Korean Americans

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Author: Amy Nash
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 12,173 words

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Korean Americans

Amy Nash


Korean Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from North Korea or South Korea, the two countries that make up the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. The peninsula is connected to China in the north and is bordered by the Yellow Sea to the west and the Sea of Japan to the east. Mountains and rugged hills constitute more than 70 percent of the Korean landscape. North Korea occupies over 46,000 square miles (120,000 square kilometers), approximately the size of the state of Mississippi. South Korea is 38,000 square miles (99,000 square kilometers), slightly larger than the state of Indiana.

According to the CIA World Factbook, an estimated 73 million people lived on the Korean Peninsula in July 2012. Approximately 48.8 million lived in South Korea and 24.6 million lived in North Korea. Nearly half of South Koreans do not claim any religious affiliation, while 31 percent are Christian and 24 percent identify as Buddhist. Historically, North Koreans were Buddhist or Confucian, although during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, missionaries converted a small number to Christianity. Today the majority of North Koreans have no religion. North Korea consistently struggles with a poor economy, while South Korea's economy has flourished as one of the twenty largest economies of the world, earning the country a prominent position in the global Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Korean immigrants began arriving in the United States after Korea established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1882. The first major wave of Korean immigration occurred between 1903 and 1905, when thousands of Koreans moved to Hawaii seeking work on sugar plantations or education in Christian mission schools. These workers intended to return to Korea with their newly gained fortunes, but few actually made the journey home. The next major wave of immigration occurred after World War II when Korean students, military brides, and adopted children entered the country. With the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, more professional men and women, mainly South Korean doctors and nurses, arrived in the United States. However, in the 1980s the rate of Korean immigration began to decline as the South Korean economy improved.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 1,706,822 Americans of Korean descent living in the United States. California was the state with the highest number of Korean Americans (505,225), while New York and New Jersey also had significant numbers—153,809 and 100,334, respectively. Illinois, Texas, Washington, Georgia, and Virginia also have a large number of Korean Americans.


Early History Historians commonly refer to the first period of recorded Korean history (53 BCE–668 CE) as the Three Kingdoms period. These kingdoms were Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Toward the end of the seventh century, Silla conquered Koguryo and Paekche, uniting the peninsula under the Silla dynasty. This period saw many advancements in literature, art, and science. Buddhism, which had reached Korea by way of China, was practiced by virtually all of Silla society. By the mid-eighth century the Silla people had begun using woodblock printing to reproduce Buddhist sutras and Confucian writings.

In 900 the three kingdoms divided, and within thirty-six years the Koguryo kingdom took control. Its leader, general Wang Kon, established the Koryo dynasty, from which the name Korea is derived. During Koryo's 400-year history, there were many advances in the arts, science, and literature. Improving upon earlier Chinese printing methods, Korea in 1234 became the first country to use movable cast metal type. Medical knowledge also developed during the thirteenth century and was recorded in books such as Emergency Remedies of Folk Medicine and Folk Remedies of Samhwaja.

Mongolian forces invaded Koryo in 1231 and occupied the kingdom until 1368. The Chinese Ming dynasty forced the Mongols back into the far north. This struggle eventually led to the fall of Koryo in 1392, when general Yi Song Gye revolted against the king and founded the Yi dynasty. It remained in power until the early twentieth century and proved to be one of the world's longest-enduring regimes. The kingdom was ruled by civilians who devotedly followed Confucianism, a philosophy of life and ethics that stresses an individual's sense of duty to family members and society as a whole. The Yi regime emphasized Page 24  |  Top of Articlehierarchical relationships, bestowing the highest respect on family elders, the monarch, and China as the older, more established country.

In 1592 Japan invaded the peninsula, and Chinese soldiers helped Korea regain control of the land from the Japanese armies. Japan attacked again in 1597, but Korea was able to force the withdrawal of the Japanese by the end of the year. However, Korea was left in tatters and suffered more attacks in 1627 and 1636 at the hands of the Manchus, who later conquered China. During this period, Western scientific, technological, and religious influences entered Korea by way of China. However, as France, Great Britain, and the United States began to dominate areas of China and other Asian countries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Korea, dubbed The Hermit Kingdom, maintained a closed-door policy toward non-Chinese foreigners.

In 1832 an English merchant ship landed off the coast of Chungcheong Province, and in 1846 three French warships landed in the same area. Eight years later two armed Russian ships sailed along the Hamgyong coast and killed a few Korean civilians before leaving the region. In 1866 the U.S.S. General Sherman sailed up the Taedong River to Pyongyang. The crew's goal of drawing up a trade agreement was thwarted by an enraged mob of Koreans who set fire to the ship, killing everyone aboard. The following year five U.S. warships appeared near the Korean island of Ganghwa and also were fought off. Korean animosity toward Western countries stemmed largely from awareness of China's troubles with these nations, particularly Great Britain, which had devastated China during the First Opium War of 1839–1842. Despite Korean resistance, Japan forced the country to open to trade in 1876, and in 1882 Korea reluctantly agreed to trade with the United States.

For two centuries China and Japan fought for control over Asia. China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) greatly weakened Chinese dominance. After this victory Japan invaded the Korean Peninsula, which infuriated Korean students from American-founded schools that served as a place to learn about democracy and national liberation. The Japanese army despised the American missionaries who had established these schools but knew better than to confront citizens of the powerful U.S. government. Instead they took control over Korean citizens and outlawed Korean customs. As Korea turned to Russia for financial support and protection, a ten-year struggle ensued between Russia and Japan for control over the Korean Peninsula. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 ended in another Japanese victory. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt mediated the peace agreement and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in creating the Treaty of Portsmouth, under which Korea became a protectorate of Japan. Japan officially annexed Korea in 1910.

Modern Era During its thirty-five years as a Japanese colony, Korea experienced major economic and social developments, such as soil improvement, updated methods of farming, and industrialization in the north. However, Koreans also suffered under the policies of a highly repressive military state. Japan appropriated half of the Korean rice crop for its own industry and forced most Korean farmers off their land. It also seized control of Korean schools and temples, and by the 1930s, Koreans were forced to worship at Shinto shrines, speak Japanese in schools, and adopt Japanese names. Japan also prevented Koreans from publishing newspapers and organizing intellectual and political groups.

In response to Japanese government policies, thousands of Koreans participated in demonstrations. Most of the protests were peaceful, but some led to violence. On March 1, 1919, a group of thirty-three prominent Koreans in Seoul issued a proclamation of independence, prompting close to 500,000 Koreans, including students, teachers, and members of religious groups, to organize demonstrations in the streets. This mass demonstration, which became known as the March First Movement, lasted two months until the Japanese government suppressed it and expanded the size of its police force in Korea by 10,000. According to conservative estimates from Japanese reports, the Japanese police killed 7,509 Koreans, wounded 15,961, and imprisoned another 46,948 in the process of quelling the movement.

During World War II Japan sided with Nazi Germany, and the Japanese government put Koreans to work in Japanese munitions plants, airplane factories, and coal mines. Before the war, Korean nationalists living in Siberia, Manchuria, China, and the United States—many of whom were communists—organized independence efforts, often using guerrilla tactics against the Japanese. One of these nationalists residing in the United States, Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), went on to become the first president of South Korea. Another Korean who was making a name for himself as a rebel was Kim Song Je. Born in 1912 near Pyongyang, Kim spent most of his childhood in Manchuria and took the pseudonym Kim Il-Sung in 1930. He organized one of the first anti-Japanese guerrilla units in Antu, Manchuria, on April 25, 1932. North Koreans still celebrate April 25 as the founding date of the Korean People's Army.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, prompting the United States to enter World War II, the Korean provisional government created by nationalists such as Rhee finally had an opportunity to take a stand against Japan. On December 8 the provisional government declared war on Japan and formed the Restoration Army to fight alongside the Allies in the Pacific theater. When Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, ending the Japanese occupation of Korea, Koreans took to the streets to celebrate the end of thirty-six years Page 25  |  Top of Articleof oppressive rule. But the freedom they expected did not follow. The Soviet Union immediately occupied Pyongyang, Hamhung, and other major northern cities. The United States followed by stationing troops in southern Korea. This division of north and south was supposed to have been a temporary measure.

In the months that followed the end of World War II, international decisions about the administration of Korea were made without the consent of the Korean people. The Soviet Union set up a provisional communist government in northern Korea, and the United States created a provisional republican government in the south. In 1948 the Republic of Korea was founded south of the 38th parallel, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was founded in the north, with Kim Il-Sung as prime minister. Both governments claimed authority over the entire peninsula and tempted fate by crossing the border at various points along the 38th parallel.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea, beginning a costly, bloody three-year struggle known as the Korean War. This was perhaps the most tragic period in modern history for the Korean people. Neither side achieved victory, and on July 27, 1953, in the town of Panmunjom, the two sides signed an armistice designating a cease-fire line along the 38th parallel and establishing a surrounding a demilitarized zone 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide. Today the zone remains the boundary between the two Koreas.

The war left the peninsula a wasteland. An estimated four million soldiers had been killed or wounded, and approximately one million civilians had died. Nevertheless, both Koreas moved swiftly to rebuild after the war and emerged into modern, industrialized nations. North Korea, which was more industrialized than South Korea before the war, restored the production of goods to prewar levels within three years. However, its economy and industry suffered as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of its major trading partners. Since the 1960s South Korea has evolved from a rural to a postindustrial society, becoming an important exporter of products such as Hyundai cars, LG televisions, and Samsung cell phones. In the late 1980s the United States was the second-largest exporter to South Korea after Japan, and in 1989 South Korea was the seventh-largest exporter country to the United States.

Kim Il-Sung ruled as a communist dictator in North Korea for more than four decades, until his death in July 1994. Meanwhile South Korea underwent several political changes, including a military dictatorship that took power between 1961 and 1963. Corruption in the government and lack of free elections caused many student uprisings. The most notable was the April 19 student revolution, which was prompted by the shooting of a student who was protesting what the public believed was an unfair election. Tens of thousands of students protested his death, culminating in the president stepping down from office. The revolution proved to be one of many steps toward democracy in South Korea. In the 1990s president Kim Young-Sam (1927–) instituted economic reforms and an aggressive anticorruption campaign.

All measures introduced to reunify the Korean Peninsula have ended in a stalemate. U.S. concern over North Korea's nuclear weapons program threatened to increase tensions between the two Koreas. The country's refusal to allow full international inspection of its nuclear facilities brought the United States close to proposing a resolution for a United Nations economic embargo against North Korea in June 1994. Before sanctions were implemented, however, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter met with the North Korean government and reported that the country would be willing to freeze all production of fuel for nuclear weapons if it could resume high-level talks with Washington. Although officials were hopeful that planned meetings between the two Korean governments would not break down as in the past, Kim Il-Sung's death once again put negotiations on hold. Reunification remains the most pressing issue on the minds of Koreans even in the twenty-first century.

After Kim Il-Sung died, his son Kim Jong Il (1941–2011) succeeded as the leader of North Korea. Under his leadership, North Korea experienced an economic decline that he did little to rectify, and North Korea became dependent on international aid to feed its people. Tensions between North and South Korea continued to rise, reaching a boiling point in 2005 when North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons. In 2011 Kim Jong Il died and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un (1983?–). South Korea, under the leadership of Kim Dae Jung (1924?–2009), pursued reunification with North Korea until 2002, when Roh Moo Hyun (1946–2009) took over as president. Roh worked to improve South Korea's relations with North Korea and the United States. His successor, Lee Myung-Bak (1941–), helped to rebuild the South Korean economy. In 2013 Park Geun-Hye (1952–) became South Korea's first female president.


Although emigration was illegal in Korea in the nineteenth century, natural disasters, poverty, high taxes, and government oppression drove many Koreans to leave the country. By 1900 the United States had become a refuge for a small number of Koreans, including three Korean political refugees who immigrated in 1885. Five more arrived in 1899 but were mistaken for Chinese. Between 1890 and 1905, sixty-four Koreans traveled to Hawaii to attend Christian mission schools. (Most returned to Korea after completing their studies.)

The first major wave of Korean immigrants to the United States began in 1903, when Hawaiian sugar plantation owners offered Koreans jobs. Initially, the sugar planters had hired native Hawaiians to work Page 26  |  Top of Articleas contract laborers on the plantations, but by 1850 the native population had declined and the laborers became increasingly dissatisfied with the hard work. As demand for sugar continued to grow, the labor shortage prompted the planters to form the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society to recruit outside sources of labor. The first immigrant laborers entered Hawaii from China in 1852. By the time the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898, 50,000 Chinese immigrants lived in the territory. Low wages, long workdays, and poor treatment led many Chinese laborers to leave the plantations to find work in the cities, causing the sugar planters to recruit Japanese immigrants to supplement the plantation workforce.

In 1900 Hawaii became an official U.S. territory, making it legal for the Chinese and Japanese workers to go on strike, which many did. Moreover, the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had prohibited further immigration of Chinese people to the United States. To offset another labor shortage and weaken the unions, Hawaiian sugar planters turned to Korea. In 1902 growers sent a representative to San Francisco to meet with Horace Allen, the U.S. ambassador to Korea, who began recruiting Koreans to work on the plantations with the help of David William Deshler, an American businessman living in Korea. Deshler owned a steamship service that operated between Korea and Japan. The Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association paid Deshler $55 for each Korean recruited. The Deshler Bank, set up in the Korean seaside town of Inchon, provided loans of $100 to each immigrant for transportation.

With conditions worsening in Korea, the offer appealed to a great number of laborers, who were promised a monthly wage of $16; free housing, health care, and English lessons; and a warmer climate. Newspaper advertisements and posters promoted Hawaii as a paradise and the United States as a land of gold and dreams. Recruiters used the slogan Kaeguk chinch wi (the country is open, go forward) to encourage potential recruits. American missionaries such as reverend George Heber Jones of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Inchon helped persuade Koreans with stories of how life in the West would make them better Christians.

In December 1902, 121 Koreans left their homeland aboard the U.S.S. Gaelic; all but 19 of the recruits who had failed their medical examinations in Japan arrived in Honolulu on January 13, 1903. This original group included 56 men, 21 women, and 25 children. More than 7,000 Korean immigrants joined them on the Hawaiian sugar plantations within two years. Most were bachelors or had left their families behind, hoping to save their wages and return to Korea to share the wealth with their families. Despite promises of fortune, they found only low-paying jobs, and most did not make enough money to return home. In fact, because of the higher cost of living in Hawaii, only about 2,000 were able to return to Korea. By 1905 the Japanese government banned emigration from the peninsula because so many Koreans were leaving to avoid Japanese oppression.

The next wave of Korean immigration to the United States occurred when Japan issued the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907. This pact forbade further immigration of Japanese and Korean workers but included a clause that allowed wives to rejoin their husbands already in the United States, initiating the “picture bride” system. Korean village matchmakers and the groom's family would select women in Korea to exchange photographs with men in the United States. When a match was agreed upon, the groom's family would write the bride's name into the family register to legalize the union, and she would travel to the United States to meet her new husband. Marriage ceremonies were often performed on the boat ride to North America so that the women could touch American soil as legal wives of the immigrants. Between 1910 and 1924, more than 1,000 Korean picture brides came to the United States, mostly to Hawaii. These women were motivated by the opportunities for education and wealth they had heard were available in the United States. Education, travel, and careers were not open to women at home because traditional Korean society placed many restrictions on women.

I arose at four o'clock in the morning, and we took a truck to the sugar cane fields, eating breakfast on the way. Work in the sugar plantations was back breaking. It involved cutting canes, watering, and pulling out weeds. … The sugar cane fields were endless and twice the height of myself. Now that I look back, I thank goodness for the height for if I had seen how far the fields stretched I probably would have fainted from knowing how much work was ahead.

However, these brides met with a harsh reality in the United States. Many discovered that their husbands were much older than they looked in the pictures, and a large number became widows at a young age. Moreover, these women faced hard work and long hours, leaving little free time to learn English. In the introduction to Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings by and about Asian American Women (1989), Sucheta Mazumdar recounts immigrant Anna Choi's description of her life in Hawaii as a picture bride:

Virtually all of the first Koreans immigrants to the United States settled in Hawaii and on the West Coast. Those working on the Hawaiian sugar plantations became increasingly frustrated by the harsh conditions and moved to cities to open restaurants, vegetable stands, and small stores, or to work as carpenters or tailors. Others returned to Korea. By 1907 approximately 1,000 Korean plantation workers had migrated to the U.S. mainland, settling in San Francisco or moving farther inland to Utah to work in the copper mines, to Colorado and Wyoming to work in the coal mines, or to Arizona to work on the railroads. Some moved as far north as Alaska and

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CENGAGE LEARNING, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED U.S. Census Bureau, 2009–2011 American Community Survey

found jobs in the salmon fisheries there. However, the majority settled in California.

In the years between 1907 and World War II, a few Korean political refugees and students came to the United States. Some were members of a secret Korean patriotic society called Sinminhoe (the New People's Society). To escape persecution by the Japanese government, they crossed the Yalu River and took trains to Shanghai. From there, they made their way to the United States. By 1924, 541 Koreans living in the United States had claimed to be political refugees. Among these political activists were Ahn Chang Ho, Pak Yong Man, and Syngman Rhee, the future first president of South Korea.

After World War II, the South Korean government discouraged emigration, while North Korea forbade emigration of any kind. Most of the Koreans who immigrated to the United States after the war were women. The quota system created by the U.S. Office of Immigration in the 1940s allowed between 105 and 150 immigrants from each of the Asian nations. This law favored immigrants with postsecondary education, technical training, and specialized skills. Most of the Koreans allowed to immigrate were women with nursing training. In particular the War Brides Act of 1945 helped women and children obtain papers to immigrate.

After the Korean War (1950–1953), more women who had married American soldiers were allowed into the United States. By this time, Koreans and all Asians in the United States were able to acquire citizenship through naturalization as a result of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. Foreign adoption of Korean babies also began at the end of the Korean War, which had left thousands of children orphaned in Korea. More than 100,000 South Korean children have been adopted abroad since the war, and roughly two-thirds of these have been adopted by American families. An estimated 10,000 Korean children have been adopted by Minnesota families alone. Criticized by other countries for running a “baby mill,” the South Korean government began to phase out foreign adoptions in the 1990s. Although adopting children is traditionally frowned upon in Korean society, social workers are attempting to encourage domestic adoption.

In 1965 the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act, replacing the quota system with a preference system that gave priority to immigration applications from relatives of U.S. citizens and from professionals with skills needed by the United States. Thousands of South Korean doctors and nurses took advantage of the law, finding jobs in understaffed inner-city hospitals. Koreans with science and technological backgrounds also were encouraged to immigrate. Unlike earlier immigrants, these new immigrants came from middle- and upper-class families. The portion of the law informally known as the Brothers and Sisters Page 28  |  Top of ArticleAct also was a factor in the dramatic increase in the Korean American population. In 1960, 10,000 Koreans were living in the United States, but by 1985 the number had increased to 500,000. This number continues to grow in the twenty-first century. By 2000 the population of Korean Americans was more than one million. Much of this immigration was prompted by political and economic motivations. With political unrest still a reality in South Korea and college education growing increasingly expensive and competitive, many immigrants moved to the United States to seek a better life.

Recent Korean immigrants have settled in concentrated areas around the country. Unlike early immigrants, later immigrants generally traveled to the United States to take up permanent residence. In 1970 the highest percentage of Korean Americans lived in California, followed by Hawaii, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington. In 2010 the U.S. Census reported 300,047 Korean Americans lived in the greater Los Angeles area, 201,393 in the greater New York metropolitan area, and 93,787 in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Every state has at least a small population of Korean Americans, though California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia have some of the largest populations of Korean Americans. Georgia and Washington also boast significant numbers of Americans of Korean descent. Most Koreans who settle in the United States reside in large cities where jobs are available and Korean communities have been established, though Korean American professionals who can afford it have moved to the suburbs. Korea towns have developed in areas such as the Olympic Boulevard neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles. The Flushing, Woodside, and Jackson Heights neighborhoods within the New York City borough of Queens also have substantial Korean American populations.

Coming from a traditional society greatly influenced by the Confucian principle of placing elders, family, and community before the individual, Korean immigrants struggle to make sense of the American concept of individual freedom.


Virtually every citizen in North and South Korea is an ethnic Korean and speaks Korean. The Korean language was first written in the mid-fifteenth century when King Sejong invented the phonetically based alphabet known as hangul so that all Korean people, not just the aristocracy who knew Chinese characters, could learn to read and write. Today North and South Korea's literacy rates are among the highest in the world.

While most second- and third-generation Korean Americans exclusively speak English, new immigrants often know little or no English. The earliest Korean immigrants in Hawaii learned a form of English known as pidgin English, which incorporated phrases in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Portuguese—all languages spoken by the different ethnic groups working on the plantations. Learning English is crucial for new immigrants who hope to become successful members of the larger American community. Nevertheless, most Korean American parents also hope to preserve their heritage by sending their American-born children to Korean language schools.

Several American universities offer undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in the Korean language and Korean studies. In 1943 the University of California–Berkeley became the first American university to offer Korean language instruction. Other universities followed, including Brigham Young University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Hawaii–Manoa, and the University of Washington–Seattle.

Greetings and Popular Expressions The following greetings are translated phonetically from the hangul alphabet according to the McCune-Reischauer system of romanization: Annyonghasipnigga—“hello” (formal greeting); Yoboseyo—“hello” (informal greeting); Annyonghi kasipsio—“good-bye” (staying); Annyonghi kyeshipsio—“good-bye” (leaving); Put'akhamnida—“please”; Komapsumnida—“thank you”; Ch'onmaneyo—“you're welcome”; Sillyehamnida—“excuse me”; Ye—“yes”; Aniyo—“no”; Sehae e pok mani padu sipsiyo!—“Happy New Year!”; Man sei!—“Hurrah! Long live our country! Ten thousand years!”; and Kuh reh!—“That is so! True!”


Throughout Korea's history, religion has played a prominent role in the lives of its citizens. A variety of faiths have been practiced on the peninsula, the most common being shamanism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Shamanism is the country's oldest religion and involves the worship of nature. The sun, mountains, rocks, and trees each hold sacred positions. Based on a belief in good and evil spirits that can only be appeased by priests or medicine men called shamans, early shamanism incorporated pottery making and dances such as the muchon, which was performed as part of a ceremony to worship the heavens.

China brought Buddhism to Korea sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries. This religion, based on the teachings of the ancient Indian philosopher Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), holds that suffering in life is inherent and that one can be freed from it by mental and moral self-purification.

Christianity first reached Korea in the seventeenth century by way of China, where Portuguese missionaries came to promote Catholicism. American Protestant missionaries arrived in Korea in the nineteenth century but were persecuted by the Korean government because the laws of Christianity went against Confucian social order. By the mid-1990s, the majority of South Koreans were still Buddhists, but an Page 29  |  Top of Articleestimated 30 percent of the population practiced some type of Christianity. However, by the twenty-first century, most South Koreans did not claim a religion, with 31 percent identifying as Christian and 24 percent identifying as Buddhist.

Of the 7,000 Korean immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1903 and 1905, only 400 were Christian. These Christians immediately formed congregations in Hawaii, and by 1918 close to 40 percent of Korean immigrants had converted to Christianity. Korean immigrants relied heavily on their churches as community centers. After Sunday service, immigrants spoke Korean, socialized, discussed problems of immigrant life, and organized political rallies for Korean independence. The churches also served as educational centers and provided classes in writing and reading Korean. Today they remain an integral part of the Korean immigrant community.

The majority of Korean Christians in the United States practice Protestantism, and there are more than 3,000 Korean Protestant churches across the country. Most Korean Protestants are evangelical Christians, who extensively study the Bible and closely follow the word of the gospel. In large cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, Korean Protestants have their own buildings and hold several services a week. The Oriental Mission Church and Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles are two of the largest Korean Protestant churches in the United States, with 5,000 members each. A small segment of the Korean American population, about 7 to 8 percent, practices Catholicism, compared to about 30 percent who practice Protestantism. Korean Catholics established the Korean American Catholic Community in the 1960s, and the first Korean Catholic center opened in Orange County, California, in 1977.

Korean Buddhism was founded in the United States by a Buddhist monk named Soh Kyong Bo in 1964. Most Korean American Buddhists belong to the Chogye sect. Prominent Buddhist organizations in the United States include the Zen Lotus Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the Korean Buddhist Temple Association; the Young Buddhist Union in Los Angeles; the Buddhists Concerned with Social Justice and World Peace; the Western Buddhist Monk's Association; the Southern California Buddhist Temples Association, and several Son and Dharma centers across the country.


Like all immigrants arriving in the United States, Koreans have had to make major adjustments to live in a country that is vastly different from their homeland. Coming from a traditional society greatly influenced by the Confucian principle of placing elders, family, and community before the individual, Korean immigrants struggle to make sense of the American concept of individual freedom. Since the first immigrants arrived in Hawaii, Korean Americans have preserved their identity by creating organizations such as Korean Christian churches and Korean schools. The Korean word han, used to describe an anguished feeling of being far from what you want, accurately conveys the longing that accompanies most Koreans to the United States. Korean American organizations provide a sense of community for new immigrants and a way to alleviate this longing.

Traditions and Customs Korean immigrants bring with them a culture that incorporates aspects of Chinese, Japanese, and Western cultures. Yet Koreans also have maintained native elements of their literature, art, music, and way of life. The result is a wonderful collage of elements, both foreign and indigenous to the peninsula. Korean Americans tend to maintain aspects of their culture while also adopting elements of mainstream America.

Korean culture is often maintained through church organizations, schools, and culture camps. Korean Protestant churches offer classes in Korean culture and language. In addition, according to an estimate by the Korean Language Center of New York, in 2012 there were 1,000 Korean language schools in the United States catering mainly to children. Korean American parents often send their children to Korean culture camps during the summer. Located predominantly in California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York, these camps offer Korean American children, usually adoptees, an opportunity to learn about their heritage with other Korean American children.

Cuisine Korean cuisine is an important part of maintaining Korean culture among immigrant families and is commonly featured at family gatherings and holiday celebrations. Korean restaurants are often popular in areas with large Korean American populations. Like other East Asian groups, Koreans eat with chopsticks and frequently use tofu, soy sauce, rice, and a wide variety of vegetables. However, Korean food is distinct for its strong seasoning, including combinations of garlic, ginger, red or black pepper, scallions, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Blander grain dishes, such as rice, barley, or noodles, are used to offset the heat of the spices. Red meat is scarce in both North and South Korea and typically is reserved for special occasions.

Koreans do not usually designate certain foods as breakfast, lunch, or dinner dishes. A standard meal consists of rice, soup, kimchi (a spicy Korean pickle), vegetables, and broiled or grilled meat or fish. Fresh fruit is usually served at the end of a meal. Kimchi is considered the national dish and is served at virtually every meal. Made from cabbage, turnips, radishes, or cucumber, kimchi can be prepared many ways, from mild to very spicy. Korean cuisine also includes many different kinds of namul (salads). A common type of namul is sukju namul, or a bean sprout salad made with soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, black pepper, and other ingredients. A common soup served at breakfast is kamja guk (potato soup), which is often spiced with

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4 pound daikon radish

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup fish sauce

⅓ cup hot pepper flakes

4 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger, minced


Peel radish. Rinse in cold water and pat dry. Cut it into ¾–1 inch cubes. Put into a large bowl. Add salt and sugar, mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes. Drain the juice from the radish into a small bowl.

To the radish, add garlic, ginger, green onions, fish sauce, hot pepper flakes, and 1 cup of the juice from the radish. Mix it up well until the seasonings coat the radish cubes evenly.

Put mixture in a glass jar and press down on the top of it to remove any air from between the radish cubes. Close jar and allow to sit outside refrigerator for 2–3 days, to allow for fermenting. It should smell strong and sour. Place in refrigerator.

Note: Kkakdugi can be eaten immediately as well.

chopped onion and chunks of tofu. At winter celebrations Koreans serve mandu, deep-fried wonton skins usually filled with beef, cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, and other ingredients. Another common Korean dish is chap ch'ae, a popular stir-fry dish that features cellophane noodles made from mung beans and is prepared with vegetables in a wok.

Traditional Dress Traditional Korean clothing is rarely worn on a daily basis in the United States or Korea. Modern Western-style clothes are standard attire in most of South Korea, with the exception of some rural areas. However, during holidays Koreans in the United States and Korea often wear traditional costumes. Women may wear a chi-ma (a long skirt, usually pleated and full) and chogori (a short jacket top worn over a skirt) during New Year's celebrations. Traditional attire for men includes long, white overcoats; horsehair hats; and colorful silk baggy trousers known as paji.

Dances and Songs Korean music incorporates Confucian rituals, court music, Buddhist chants, and folk music. Ancient instruments used for court music include zithers, flutes, reed instruments, and percussion. Folk music, which usually includes dancing, is played with a chango (a drum shaped like an hourglass) and a loud trumpet-like oboe. P'ansori, stories, first sung by wandering bards in the late Choson dynasty, are an early form of Korean folk music. Modern Korean composers often draw from Western classical music. Korean American musicians such as Jin Hi Kim (1957–) use traditional Korean elements in their compositions. Kim is a komungo harpist who came to the United States in her twenties. She incorporates traditional Korean musical styles with other non-Western styles and is one of the leaders in the No World Improvisations movement, which promotes the performance and composition of new improvisational music.

Holidays Koreans in both the United States and Korea celebrate several important days throughout the year. Following Buddhist and Confucian traditions, Koreans begin the new year with an elaborate three-day celebration called Sol. Family members dress in traditional clothing and pay homage to the oldest members of the family. The festivities include several feasts, kite flying, board games, and various rituals intended to ward off evil spirits. In addition the first full moon is an ancient day of worship. Torches are kept burning all night, and often people set off fire-crackers to scare away evil spirits.

Yadu Nal (Shampoo Day) is celebrated on June 15. Families bathe in streams or waterfalls to protect them from fevers. Chusok (Thanksgiving Harvest) is celebrated in autumn to give thanks for the harvest. Kimchi is prepared for the winter at this time. Other traditional holidays observed in many Korean American households include the Buddha's birthday on April 8, Korean Memorial Day on June 6, Father's Day on June 15, Constitution Day in South Korea on July 17, and Korean National Foundation Day on October 3. Korean American Christians also observe major religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

Health Care Issues and Practices Korean Americans hold prominent positions in the field of medical science. The proportionally large number of Korean American doctors and nurses attests to this fact. Data on the status of the health of Korean Americans is limited. Asian Americans in general have a longer life expectancy than Americans as a whole. However, job-related stress and other factors have contributed to mental health problems within the Korean American community. Most Korean Americans receive health insurance through their employers, but new immigrants and the elderly often do not have access to medical care because of language barriers. Organizations such as the Korean Health Education Information and Referral in Los Angeles work to address this problem.

Recreational Activities Several sports native to Korea have become popular around the world. For instance, tae kwon do, a method of self-defense that originated in Korea more than 2,000 years ago, has now become a commonly taught form of karate in the Page 31  |  Top of ArticleUnited States. Involving sharper, quicker kicking than the Japanese style of karate, tae kwon do was a demonstration sport in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.


Historically the family system was an integral part of Korean society. The male head of household played a dominant role, as did the oldest members of the family. Parents exerted control over much of their children's lives, arranging their marriages and choosing their careers. The eldest son, who received the family inheritance, was responsible for taking care of parents in their old age. These systems have changed in modern Korea, particularly in cities, though the family remains very important to Koreans in their homeland and in the United States. It is common for Korean American parents to pressure their children to marry someone who has a good relationship with the family.

Today Korean children—both male and female—usually are responsible for the care of elderly parents, although in South Korea the government has begun to carry some of the financial burden. Tight family bonds persist among Korean Americans. Current U.S. immigration laws encourage these bonds by favoring family reunions. Korean Americans who invite relatives to come to the United States have a responsibility to help the new immigrants adjust to their new home. Korean American families often include extended family members. The family ties also extend to strong networks of support within Korean American communities.

Gender Roles Korean husbands traditionally work outside the home, while their wives take full-time responsibility for the children and household. Living in a modern industrialized nation, many South Korean women have full-time jobs, especially in urban areas. Still, the majority of full-time female employees in South Korea are unmarried. In the United States economic needs often require both parents to work, but running the household remains solely the responsibility of the woman. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation Korean American women face conflicts between traditional familial values and mainstream American culture. These women have more opportunities than their mothers and grandmothers, and some have careers as lawyers, doctors, teachers, and businesswomen. However, most have behind-the-scenes positions as clerks, typists, and cashiers. Korean American women, like American women in general, are still discriminated against in the job market. Although many Korean women immigrate to the United States with professional skills, they are often forced to work in garment factories or as store clerks because of the language barrier.

The view that Korean American women are passive also persists. Contrary to popular perceptions, Korean American women have a long history of political activism. Unfortunately their work has gone largely unrecorded. Korean female immigrants played a significant role in organizing protests against

A boy performs in the Korean Day parade in New York City.

A boy performs in the Korean Day parade in New York City. DAVID GROSSMAN / ALAMY

Japanese occupation, establishing organizations such as the Korean Women's Patriotic League and writing for Korean newspapers. They also participated in labor strikes on Hawaiian plantations. Korean American women of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries joined other Asian American women in fighting unfair work practices in the hotel, garment, and food-packaging industries. Korean American women also have participated in efforts to reunify Korea and have begun entering into the political realm.

Education Koreans have always valued education, and Korean Americans place a strong emphasis on academic achievement. Traditionally, employment in the Korean civil service, which required passing extremely difficult qualifying examinations, was considered to be the most successful career path to take. Recent immigrants to the United States are strongly motivated to perform well in school and are often better educated than the general population in Korea.

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Korean American parents pressure their children to perform well in school. In 2010, according to U.S. Census data, 91.7 percent of Korean Americans over the age of twenty-five had at least a high school education, compared with 85.6 percent of Americans overall. In addition 52 percent of Korean Americans had four or more years of college education, compared to only 28.5 percent of the general U.S. population. It is a common stereotype that Korean Americans excel in math and science. Although this is often true, they tend to perform well in all subjects.

Courtship and Weddings The importance placed on family in Korean society is apparent from the way special events in family members' lives are celebrated. Traditionally parents—with the help of a marriage broker or go-between—choose their children's marriage partners and plan and prepare the wedding ceremony. Female relatives spend days preparing special dishes for the wedding feast and making the wedding clothes. The picture bride system used to increase the population of Korean American women in Hawaii is one example of how these traditions were maintained in the United States.

While common in rural areas of Korea, these customs are no longer standard practice in cities. Korean Americans, who generally come from urban areas, usually allow their children to choose their own spouses. As members of Christian churches, most modern Korean Americans have Western-style wedding ceremonies and wear Western-style bridal gowns and suits. Another event that Koreans traditionally celebrate with great flourish is a baby's first birthday. The child is dressed in a traditional costume and seated amidst rice cakes, cookies, and fruits. Friends and relatives offer the child objects, each one symbolizing a different career. A pen represents a writing career, and a coin signifies a career in finance. The first object the child picks up is said to indicate his or her future profession.

In Korean American communities, the marriage bond has in some ways become stronger than filial piety. While honoring one's parents remains important, physical distance and cultural barriers between Korean Americans and their parents have shifted priorities. Korean Americans are less likely than their ancestors to have arranged marriages, and marrying outside of the Korean community has become increasingly common. Recent surveys show that Korean American women in college are expressing a preference for mates from other ethnic groups.

Traditionally Koreans have frowned upon divorce. Of the marriages arranged through the picture bride system in Hawaii, few ended in divorce. However, recent statistics suggest that the stigma against divorce no longer exists. The divorce rate among Korean Americans has reached, and is possibly surpassing, the national average. Exhaustion due to working extremely long hours contributes to failed marriages. Women in particular suffer from stress, working long shifts in garment factories or managing small businesses while also running the household. Korean American community organizations have attempted to address these problems in order to make life in the United States more fulfilling.

At the Asian American Festival in New York City, Korean American boys practice Tae Kwon Do.

At the Asian American Festival in New York City, Korean American boys practice Tae Kwon Do. RUDI VON BRIEL / PHOTOEDIT

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Relations with Other Americans Anti-Asian prejudice first erupted in the United States when Chinese and Japanese immigrants began arriving in the nineteenth century. Early Korean immigrants suffered discrimination but were not specifically targeted until they became a significant percentage of the population. Americans generally knew nothing about Korea when Koreans first came to the United States. What little information they could find was written by non-Asians and claimed Western superiority over Asian cultures. William Griffis's Corea: The Hermit Nation (1882), Alexis Krausse's The Far East (1900), and Isabella Bird Bishop's Korea and Her Neighbours (1898) are examples of books that perpetuated the myth of Western superiority. American writer Jack London was also responsible for giving Americans an unfavorable view of Korea. As a war correspondent covering the Russo-Japanese conflict in 1904, he voiced his opinions in dispatches that appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the country. In an article titled “The Yellow Peril,” which appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on September 25, 1904, London wrote that “the Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency—of utter worthlessness.”

Anti-Asian sentiments grew during the early twentieth century when San Francisco workers accused Koreans, along with Japanese and Chinese immigrants, of stealing jobs by working for lower wages. Restaurants refused to serve Asian customers, and Asians were often forced to sit in segregated corners of movie theaters. Violent white gangs harassed Korean Americans in California, and the government did nothing to help the victims. In fact, California laws in the first few decades of the twentieth century supported anti-Asian attitudes. Asian students were banned from attending public schools in white districts in 1906. The 1913 Webb-Heney Land Law prohibited Asians from owning property, and the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924 banned all Asian immigration to the United States for close to thirty years.

Korean Americans have been discriminated against in the job market, often receiving lower pay and having fewer opportunities for promotion than their non-Asian coworkers. The view of Korean Americans as “super immigrants” has also caused discord. Korean American success stories in business and education, which are often exaggerated, have led to resentment from other groups, generating false rumors that the U.S. government gives Korean immigrants money when they arrive. (Only refugees receive aid from the U.S. government, and very few Korean immigrants qualify as refugees.) Statistics showing that the mean income of Korean American families is higher than that of the general public are misleading because most Korean Americans live in large cities where the cost of living is much higher.

Nevertheless, such stereotypes have led to boycotts of Korean greengrocers in Brooklyn, Chicago, and elsewhere. In the April 1992 Los Angeles uprising

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Korean literature draws from Chinese and Japanese roots but has its own distinctive features. Poems, romances, and short stories represent only a portion of the breadth of the Korean literary tradition. This tradition includes both folk and highly advanced literary writings and works written in Chinese as well as Korean. Korean poems called hyangga, dating back to the sixth century, were written in Chinese characters. Hyangga were sung by Buddhist monks for religious purposes. Korean myths and legends were first recorded in Chinese in the thirteenth century. The first literary work written in the Korean alphabet, hangul, was the Songs of Flying Dragons, a multivolume account written between 1445 and 1447 by King Sejong's father during the Yi dynasty. Novels began to appear in the seventeenth century. Among the best known are Ho Kyun's Life of Hong Kiltong and Spring Fragrance, written anonymously in the eighteenth century.

that followed the Rodney King verdict, black rioters targeted Korean grocers, destroying countless Korean American businesses. Korean immigrants refer to this tragic episode as the Sa-i-kup'ok-dong (the April 28 riots). Because they started businesses in inner-city neighborhoods that had been abandoned by corporations, Korean immigrants had come to represent wealth, greed, materialism, and arrogance to some Americans. People living in low-income neighborhoods often used the Korean small businessperson as a scapegoat for their anger against corporate America. Organizations such as the Korea Society in New York and the Korean Youth and Community Center in Los Angeles have begun to address these issues.

In the twenty-first century, relations between Korean Americans and other Americans have improved. Korean Americans have become more involved in city and state governments. In addition, public opinion has changed with the rising popularity of Asian pop culture, particularly the Kpop music trend, and the majority of Americans now view Koreans in a positive and fair light.


Early Korean immigrants living on the West Coast were restricted from many types of employment. Discriminatory laws prohibited Asian immigrants from applying for citizenship, which meant that they were ineligible for positions in most professional fields. They took jobs with low pay and little potential for advancement, working as busboys, waiters, gardeners, janitors, and domestic help in cities. Outside the cities, they worked on farms and in railroad gangs. Many Korean immigrants opened restaurants, laundries, barbershops, grocery stores, tobacco shops, bakeries, and other retail shops. With the changes in immigration Page 34  |  Top of Articlelaws after World War II, Korean immigrants moved into more professional fields such as medicine, dentistry, architecture, and science. Recent immigrants (those who have come to the United States since 1965) are mostly college educated and have professional skills. The language barrier, however, often prevents them from finding jobs within their fields. Korean doctors often work as orderlies and nurse's assistants. In 1978 only 35 percent of Korean teachers, administrators, and other professionals were working in their respective fields in Los Angeles.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the median Korean American household income was $64,401, which was higher than the average household income for Americans overall ($50,406). The same report indicates that 11.6 percent of Korean American families had incomes below the poverty level, which is about the same as the 11.3 percent reported for the total U.S. population. Asian American adults have lower unemployment rates than the U.S. adult population overall. In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau also reported that 46 percent of Korean Americans age sixteen or older held managerial or professional positions; 27.7 percent had sales or administrative jobs; 14.5 percent held service jobs; 8.2 percent held precision production or transportation jobs; and 6.3 percent were unemployed.

Out of economic need, large numbers of recent Korean immigrants have started their own businesses, although most did not run small businesses in Korea.

A Korean American voter registration table during an event in New York City.

A Korean American voter registration table during an event in New York City. ROBERT BRENNER / PHOTOEDIT

In 1977, 33 percent of Korean American families owned small businesses, such as vegetable stands, grocery stores, service stations, and liquor stores. As a whole, they have had a high success rate. In the 1980s an estimated 95 percent of all dry cleaning stores in Chicago were owned by Korean immigrants. By 1990, 15,500 Korean-owned stores were in operation in New York City alone. Since then the recession and internal competition have slowed growth. New Korean immigrants have begun opening businesses in cities where competition is less fierce than in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Support within Korean communities has contributed to the success of these small businesses. Recent immigrants still use the ancient Korean loan system based on the kye, a sum of money shared by a group of business owners. A new grocer, for instance, will be allowed to use the money for one year and keep the profits. The kye is then passed to the next person who needs it. Organizations like the Korean Produce Association in New York and the Koryo Village Center in Oakland, California, are another source of support for new immigrants hoping to set up their own businesses.


Koreans have a general distrust of central governments. Historically, individual citizens have had little power in Korea and have suffered through scores of tragic episodes at the hands of other governments controlling the peninsula. As a result, most Korean immigrants come to the United States unaccustomed to participation in the democratic process. Discriminatory laws against Asian Americans on the West Coast contributed to distrust of the government. Therefore, Korean American communities traditionally isolated themselves, relying on family and neighborhood networks for support. Today, Korean American participation in grassroots organizations and U.S. politics is growing and evolving.

From the church meetings on Hawaiian plantations in the early 1900s to the efforts of the Black–Korean Alliance in the 1990s, Korean immigrants have created settings to voice their opinions. Racial tensions within Korean American communities have led to the establishment of several grassroots organizations. The Black–Korean Alliance in Los Angeles and the Korea Society in New York have set up programs to educate the two ethnic groups about each other's culture. In 1993 the Korea Society launched its Kids to Korea program. Designed to improve the strained relationship between the Korean and African American communities, the program enabled sixteen African American high school students from New York City and Los Angeles to travel to South Korea in order to learn about its people, culture, and history. This successful program has been expanded to include students from other cities. The Korea Society also sponsors a program called Project Bridge in Washington, D.C., which offers classes in both Korean and African American cultures.

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While research experts have extensively studied the economic development and work patterns of Korean American professionals and entrepreneurs, the general American public knows little about Korean immigrant laborers. Yet since the beginning of the twentieth century, American industries have employed Koreans. By the 1990s Korean Americans had begun to join forces with other Asian Americans to educate themselves about labor unions and their rights. The Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, founded in 1983, organizes Chinese and Vietnamese garment workers and Korean hotel maids and electronics assemblers in the Oakland, California, area, staging demonstrations and rallies to draw attention to unfair labor practices. Another labor group, the Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates, is unique among Asian American organizations in Los Angeles because most of the members of its board of directors are workers.

Studies have shown that voter participation among Korean Americans is low. Historically Korean immigrants have rarely been active in election campaigns and have seldom made financial contributions to individual candidates. Groups such as the Coalition for Korean American Voters in New York are working hard to address this problem. In just three years the coalition registered 3,000 voters and sponsored programs that educate Korean immigrants about local and national government. Its efforts include airing public service announcements on Korean American television channels, establishing a college internship program to foster community service and leadership skills in students, and joining forces with other Asian American organizations to increase Asian American involvement in government.

In Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (1989), Ronald Takaki describes the plight of a Korean immigrant named Easurk Emsen Charr, who was drafted and served in the U.S. Army during World War I. After he argued in court that as a U.S. military veteran he should be entitled to citizenship and the right to own land in California, the court ruled that the military should not have drafted him because he was Asian and therefore ineligible for U.S. citizenship. Despite such discriminatory treatment, Korean Americans were eager to volunteer for military service during World War II. Doing so gave them a chance to support the American effort to curtail Japanese imperialism. Some Korean Americans served as language teachers and translators, and 100 Korean immigrants joined the California Home Guard in Los Angeles. They also participated in Red Cross relief operations. However, the U.S. government remained somewhat suspicious of Korean immigrants, as Koreans were technically still part of the Japanese empire. In Hawaii, Korean immigrants were referred to as enemy aliens and banned from working on military bases. Today many Korean American men and women hold positions in the military.

Since Koreans first began immigrating to the United States, they have remained active in the politics of their homeland. Studies have shown that Korean Americans are generally more actively involved in the politics of Korea than in that of their new home. The lives of early Korean immigrants revolved around the Korean independence movement. In the 1960s Korean Americans staged mass demonstrations and relief efforts in response to the massacre of civilians by the South Korean dictatorship in Kwangju, the capital of South Cholla province. Today virtually every Korean American organization supports reunification of the peninsula. Groups such as the Korea Church Coalition for Peace, Justice, and Reunification were formed specifically for this purpose. Other U.S.-based organizations, including the Council for Democracy in Korea, seek to educate the public about the political affairs of Korea.


Business Kim Hyung Soon (1884–1968) immigrated to the United States in 1914 and started a small produce and nursery wholesale business in California with his friend Kim Ho. The Kim Brothers Company developed into a huge orchard, nursery, and fruit-packing shed business. Kim Hyung Soon is credited with developing new varieties of peaches known as fuzzless peaches, including Le Grand and Sun Grand. He also crossed the peach with the plum and developed the nectarine and helped establish the Korean Community Center in Los Angeles and the Korean Foundation, a fund that offers scholarships to students of Korean ancestry.

Education Margaret K. Pai (1914–) taught English at Kailua, Roosevelt, and Farrington high schools on the Hawaiian island of Oahu for many years. Her father, Do In Kwon, immigrated to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations in the early 1900s. Her mother, Hee Kyung Lee, was a picture bride and met and married her husband in Hawaii at age eighteen. After retiring, Pai wrote short Hawaiian legends, poems, and personal reminiscences including The Dreams of Two Yi-Men (1989), a vivid account of her parents' experiences as early Korean immigrants in the United States.

Elaine H. Kim (1943–) is a professor of Asian American studies and faculty assistant on the status of women at the University of California–Berkeley. Kim also served as president of the Association for Asian American Studies and founded the organizations Asian Immigrant Women Advocates and Asian Women United of California. Her publications include Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and their Social Context (2006).

Government Herbert Y. C. Choy (1916–2004) became the first Asian American to be appointed to the U.S. federal bench in 1971. Educated at the University of Hawaii and Harvard University, he practiced law in Honolulu for twenty-five years. He served as attorney general of the Territory of Hawaii in 1957 and 1958 and continued his law practice until Page 36  |  Top of ArticlePresident Richard Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Activist Grace Lyu-Volckhausen established an outreach center for women at a YWCA in Queens in the 1960s. The program offered sewing classes, after-school recreation for children, counseling for battered women, and discussion groups. She also served on the New York City Commission on the Status of Women, the Mayor's Ethnic Council, and governor Mario Cuomo's Garment Advisory Council, and was a founding board member of the Korean American League for Civil Action.

Literature Younghill Kang (1903–1972) was one of the first Korean American writers to offer a firsthand, English-language account of growing up in occupied Korea. He wrote his first novel, The Grass Roof (1931), after spending many years struggling to survive as an immigrant in San Francisco and New York. He later taught comparative literature at New York University and devoted the rest of his life to fighting racism in the United States and political oppression in his homeland.

Kim Young Ik (1920–1995) was the author of several novels and stories for children and adults. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into many languages. They include The Happy Days (1960), The Divine Gourd (1962), Love in Winter (1962), Blue in the Seed (1964), and The Wedding Shoes (1984).

Marie G. Lee (1964–) has been at the forefront of the movement to create children's literature by and about Korean Americans. Raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, she graduated from Brown University and lived in New York City. Her young-adult novel Finding My Voice (1992) won the 1993 Friends of American Writers Award. Lee's other young-adult novels include If It Hadn't Been for Yoon Jun (1993), Saying Goodbye (1994), and Necessary Roughness (1998). Her work has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times and the Asian/Pacific American Journal, as well as several anthologies. She was president of the board of directors of the Asian American Writers' Workshop and a member of PEN and the Asian American Arts Alliance.

Music Nam June Paik (1932–2006) built a worldwide reputation as a composer of electronic music and producer of avant-garde “action concerts.” He grew up in Seoul and earned a degree in aesthetics at the University of Tokyo before meeting American composer John Cage in Germany. Paik's interest in American electronic music brought him to the United States, where his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Kitchen Museum in New York City. His work also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum in Tokyo and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Among his video credits are TV Buddha (1974) and Video Fish (1975). He also produced a program called Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, which was broadcast live simultaneously in San Francisco, New York, and Paris on New Year's Day 1984 as a tribute to George Orwell's novel 1984.

Myung-Whun Chung (1953–) was born in Seoul into a family of talented musicians. He made his piano debut at age seven with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and moved with his family to the United States five years later. He studied piano at the Mannes School of Music and conducting at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He served as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; music director and principal conductor for the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Saarbrucken, Germany; principal guest conductor of the Teatro Comunale in Florence, Italy; and music director and conductor for the Opera de la Bastille, located in the legendary French prison. In 2011 he made headlines when he visited North Korea with the Seoul Philharmonic and formed an orchestra of musicians from North and South Korea.

Sports Physician and diver Sammy Lee (1920–) made a name for himself in both sports and medicine. He won the gold medal for ten-meter platform diving in the 1948 Olympic Games in London, one year after earning a medical degree from the University of Southern California School of Medicine. Lee won another gold medal in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, along with a bronze medal in three-meter springboard diving. During that time he practiced medicine in Korea as part of the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He was named Outstanding American Athlete in 1953 by the Amateur Athletic Union and inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968. He served on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1971 to 1980 and coached the U.S. diving team for the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. He also was named Outstanding American of Korean Ancestry twice—by the American Korean Society in 1967 and the League of Korean Americans in 1986. After retiring from sports, he ran a private medical practice in Orange, California.

Stage and Screen Peter Hyun (1906–1993) worked in the American theater for many years as a stage manager for Eva LeGallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre in New York, director of the New York Federal Theater Children's Theater, and organizer and director of the Studio Players in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During World War II, he served as a language specialist in the U.S. Army. After settling in Oxnard, California, he taught English to immigrant students from Asia. In 1986 he published Man Sei!: The Making of a Korean American, a personal account of growing up as the son of a leader in the Korean independence movement.

Margaret Cho (1968–), a second-generation Korean American comedian, broke numerous barriers and stereotypes with her television and film appearances. In 1994 she became the first Asian American to star in her own television show, the ABC sitcom All-American Page 37  |  Top of ArticleGirl, which centered on a Korean American family. After the show was canceled in 1995, she went on to have a successful film and television career, appearing in the popular Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva. She also authored the books I'm the One That I Want (1999) and I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight (2005).


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Korean Quarterly

This newspaper discusses the Korean American communities in the Twin Cities and other parts of the Midwest. It offers features on events in the Korean community, highlights people from first- and second-generation Korean American families, and provides Korean American–run businesses a place to advertise.

Martha Vickery, Managing Editor
P.O. Box 6789
St. Paul, Minnesota 55106
Phone: (651) 398-2325
Email: koreanquarterly@gmail.com
URL: www.koreanquarterly.org

Korean Studies

This journal addresses a broad range of topics through interdisciplinary and multicultural articles, book reviews, and scholarly essays.

Kim Min-sun, Editor
Korean Studies
Center for Korean Studies
1881 East-West Road
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
Phone: (808) 956-7041
Fax: (808) 956-2213
Email: korstudy@hawaii.edu
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/korea/pages/Publications/ks.html


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KBLA (1540 AM)

Radio Korea broadcasts around the clock, seven days a week.

David Choi
3700 Wilshire Boulevard #600
Los Angeles, California 90010
Phone: (213) 487-1300
Fax: (213) 487-7455
Email: info@radiokorea.com
URL: www.radiokorea.com

KFOX/Radio Seoul (1650 AM)

Affiliated with Korean Times and KTAN-TV, this Los Angeles-area radio station broadcasts entirely in Korean.

4525 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90010
Phone: (323) 936-0606
Fax: (323) 945-8885
URL: www.radioseoul1650.com

Korean American Radio (1400 AM)

The first and only Korean-language radio station to serve northern California and the Bay Area.

Peter Kim
1290 Kifer Road
Suite 309
Sunnyvale, California 94086
Phone: (408) 735-1400
Fax: (408) 329-6648
Email: webmaster@hanmiradio.com
URL: www.hanmiradio.com

KRB (1660 AM)

Korean Radio Broadcasting serves the New York metropolitan area.

Kristine Chang
136-56 39 Avenue
Suite 400
Flushing, New York 11354
Phone: (718) 358-9300
URL: www.nyradiokorea.com


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KBS America

The Korean Broadcasting System provides programming aimed at promoting the culture of South Korea within the United States.

Ken Lee, News, Programming, and Production Team
625 South Kingsley Drive
Los Angeles, California 90005
Phone: (213) 739-1111
Fax: (213) 739-2729
Email: info@kbs-america.com
URL: www.kbs-america.com


Media Korea TV ranks as the largest Korean American station in the United States.

Benjamin Yoo, President
140 Sylvan Avenue
Suite 304
Englewood, New Jersey 07632
Phone: (201) 363-0707
Fax: (201) 363-0404
URL: www.mediakoreatv.com


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Korean American Coalition

Founded in 1983, this organization seeks to bring together Korean communities within the United States through fundraising and educational programs. It also sponsors programs designed to educate non-Koreans about Korean culture.

Duncan Lee, Chairman
3540 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90010
Phone: (213) 365-5999

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Fax: (213) 380-7990
Email: info@kacnational.com
URL: www.kacnational.com

Korean American League for Civil Action

This nonprofit organization promotes civic participation among Korean Americans and Asian Pacific Americans.

149 West 24th Street
6th Floor
New York, New York 10011
Phone: (212) 633-2000
Email: info@kalca.org
URL: www.kalca.org

Korea Society (U.S.-Korea Society)

The Korea Society is the result of a 1993 merger of the New York–based Korea Society and the U.S.-Korea Foundation in Washington, D.C. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to strengthening the bonds of awareness, understanding, and cooperation between the United States and Korea, and among Koreans, Korean Americans, and all other Americans. The society's efforts extend to education, public policy, business, the arts, and media.

Mark C. Minton, President
950 Third Avenue
Eighth Floor
New York, New York 10022
Phone: (212) 759-7525
Fax: (212) 759-7530
Email: korea.ny@koreasociety.org
URL: www.koreasociety.org

National Association of Korean Americans

This organization of individuals of Korean descent living in the United States seeks to safeguard the human and civil rights of Korean Americans and promote friendly relations between Korean Americans and other racial and ethnic groups.

H. K. Suh, General Secretary
3883 Plaza Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
Phone: (703) 267-2388
Fax: (703) 267-2396
Email: nakausa@naka.org
URL: www.naka.org

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium

Founded in 1994, NAKASEC seeks to promote immigrant rights and to bring together Korean Americans with a common goal of social change. Based in Los Angeles, NAKASEC also has an office in Washington, D.C.

Morna Ha, Executive Director
1701 K Street NW
Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: (202) 299-9540
Fax: (202) 299-9729
Email: nakasec@nakasec.org
URL: www.nakasec.org


Many major universities have a Center for Korean Studies, including Columbia University, State University of New York–Stony Brook, University of California–Berkeley, University of Michigan, and University of Hawaii–Manoa.

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Korean American Resource and Cultural Center

The goal of this center is to empower Korean Americans through promotion of education and culture.

Sik Son, Executive Director
6146 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60569
Phone: (773) 588-9158
Fax: (773) 588-9159
Email: krcc@chicagokrcc.org
URL: www.chicagokrcc.org

Korean Cultural Center

Founded in 1980, the Korean Cultural Center offers programs that introduce Korean culture, society, history, and arts to the American public. It organizes exhibitions, lectures, symposiums, and multicultural festivals, and houses a 26,000-volume library, an art museum and gallery, and film archives and screening room. It also publishes Korean Culture Magazine.

Youngsan Kim, Director
5505 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90036
Phone: (213) 936-7141
Fax: (213) 936-5172
Email: exhibition@kccla.org
URL: www.kccla.org

Korea Economic Institute of America

Founded in 1982, this educational group includes politicians, academics, trade organizations, banks, and other Americans concerned with the Korean economy. The Institute publishes updates on economic issues in Korea.

Abraham Kim, Interim President
1800 K Street
Suite 1010
Washington, D.C 20006
Phone: (202) 464-1982
Fax: (202) 464-1987
Email: info@keia.com
URL: www.keia.com

Korean Institute of Minnesota

Founded in 1973, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving Korean language and culture. It brings together Korean American and adoptive families with a variety of classes and social opportunities for all ages.

Yoonju Park
Korean Presbyterian Church of Minnesota
5840 Humboldt Avenue
Brooklyn Center, Minnesota 55430

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Phone: (651) 324-0208
Email: kampark1@hotmail.com
URL: www.koreaninstitute.org

Korean Resource Center

The KRC was founded in 1983 with the goal of bringing together the Korean American community through education, social services, and cultural activities.

Dae Joong Yoon, Executive Director
900 South Crenshaw Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90019
Phone: (323) 937-3718
Fax: (323) 937-3526
Email: krcla@krcla.org
URL: www.krcla.org


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Kim, Ilpyong J. Korean-Americans: Past, Present, and Future. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International, 2004.

Kwak, Tae-Hwan, and Seong Hyong Lee, eds. The Korean American Community: Present and Future. Seoul: Kyungnam University Press, 1991.

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Mangiafico, Luciano. Contemporary American Immigrants: Patterns of Filipino, Korean, and Chinese Settlement in the United States. New York: Praeger, 1988.

Patterson, Wayne. The Korean Frontier in America: Immigration to Hawaii, 1896–1910. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.

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Takaki, Ronald. From the Land of Morning Calm: The Koreans in America. Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994.

———Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989.

Won Moo Hurh. The Korean Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300109