from the door to the register. In the back of the building is a small florería with rows of brightly-colored plastic flowers, wreaths and figurines of La Virgen de Guadalupe. A few hundred feet south of his storefront, Nogales, Sonora, is visible through gaps in the rusted steel fence that marks the U.S./Mexico border. He shares the building with three other Korean business owners; Susan Kim, Heungyeol Ju and Jaewon Kim. His younger brother, Hong Ku Baek, owns the building.
The Nogales Korean business community, a group of about 40 families, is an important facet of the local downtown economy. Baek says most retail stores in downtown Nogales, about 75 percent, are now owned by Koreans. They carry cheap, generic clothing, general merchandise and inexpensive, Mexican-inspired decorative pieces.
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