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Your House Will Pay

The Melting Pot of Fact and Fiction




Link to The LA Times, 12 Oct. 1991

The Los Angeles Times, 12 October 1991 (p213)


  • “Du. 51, shot Latasha Harlins in the back of the head after an over-the-counter scuffle involving the bottle of juice. Du, who said she though Latasha was going to kill her and has maintained that the shooting was accidental, remained free on $200,000 bail pending her sentencing Nov. 15”.
  • “Latasha’s aunt, Denise Harlins, cried to reporters outside the courtroom. “The judicial system let her get away with murder. There is no justice.”
  • “There’s no victory for anybody,” said Du’s attorney”. “But I think the jury may have felt some sympathy for Mrs Du and may have compromised on her behalf.”
  • “Outrage is understandable and it is perhaps appropriate for the African -American leadership to voice those kinds of concerns," Fairchild said. "But I don't think it recognizes the tragic elements pf this killing.
  • "In my opinion, a large part of it was a byproduct of the inequality built into our society," he said. "It was the result of a whole lot of social, cultural and economic factors that both Latasha and Mrs. Du are caught up in.”

The tune playing in the background of this map is Chopin's Farewell Waltz. Ava Matthews' biography, told by Jules Searcey, is named after this piece of classical music due to her talent in piano playing and her victory in the youth Chopin competition (Cha, p87).

• “The last two weeks had been torture for Grace. For the first time in her life, her mother had shifted on her, become someone she didn’t understand, someone she’d been, underneath, all along. It shook her all the way through…” (p327) • “For twenty-seven years, she’d thought the world of her mother; for two weeks, as Yvonne lay dying, Grace abandoned her in her heart, and they both knew it.” (p329)• “Her head hurt, pounding with shame and gratitude, bitterness and love.” (p337)

Grace on the death of her mother, Yvonne Park, or Jung-Ja Han

• “There were still times he’d wake up in the middle of the night, and at the cusp of consciousness, when the dream world lingered, scan his room in panic before remembering…Ava was there, just in the next room.” (p11)• “I haven’t forgotten her. But if you think Searcey honors her, maybe you have.” (p88• “It pained him that this was where his sister was buried, that she couldn’t have a neat grave, her name on a little stone with a watered lawn. That seemed like so little to ask, yet even that was denied her, stolen from her.” (p146)

Shawnon the death of his sister Ava Matthews

Families Broken

Both Shawn Matthews and Grace Park feel the deep sense of loss and confusion due to their loved ones being victims of violence, similar to the families of Latasha Harlins and Soon Ja Du

Soon Ja Du Court Case

Court Case Link (1992)

Court Case for People v. Soon Ja Du (1992) transcript notes No. B063918 Decided: April 21, 1992 “The probation officer concluded “it is true that this defendant would be most unlikely to repeat this or any other crime if she were allowed to remain free.   She is not a person who would actively seek to harm another․”  

Steph Cha Interview


Cha is fascinated by the culture crossover between African Americans and Korean Americans. In her interview with Victoria Namkung, she talks about her interest in those living with the grief and pent-up anger in response to the suppressite white superior society, aiming to convery both sides of the story, the Parks and Matthews families in the novel. Yet, paradoxically she states:"I tried to be explicit about naming Latasha Harlins. She’s not named inside the 300 pages of my novel, but she’s all around the edges of the book. I had to rip her out of history and replace her with my own version. The last thing I wanted to do was actually erase her and that history. I wanted to make sure that I honored it." (Cha)

The Media & Racism

In her novel, Cha aims to highlight both sides of the combat: the Korean Americans and the African Americans. It is clear that the state has failed to protect both minority groups, yet will be quick to document their attacks against each other. Rose Kim, in her article, 'Violence and Trauma' she explains how the violence was not between two groups, but three. The third being the white-washed media. • “The mass media… played a powerful role in circulating and shaping the discourse of violence within the cultural imaginary.” (p2011) • “Koreans were seen oppressors… unfortunately the dominant white media fuelled this discourse… generating even more violence.” (p2016) In the novel, the reader sees how both Grace's family and Shawn's family are impacted. One being the Farewell Waltz author, Jules Searcey who continues to hound the family of Ava, squeezing other additional information that he wants to lay his hands on. The other being Grace's mishap with the young journalist, who similarly to Searcey pays no heed to her injuries, both physical and mental, but rather continues to taunt her for his gain.

After her shocking death in 1991, Latasha Harlins' legacy would go on to play a key role in the L.A. Race Riots and in her legacy, through documentaries and also in the realm of crime fiction. Steph Cha takes it as her duty to both respect the story of Latasha, but also to add her own stamp of creative flair to it in order to display the impact of violence on families and communities.Leaving the reader with a blend of both real and fictional, most poignantly seen through her character of Ava Matthews, who represents Latasha Harlins to a certain degree."Steph Cha believes in the capaciousness of crime fiction, in its potential to encompass all the ways we live right now."


Alta Journal Interview With Steph Cha

A playground is dedicated to Latasha in South Los Angeles. “Here we are right now, 30 years after, and we have Breonna [Taylor], we have [George] Floyd, and we can do a roll call, right? The nation hasn’t learned anything,” David Bryant, Harlins’ uncle, said, according to CBS Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Times 19 March 2016“[Picture] Empire Liquor Market and Deli in 1992. The year before the store’s owner accused Latasha Harlins, 15, of theft. Latasha was killed in the ensuing struggle.” “Black teen’s killing sent ripples across South L.A.” “her case was overshadowed by another video that surfaced just weeks before, the one showing Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King.” “Latasha’s death had a profound effect in both the black and Korean communities. For blacks, the killing became a symbol of the dangers and indifference faced by African-American youths.” “For Korean Americans, the case prompted soul searching and debate about the rocky relationship between Korean immigrants who owned liquor stores in black communities and their customers.” “Korean Americans are not spectators to the unfolding racial dram, nor bystanders.”

Latasha Harlins remembered 25 years on

Newspaper LA Times Link

'Oscar-nominated doc redefines Latasha Harlins' story'Director Sophia Nahli Allison speaks of the importance to not just remember Harlins in her death but also honour her life. The media so often sensationalises murder, seen through the video tape of Harlins' death, in order to attract more attention to their newspaper or website. Therefore, Allison is trying to tell the 'inside story', the affect on family and the local community. However, any documentary or film will be told from a certain point of view, which then becomes partial to the fictional.

"most of the dear poor and black, with poor black families who were easy to ignore." (p145)Aunt Sheila in Your House Will Pay is completely adament to save Ava's history and to keep her memory raw. She does this through protests and rallies.She sees this as deivering a sense of justice to Ava, due to the fact that her perpretrator, Jung Ja-Han was given a light sentence of "five years probation, four hundred hours of community service, and a $500 fine." (p131)Not only a legal injustice, but a societal injustice- "people forget awful truths all the time, or at least they forgot to remember." (p259)


The paradox- the goodness of honouring memory vs. the exploitative nature of it. Example: Searcey's biography of Ava, Farewell Waltz "Searcey had never met Ava, but with Aunt Sheila's help, he built up her lasting public image... Most of the book was about the murder and its aftermath, but there was a thirty- page chapter about her brief, lamented life." (p87)"Searcey buried the real Ava, and no one but Shawn even seemed to notice." (p87)Does Cha do the same here with Latsha Harlins? (Link to book cover slide above).

FOX News 'Before Rodney King verdict, LA remembers killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins', 2022West 91st Street and South Figueroa Street, Vermont Vista, Los Angeles, where Latasha Harlins was shot in the back of the head after having a scuffle with Soon Ja Du, the owner, alongside her husband, of Empire Liquor and Deli.