Korean-Americans a big part of the Midlands

Steve Kim was shot to death in front of his Decker Road restaurant in February 2011.

RICHLAND COUNTY (WACH) - It may be the Deep South but the cultural make up of Columbia has been changing in recent years.

Thousands of Korean-Americans call Richland County home and they've brought their own way of life with them. When Jaehoon Choe moved to Columbia from Korea 33 years ago he wondered if he made the right decision.

"I thought this was not a capital city of South Carolina," Choe said. "This must be a little cow town, because as I drove from the airport to where I was staying, there were no neon signs in downtown, it was just dead."

Married with two daughters; Choe is one of nearly 3,000 Korean-Americans living in Richland County.

Deputy Marcus Kim is an ambassador to that community. He is the only person with the Richland County Sheriff's Department who is fluent in Korean.

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"The people see being in the United States as having a better life," Kim said. "It TMs still kind of portrayed that way, so they want to come out here and start a business or a new career."

Kim patrols region two which includes a large portion of Korean owned businesses.

The area was rocked by the murder of community leader Steve Kim. The long-time businessman was shot during a robbery at his restaurant.

Kim says that incident did not erode the trust between law enforcement and the Korean community.

"I think it brought people closer together. As soon as that incident happened we had 10 or 20 people over at incident location, just showing support."

Yount Kim sees that support every day, she moved to Columbia 11 years ago from Seoul Korea. She says the big difference from her home country and the Midlands

is the amount of cooperation she gets from local law enforcement.

"If we have some problems or we have to call somebody, they take care of us, so it's very comfortable."

Choe says that wasn't the case when he first moved to the Midlands three decades ago, and points out now the area is much more aware of and willing to embrace his heritage.

"I remember when i first came here, they asked me are you Chinese, are you Japanese," adds Choe. "They weren't aware of such a country as Korea, but now a lot people are more aware."

Deputy Kim says his biggest challenge is getting Korean business owners to contact law enforcement when they are a victim of a crime. They often think police will not investigate them.