Celebrating Korean American Day: Multiple Identities for Harmonious Diversity
By Kyungmok Lee 목사님
Today we celebrate Korean American Day, commemorated annually on January 13th in the United States, marking an important observance that honors the history and contributions of Korean immigrants and their descendants. We are grateful our new Area Director for the NAPAD community, Rev. Kyeong Jung “KJ” Kim was present as our Korean brothers and sisters gathered this month, in Atlanta, from January 8th to January 11th for their yearly Korean Disciples Convocation.
Established in 2003 as part of the centennial celebration of Korean immigration to the U.S., Korean American Day represents a significant milestone that has garnered national attention and appreciation. In 2005, the U.S. Congress officially recognized January 13th as Korean American Day, affirming its importance and acknowledging the long journey of Korean Americans.
The initial wave of Korean immigrants arrived in Hawaii in 1903, seeking opportunities in sugar cane plantations. Over time, political and economic events significantly influenced the narrative of Korean immigration. The Korean War and subsequent economic hardships in the 1950s and 1960s spurred increased Korean immigration to the United States. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 further catalyzed this influx by relaxing quotas from Asia, allowing more Koreans to seek new opportunities in America. This era marked the beginning of substantial growth for the Korean community in the U.S., contributing to various professional fields and business sectors.
By the 1980s and 1990s, substantial immigration continued as Koreans pursued educational and economic opportunities, further diversifying and enriching the Korean American community. Today, Korean Americans are an integral part of the U.S. demographic, playing vital roles across a multitude of social, cultural, political, and economic arenas. Their history and ongoing contributions reflect the evolving identity and narrative of the Korean American community within America's multicultural landscape.
The identity of "Korean American" represents a unique amalgamation of racial and cultural elements, embodying a new self-understanding that transcends simple combinations of biological traits, language, and culture. It signifies the emergence of a distinctive worldview, where varied cultural elements creatively coalesce to form a unique segment within American society. Identity is dynamic and diverse, continuously reshaped by time and context. While broadly referring to those of Korean heritage living in the U.S. as Korean Americans, it's crucial to acknowledge the diversity and individuality of their experiences across different U.S. regions, challenging any simplifications or generalizations of their identity.
The notion of a pure or homogeneous identity often leads to exclusionary tendencies. In contrast, embracing the multiplicity of identity fosters flexibility, inclusivity, and creativity. It encourages individuals to engage with others who hold different thoughts and cultures, creating opportunities for mutual learning and growth. Thus, embracing diversity is a foundational step toward innovative and creative changes.
The journey that began with the migration of Korean laborers in 1903 has culminated in the rich tapestry of the Korean American identity. While their initial migration might have been a strategy for survival amid historical turmoil, it has significantly contributed to the cultural and societal richness of America. The struggle for survival and the creation of a new identity have become integral to the growth and maturation of American society. As we commemorate Korean American Day in 2024, let us honor diverse identities and foster harmony through understanding The Korean American journey exemplifies the evolving nature of community membership, emphasizing the constant need for inclusivity in our interconnected world.