WOODLAND HILLS, CALIF. — Growing up on a South Korean farm, Suki Devirian says she learned to distrust everything about politics.
"The government was always dictating to us," says Ms. Devirian, who changed her name from Chun when she married an American GI in 1967. "I hated the government, they never treated us as human beings. My parents paid lots of taxes. But no matter who won the elections, we never got anything back. It was always the same thing."
That same mistrust transformed into a subconscious resentment of the American political system in her adopted land, she says. Though Ms. Devirian became a citizen in 1983, she did not register to vote until this year.
"I had language problems ... I had to learn English ... I had to become a citizen first," she says.
"Asians who come to America from communist countries, or those with authoritarian or dynastic histories often feel it does not pay to get politically involved," says Roberta Johnson, a professor of government at the University of San Francisco. "They carry with them a deep suspicion of political power that may not be broken until a second generation grows up in the adopted land."
When Devirian arrived in 1967, she said there was only one Korean restaurant in Los Angeles. "I cried when I saw it."
In the past 25 years, an influx of Koreans here has made the 300,000 strong population the largest in the world outside Seoul. "It's easier for those who are coming now," she says.
Partly because of the Los Angeles riots, partly because Asian candidates have done well or won in recent elections, Devirian says it's time to start making her voice heard.
"I have two children in college and I am concerned about the economy," says Devirian, who until recently leaned towards Democratic candidate Gov. Bill Clinton. "I've also seen some of my own kind do well. That's getting me pumped up."
"Mom was never really aware of the candidates until now. She is realizing she can have an effect," says her son Brent, a senior at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "She sees herself as being more effected economically, and she is a little upset. And she finally believes her vote might actually make a difference."