Historic building on the corner of 7th and Union Avenue in Downtown, where Minah Yeo's mother's business was located before the 1992 riots | Photo by Juhn Kwon

I WAS THERE: Emotions Resurface for Woman Whose Family’s Business Burned During the 1992 Civil Unrest

Minah Yeo: My name is Minah Yeo. I am the Director of Interior Design at Berliner Architects in Culver City. 

My mother owned a snack shop inside a building. It was called Unions' Swap Meet… Near downtown Los Angeles. 

We came to the States in 1986 and she started her business in late 1987 and it was just under five years that she had that business. 

On April 29, we were just watching the news and we were all kind of glued to the TV because the situation just really quickly happened. 

I think that evening a lot of buildings were actually on fire and a full on riot had erupted. The family really had a very sleepless night. 

The next day, my mom’s business burned down.

Inside the guts of the building was completely - it was fully gutted. It was - nothing was really salvageable. 

When this situation with a riot started calming down, I think there was a sense of relief that things will come back to normal. We just believed in the system that there was something set in place to protect the victims of the looting and the violence, only to realize that the building was insured the tenants were not. 

I don't think my mother, you know a first generation immigrant, really knew to even get a tenants insurance. And even if she knew, I don't think we really had the means to pay for that. So there was really nothing in place to protect us.

My mom really struggled with her businesses after, and she went from one small business to another, which all eventually failed. She defaulted on her loan, and her credit became unsalvageable. 

PROTESTORS YELLING: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. 

The whole country is just really fed up with the injustice happening to the African-American community. You know, want to be marching along with them. 

That said, you know, because our family has been the victim of the looting and the arson that happened during the 92 riots. I just feel very split.

These larger businesses, to them, it's just property damage. But these mom and pop shops, they don't have these kind of means. 

Having already suffered for months due to the pandemic. And for them to now go through this kind of property damage. This is really detrimental.

I never really shared this bit about me much because I wasn’t done grieving about the loss we suffered. Now, 28 years later, I’m finally done grieving. And I want to lend a small voice to speak up against systemic racism, hindered opportunity and unjustified police brutality that fundamentally led to these tragedies that keep repeating over and over. 

Minah Yeo is the Director of Interior Design at Berliner Architects in Culver City. In this episode of “I Was There” Yeo recalls watching her family’s business burn to the ground during the 1992 civil unrest. The road to recovery was difficult and ultimately led to a dead end. The family business never made a full comeback. Nearly three decades later, Yeo's TV screen is once again showing L.A. reacting to police brutality and racial injustice. The images are dredging up long buried memories and emotions.

Yeo supports the Black Lives Matter movement and believes injustice can also be inflicted on less obvious victims.

Photos of Yeo and her mother present day were taken by Juhn Kwon. 

About the Series

"I WAS THERE" is about telling a great story. This series of first-person accounts breaks current and historical events down to human scale, carefully taking the viewer behind some of Southern California’s biggest headlines.

Production team

Executive Producer: Karen Foshay 

Producers: Tori Edgar, Denise Chan & Michael Ray 

Photographers: Trevor Jackson, Karen Foshay

Editor/Graphics: Michael Ray, Andy Viner

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