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제목이은숙 리포트2019-07-26 16:52:24
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Chapter 24 Lee and Han

Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism

EunSook Lee and Hahrie Han

If we examine patterns of participation in public life among Korean Americans,

an interesting puzzle emerges. On the one hand, national surveys of Korean

Americans show that rates of naturalization, and demographic and other

factors known to be predictors of this kind of participation are relatively

low in the Korean American community. In addition, proportionately fewer

Korean Americans have held elected office relative to other Asian immigrant

populations.1 Yet, despite these demographic disparities, Korean American

participation in certain political events in the 1990s and early 2000s, such as

the 2006 immigration marches, has been relatively high.2 Why were Korean

Americans so active in events like the 2006 marches despite being more quiescent

in previous eras? To put the question more broadly, what explains the

relatively high rates of participation among particular subsets of the Korean

American community?

This chapter addresses this question by providing a descriptive account of

the role that three interrelated community-based organizationsthe National

Korean American Service &Education Consortium (NAKASEC), the Korean

American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC),3 and the Korean Resource

Center (KRC)have played in enabling the participation of particular subsets

of the Korean American community in the United States. Understanding trajectories

of civic engagement among Korean Americans is intimately tied to

an understanding of the civic and political organizations that exist to mobilize

them. Unlike most research that examines participation by looking at the

individual traits and characteristics that make it more likely someone will

participate, we focus on what organizations do to shape the way people from

all kinds of backgrounds engage with public life. We are not alone in taking

this approach. Across history, racial and ethnic groupings, and other divides,

these organizations have long played an important role in creating the conditions

that make it not only possible, but also probable that ordinary people

will take civic or political action. Previous research has attributed higher rates

1 For more detailed statistics on these topics see Janelle S. Wong et al., Asian American Political

Participation (New York City: Russell Sage Foundation, 2011), 5152.

2 Ibid., 19.

3 KRCC recently merged with Korean American Community Services to form HANA Center.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 609

of activism in events like the 2006 immigration marches to the role of mobilizing

organizations within the Korean American community.4 By helping people

develop their own sense of agency as democratic participants, cultivating the

skills people need to get involved, and creating opportunities for involvement,

these organizations play an important role in cultivating movement capabilities

among their constituencies.5 We provide a close examination of the way

three particular organizations in the Korean American community have done

so.

We focus on these three organizations for several reasons. First, the interrelationships

between these organizations allow them to combine local organizing

in areas that have dense Korean American populations with national

scale that many similar organizations lack. NAKASEC was originally based in

New York, and is now in Annandale, Virginia. KRCC operates in Chicago,

and

KRC in Los Angeles, and, recently, Orange County. Although formally distinct,

these organizations work in close partnership with each other and have sought

to cultivate activism in the Korean American community since the 1990s.

Second, these organizations are ideologically progressive organizations that

seek to engage people in direct political actionsuch as influencing legislators,

working in electoral campaigns, or advocating for particular policy outcomes.

Engaging people in this kind of political activity is generally more difficult

than engaging people in apolitical civic activity (such as volunteering for

social service organizations, participating in community clean-ups, or engaging

with charities). The 20082009 Current Population Survey, for instance,

finds that while 63.4 million people report participating in some kind of civic

activity, only a small percent of that is explicitly political. Understanding what

NAKASEC, KRCC, and KRC did to cultivate political activity, thus, allows us to

learn from a tough case; not only have they been able to get people involved,

they have been able to get people involved in the kind of action that is harder

to cultivate. What did they do? Third (and relatedly), these organizations work

in the tradition of community organizing, which is distinct from other community

based organizations in that it focuses on developing the leadership

4 Wong et al., Asian American Political Participation.

5 For example, see Alexis de Tocqueville [183540], Democracy in America (New York City:

Harper Perennial, 1969); Theda Skocpol, Diminished Democracy: From Membership to

Management in American Civic Life (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003); Ziad

Munson, The Making of Pro-life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2009); Hahrie Han, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic

Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); S.

Karthick Ramakrishnan and Irene Bloemraad, eds., Civic Hopes and Political Realities (New

York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008).

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610 Lee And Han

capacity of the constituencies it seeks to organize.6 Studying organizations

that focus so explicitly on leadership development allow us to more clearly

examine what organizations like NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC do to cultivate participation

among their members.

In focusing on these three organizations, we are drawing on the intimate

insights that one of the authors of this chapter, EunSook Lee, has as a cofounder

and former executive director of one of these organizations. Each of

these choicesto focus on a case study with national scale and certain outlier

characteristics, and to draw on first-hand knowledge of that casepresents

both methodological opportunities and limits, which we discuss later in the

chapter. For now, we begin by contextualizing this work in broader research on

civic and political participation and Korean American participation in particular.

We then discuss the specific characteristics of the organizations in our case

study, and discuss the data and methodological choices we made. Finally, the

chapter presents what we have learned from the case study itself.

Contextualizing Korean American Civic Engagement

Estimates of the precise size of the Korean American population vary. According

to the 2010 Census, there are approximately 1.7 million people of Korean

descent living in the United States. The US Department of Homeland Security

estimates that in 2012, approximately 230,000 Koreans living in the United

States were undocumented, making Koreans the seventh largest nationality

of undocumented immigrants (following Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala,

Honduras, the Philippines, and India).7 The Center for American Progress’s

AAPI Data team reports that “The Korean American population grew significantly

faster than the US average between 2000 and 2013, and Korean

Americans are much more likely to be first-generation immigrants than the US

average.” Their data shows that fully 74 percent of people of Korean descent in

the United States are foreign born. Although Korean Americans are commonly

perceived to have succeeded economically in the United States, AAPI Data tells

us that one in five children of Korean descent are living in poverty. Almost half

6 Marshall Ganz, “Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements,” in

Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, ed. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana (Cambridge,

MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2010): 509550; Mark Warren, Dry Bones Rattling:

Community Building to Revitalize American DemocracyPrinceton Studies in American Politics

(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Han, How Organizations Develop Activists.

7 Nancy Rytina and Bryan C. Baker, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population

Residing in the United States: January 2012” (PDF). DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. United

States Department of Homeland Security (accessed April 16, 2016).

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 611

of Korean Americans have limited English proficiency and one in four lack

health insurance.8

Previous scholarship has argued that many within the Korean American

community have maintained a sense that they are like permanent immigrants,

thus becoming less involved in public life than other immigrant communities.

9 In part, this is because of the history of Korean migration to the United

States. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act opened the doors for waves

of immigrants from Asia. Korean immigration itself grew from 11,200 in the

1960s to over 500,000 in 1990.10 The United States had become a refuge from

the repressive military dictatorships and police states under Syngman Rhee,

Park Chung-hee and later Chun Doo-hwan. Like other immigrants before and

since, Koreans who migrated to the United States toiled long hours, often

seven days a week, focusing on providing a better life for their children. These

first-generation parents often pushed their children to assimilate by taking on

Western names, learning English, and essentially embracing American culture.

The parents, conversely, clung to their heritage like sojourners in a foreign

land. They formed ethnic enclaves, shopped at Korean supermarkets, attended

Korean churches, and kept their social contacts within the Korean American

community. By extension, then, many of these Korean immigrants were civically

inactive; they did not enroll in English classes, attend parent-teacher

association (PTA) meetings, naturalize, or register to vote.

Indeed, survey data on patterns of civic engagement among Korean Americans

bears out these expectations. There has been limited research tracking

civic and political engagement specifically in the Korean American community.

Much of what we know about recent trends comes from the 2008 National

Asian American Survey.11 The NAAS estimates that 49 percent of Korean

Americans are registered to vote, and that 37 percent voted in the 2004 presidential

election. These rates of registration and voting are slightly below the

average for other Asian American groups. The rates of Korean Americans who

8 Center for American Progress, “AAPI Korean Factsheet”, April 2015. <https://cdn.americanprogress.

org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/AAPI-Korean-factsheet.pdf>.

9 For a further discussion of this history, see EunSook Lee, “The Political Awakening of

Korean Americans,” in Koreans in the Windy City, ed. Hyock Chun, Kwang Chung Kim and

Shin Kim (New Haven, CT: East Rock Institute, 2005), 338339.

10 While Korean immigrants may have been born in either the Democratic People’s Republic

of Korea (DPRK) or the Republic of Korea (ROK), the overwhelming majority arrived in

the United States as ROK citizens. For this reason, this chapter will focus on the impact of

ROK’s political, economic, and social situation on the Korean American community.

11 See Wong et al., Asian American Political Participation for a summary of the survey, and

details about the data that follows.

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612 Lee And Han

participate in community work (18 percent) are also slightly below the average

of other Asian Americans, but the rates at which they talk with family or

friends about politics (73 percent) or participate online (17 percent) are higher

than the average. Korean Americans are also relatively high in terms of the

rates at which they participate in civic activity: 17 percent report engaging in

some kind of secular civic activity, while 45 percent report engaging in activity

through religious organizations (49 percent report doing any kind of activity).

How do we understand these patterns in relationship to broader research

examining civic and political engagement not only among Asian American

communities, but also the general population? As we dive into the literature

on civic and political participation, it may be useful to articulate a few definitions.

First, what is civic and political participation? In their canonical study,

Verba, Schlozman, and Brady define political participation as activity that has

the intent or effect (whether directly or indirectly) of influencing government

action. Several elements of this definition are noteworthy.12 First, participation

refers to actual actions that people take, as opposed to merely holding

opinions about politics or public life. Second, it is political in that it impacts

government action. In this chapter, we broaden this definition to look not only

at political activity, but also civic activity. The word “civic” is derived from its

Latin root civis which refers to a person who was a citizen of ancient Rome.

Nowadays, “civic” is generally thought to refer to things that are part of the

public sphere. Some of those things may be explicitly political, and thus related

to government action, but others are not. Participating in a garden club, for

instance, is civic in that it is related to beautifying the community, but it is

private action taken by private citizens. Civic activity thus refers to a broader

set of activities than political activity in that it encompasses not only activity

that influences government action, but any activity that is publicly oriented.

Civic associations (or civic organizations), by extension, are the organizations,

networks, and coalitions that work in the civic sector to bring ordinary people

together. These include everything from community-based organizations like

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC, as well as garden clubs, PTAs, and explicitly political

organizations such as the Sierra Club.

What, then, do we know about the role that these kinds of civic associations

play in shaping people’s civic and political activity? Much research shows that

most people are not born with the skills and motivations necessary to be active

participants in civic and political life. For instance, the kinds of skills and motivations

people might need include having a sense of shared purpose that

12 Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism

in American Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 613

connects my own interests to those of others in my community, feeling comfortable

working with others to solve problems, having knowledge about what

those problems and potential solutions are, and so on.13 These skills and motivations

are cultivatedor notthrough the experiences people have in their

homes, schools, churches, communities, and other arenas where they may

develop the proclivities to be actively engaged in public life.14 If I have a teacher

who emphasizes civic education, grow up in a household where community

issues and current events are discussed at the dinner table, or if I attend a

church that actively encourages congregants to participate in the community,

I am more likely do so. For all these reasons, when Alexis de Tocqueville came

to observe American democracy in the 1830s, he pointed to the importance of

civic associations in making democracy work because they were, as he called

them, “great free schools of democracy.”15 Subsequent research has borne out

Tocqueville’s expectations. In their analysis of participation among Asian

Americans, Wong and colleagues find that even though many Asian Americans

do not have the individual traits and characteristics (such as higher levels of

income and education) that make participation more likely, their participation

in civic organizations such as NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC can cultivate people’s

agency and capacity for engagement, despite these demographic barriers.16

These civic organizations thus play an important role in cultivating the proclivities

people need to participate in their communities.

Beyond developing civic skills, these civic organizations also play an important

role in shaping and sustaining people’s identities as Korean Americans,

linking those identities to a broader community and the politics of that community,

and giving people the opportunities they need to act collectively.

Arguably, this work around developing individual and collective civic identities

is particularly important among constituencies of color that need to

organize collectively to exercise voice in the political system.17 As EunSook

Lee, a co-author of this chapter and co-founder of KRCC writes:

13 Ibid.

14 Wong et al., Asian American Political Participation; Frederick C. Harris, Something Within:

Religion in African-American Political Activism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001);

Janelle S. Wong, Democracy’s Promise: Immigrants and American Civic Institutions (Ann

Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006); Munson, The Making of Pro-life Activists; Doug

McAdam, “The Biographical Consequences of Activism,” American Sociological Review 54,

no. 5 (1989): 744760.

15 Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

16 Wong et al., Asian American Political Participation.

17 Taeku Lee, “Race, Immigration, and the Identity-to-Politics Link,” Annual Review of Political

Science 11 (2008): 457478.

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614 Lee And Han

To the “average” American citizen (us born, fluent in English and White),

civic participation is tame, accessible and a given right. This term and

form of action becomes more politically charged and injects new meaning

in reference to those who are dis-empowered; those with less/no

access to resources &opportunities and minimal/no representation in

social, economic and political life. Korean Americans are one of many

communities that fit this profile. Vis a vis the average American citizen,

civic participation is a fundamentally differently exercised, accessed, and

understood right for Korean Americans.18

The work of these civic organizations thus builds on a long tradition in

American democracy, from the earliest days of our nation’s history, when people

of color were not even given space to participate. The political apparatus

could have seemed more remote to many Korean immigrant communities,

because it has historically been dominated by other demographic groups. As a

result, in developing the skills and motivations for participation in public life,

civic associations like NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC are also cultivating civic identities

in their members that run counter to expectations that many Korean

Americans may have encountered in other arenas in their life. Within the

Korean American community, it appears that many people develop these civic

proclivities through involvement with their churches, but other civic associations

also play an important role.19 Thus, we look particularly at the ways these

three civic associations have done so.

Introducing Our Case Study: NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC

We seek to elucidate the way that civic associations cultivate capacities for participation

by providing a descriptive account of the way that three inter-related

civic associations in the Korean American community did their work. Why

did we choose these organizations? Within the universe of civic associations

seeking to engage Korean Americans in public life, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC

are unusual on several dimensions. First, as noted in the introduction, unlike

most community-based organizations in the Korean American community,

they integrated social services, cultural consciousness, alliance building, community

organizing, and political advocacy into one organization. A number

of organizations in the Korean American community provide social services

18 Lee, “The Political Awakening of Korean Americans,” 338.

19 Wong et al., Asian American Political Participation.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 615

or cultural support to the Korean American community, but fewer organizations

extend this work to focus explicitly on political action as well. In focusing

on political action, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC follow a tradition of other community

organizing groups outside the Korean American community.20 Many

of these organizations regard services as the frontline of meeting community

members where they are. But they do not focus on services alone. They see

service provision as a way to expose constituents to information, resources,

and ideas to help them think critically and informatively about the world

they inhabit. Further, cultural activities and events enhance the community’s

self-awareness and sense of itself as immigrants of color. In doing this work,

the organizations also use the tools of community organizing to equip constituents

with tools to become active, and harness the leadership they have

built to enact real changes in the lives and communities of their constituency.

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC are, thus, following in a larger democratic tradition of

community organizing, but are unusual within the Korean American community.

Because political action is generally thought to be a more intensive form

of activity than solely civic action, the integrated nature of civic and political

activity in NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC make them a particularly interesting case

for study.

Second, as discussed below, these were organizations led by people, including

young people and women, who were not traditional leaders within the

Korean American community. Despite this fact, they have been able to successfully

develop and grow these organizations over the past three decades. In

addition, these leaders have waged numerous political campaigns at a national

scale, engaging a wide swath of Korean Americans in activity. Learning from

what they did and how they did it, thus enables us to learn more about

what the relationship is between these kinds of civic associations and civic

participation.

In choosing to focus on organizations that are not emblematic or representative

of other civic associations in the Korean American community, we are

following in a tradition of case study research that examines outlier cases. Why

study outlier cases? Philosopher William James once noted that “moments of

extremity” are useful to understand because they help elucidate the “essence”

20 P.W. Speer et al., “Participation in Congregation-based Community Organizing: Mixedmethod

Study of Civic Engagement,” in Using Evidence to Inform Practice for Community

and Organizational Change, ed. M. Roberts-Degennaro and S.J. Fogel (Chicago, IL:

Lyceum, 2010), 200217; Warren, Dry Bones Rattling; Kristina Smock, Democracy in Action:

Community Organizing and Urban Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004);

Han, How Organizations Develop Activists; Ganz, “Leading Change.”

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616 Lee And Han

of a given phenomenon. Case study scholars have built on this idea, noting

that while outlier cases sacrifice representativeness as a goal, in-depth analyses

of outliers or extreme cases allow us to unpack complicated phenomena.21

In this case, we are trying to understand the role that civic associations have

played in cultivating skills, motivations, and identities that Korean Americans

draw upon to be active in public life. NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC are unusual in

their ability to engage Korean Americans around an ideologically progressive,

political agenda. Understanding how they did so helps us better understand

how civic associations in general can play this role. The goal of this case study

of the three organizations is, thus, not to paint a picture of a paradigmatic case

that can be generalized to understanding how other civic organizations in the

Korean American community worked. Instead, it enables us to learn more

about the role that these kinds of organization can play in cultivating civic

engagement among Korean Americans.

Finally, it is worth noting that our data is unusual because they come primarily

from the reflections of leaders within these organizations, one of whom

is an author of this chapter. In including one of subjects of our study as an

author, we are following in a tradition that is not exclusive to, but includes participatory-

action research. One of the bases of participatory-action research is

the idea that knowledge and processes of knowledge creation themselves can

represent the interests of those who already have power in society. To democratize

our understanding of how the world works, we have to include the

perspectives of those who are not elites in the process of knowledge creation

itself. As such, much participatory action research also legitimates experiential

learning and reflections as a form of knowledge.22 Although our study is not a

canonical participatory action research project, it does follow in that tradition

by including one of the co-founders and leaders of the organizations under

study as a co-author. We draw on this author’s reflections, as well as the reflections

of other leaders within the organizations to give voice to the work and

strategic choices they made in building the organizations, and to legitimate the

voices of Korean Americans who are not always privileged in academic study.

21 John Gerring, Case Study Research: Principles and Practices (New York: Cambridge University

Press, 2007); Robert Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Fifth Edition (New

York: Sage Publications, 2013).

22 Rajesh Tandon, “The Historical Roots and Cntemporary Tendencies in Participatory

Research: Implications for Practice, in Participatory Research in Health: Issues and Experiences,

ed. Korrie de Koning and Marion Martin (London: Zed Books, 1996): 1926; David

A. Kolb, Experiential Learning (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1984); Julio Cammarota

and Michelle Fine, eds., Revolutionizing Education: Youth Participatory Action

Research in Motion (New York: Routledge Publishers, 2008).

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 617

As with all methodological choices, we are aware that in making this choice,

we are making trade-offs, such as sacrificing some impartiality for in-depth

knowledge. To mitigate the impact of such biases, we treat all our analyses here

as purely descriptive, instead of making any causal claims.

A Portrait of NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC’s Work Developing Civic

Leadership and Power

The easiest way to understand the role and significance of the three organizations

in Korean Americans’ civic engagement is to examine their campaigns to

effect social and political change on behalf of their constituencies. Here, we

provide historical overviews of some of their major campaigns, beginning with

a look at the period during which the organizations were founded.

The Founding Period

The organizations in our case study, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC, were all part of

the civic infrastructure that emerged in the Korean American community in

response to the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992 and the anti-immigrant wave

that swept through American politics in the early 1990s. The early leaders of

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC recall this moment as being pivotal for Korean

Americans. Inbo Sim, former president of Young Koreans United (YKU) and a

founding board member of NAKASEC reflected: “In 1992, our organizations

[KRC and YKU] were part of the protests against the beating of Rodney King by

four Los Angeles police officers. Yet on the night of the verdict, we found ourselves

caught between the crossfire of the looters and shop owners. The next

morning, the mainstream media ignored the real problem of institutional racism

in the city and distorted these events as a racial conflict between two

differently marginalized minority communities.” At this same time, Korean

Americans were caught up in a larger attack on immigrants in America, exemplified

by the passage of Prop 187 in 1994. This attack only grew as Republicans

took control of Congress the same year, and introduced a set of harsh antiimmigrant

bills. Together, these events forced Korean Americans, and these

leaders in particular, to assess their role and responsibility in American society.

In Los Angeles, especially, these leaders sensed that Korean Americans felt like

an insular subgroup living on the margins of society, with minimal access to

political power. As a result, they had no influence to resist a disconnected

political leadership that ignored a multitude of issues, ranging from police brutality,

to unemployment, to a lack of investment in low-income communities.

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618 Lee And Han

Korean American activists met to discuss the changing political climate and

ways to rebuild the Korean American community and counter the anti-immigrant

wave sweeping the nation. Most of the activists who came together were

predominantly volunteer staff and board members of KRC, as well as members

of Young Koreans United of USA (YKU) and the Korean Alliance for Peace and

Justice of USA (KAPJ). KRC had originally been founded to work in partnership

with YKU and KAPJ. The founders of KRC, which included the late Han Bong

Yoon,23 initially formed the center to serve as a training ground for globallyminded

Korean American activists. They worked together with YKU, a national

political membership organization of young people between the ages of seventeen

to thirty-five years who pursued the mission of promoting human

rights, democracy and justice in both the United States and Korea. KAPJ was

similarly oriented, yet its members were older and key in developing strategies,

analyses, and visioning. KRC provided education, service, and cultural programs

designed to raise the consciousness of Korean Americans while YKU

identified and trained members to participate in political campaigns and other

activities. YKU grew quickly across the United States, Canada, Europe, and

Australia, involving Korean diaspora around the world in highly visible international

campaigns supporting the pro-democracy movement in Korea. The

majority of Korean American leaders at the time did not welcome the activities

and voice of YKU, which was perceived to be quite radical. Most members

were active in the face of disapproval and censure from family and friends.

YKU’s success and visible impacts also made it a target for close monitoring

and intrusion from various political factions, including those affiliated with

the South Korean and North Korean governments.24

By 1994, however, when leaders from these organizations met to discuss

rebuilding the Korean American community, the organizational landscape

had shifted. In 1992, YKU witnessed the achievement of one of its primary goals

to end military dictatorship in Korea. This significant political change, coupled

with the changing political climate in the United States led YKU leaders to

expand their strategy to address Korean American issues, not just Korea issues.

23 Known as the “Last Fugitive” for his role in the May 18th Gwangju People’s Uprising of

1980, Han Bong Yoon fled South Korea on a cargo ship and after more than 40 days, arrived

in the United States where he received political asylum. He joined other Korean and

Korean American activists to form Young Koreans United and the Korean Alliance for

Peace and Justice.

24 In 1989, YKU Chicago member TaeHoon Park was the first South Korean national arrested

for violating the National Security Law for overseas activities. In the South Korean higher

court ruling of Park on October 12, 1990, it stated: “It is a known fact that YKU is an “organization

benefiting the enemy.”

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 619

As the goals shifted, so too did the organization’s membership. More 1.5 and

second-generation Korean American activists became involved. As activism

around Korean American issues proliferated, YKU, KAPJ and affiliated centers

such as KRC determined the need for a national organization that would bring

together a set of community organizations focused on grassroots organizing,

political power, and the creation of meaningful alliances.

Thus, these leaders founded NAKASEC in 1994 and KRCC in Chicago in 1995.25

At their founding conference in September 1994, NAKASEC and its local affiliates

introduced a bold new vision focused on advancing a national, progressive,

Korean American voice on civil rights issues. There was no other organization

at that time that was committed to changing policy and building power

through base building and grassroots mobilizations and actions in the Korean

American community. These organizations were, in that sense, pioneers.

In Chicago, KRCC filled a void both with its mission to advance a social justice

agenda and its organizational makeup. The founders of KRCC were largely

high school and college students, and a few young adults in their twenties.

They were predominantly recent immigrants (1.5 generation), low income, and

Limited English Proficient. Some were undocumented, some were adoptees,

and few had any college degrees or worked in the professional sector. Women

were in central leadership and decision-making roles. Lacking political connections,

wealthy patrons, or any institutional or government funding, the

young people initially reached out to existing Korean American leaders who

were mostly male, first generation and older. With a few exceptions, Korean

American leaders in Chicago declined requests to work together, questioned

the need for such an organization, or made accusations that the young activists

were inspired or collaborating with North Korea. As a result, the young

people hustled to make KRCC possible. Whether it was through selling shoes,

repairing copiers, delivering flowers, or working in restaurants and cafes, they

pledged and donated a week’s worth of their wages so KRCC was able to place

a deposit on a two-bedroom apartment at the corner of California and Peterson

Avenue in Chicago. To purchase KRCC’s first laser printer for example, volunteers

stood at major intersections in the city’s North Side to sell flowers to

passing motorists. To cover other basic operating costs, youth collected empty

cans and bottles from nightclubs or moved furniture for extra cash. In short,

the leaders that founded KRCC were young people of color who had first-hand

experience growing up as immigrants in America.

25 For more history on the founding of these organizations, see Lee, “The Political Awakening

of Korean Americans.”

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Instead of leading efforts to empower Korean Americans by itself, YKU contributed

significant resources (from membership dues originated from

fundraising efforts conducted by members) to support the formation of

NAKASEC and KRCC, as well as the evolution of KRC.26 YKU, thus, supported the

leaders of KRCC, for example, in forming a distinctive organization. KRCC

sought to link social services, education, and culture with organizing and advocacy,

focusing on a holistic approach to improving the life of the individual and

the community, so that it could provide the kind of political leadership the

community needed but lacked in 1992. YKU offered a number of training and

leadership development resources to KRCC. Built on the notion that action

(activism) and thought are integrated parts of everyday life, it promulgated

these ideas to KRCC leaders by comprehensive training and study sessions for

KRCC volunteers on organizing models and methods, sociopolitical ideas and

philosophy, and a critical re-evaluation of Korean and international history.

This partnership helped KRCC leaders focus on the importance of developing

a personal, political and cultural identity as Korean immigrants living in the

United States. In time, while both organizations sustained a strong alliance of

mutual respect, they decided that YKU would focus on Korea-related issues,

while KRCC focused on domestic issues.27

Welfare Reform and Immigrant Rights Organizing

After winning control of Congress during the 1994 elections, the Republicanled

House introduced a series of anti-immigrant proposals. In response,

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC co-initiated a campaign called Justice for Immigrants

in the summer of 1995. This campaign aimed to counter the emerging public

narrative that immigrants were the cause of all social ills, from unemployment,

to crime, to the devolution of American cultural values.

Justice for Immigrants succeeded in placing two full-page advertisements

in the Washington Post, seeking to prominently challenge anti-immigrant

26 There are nuanced differences by former YKU leaders on how this strategy was implemented

and how intentional the outcomes were. Deeper exploration and analysis of YKU

and its relationship with the sister organizations it had spawned however is beyond the

scope of this chapter.

27 YKU leaders argue that the relationship between YKU and the Korean American organizations

it spawned has become symbiotic over time. As much as YKU was integral to NAKASEC,

KRC, and KRCC, so too were these groups to the transformation of YKU after 1992. YKU

and KAPJ officially dissolved in 2008. The two organizations made an inimitable contribution

to modern Korean American activism, which deserves separate study and analysis at

another time.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 621

arguments

and calling on Congress and the president to oppose anti-immigrant

proposals. The success of their organizing drive during the campaign led

organizers to double their original fundraising goal, raising over $55,000 from

over 300 organizations and thousands of individuals from Boston, Chicago,

Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Madison, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix,

and Washington,

DC, among other cities to pay for the advertisement. This

campaign also provided a mechanism through which NAKASEC and its affiliates

could educate the Korean American community about the impact of

welfare and immigration reform policies. The Korean American community

mobilized and sent thousands of letters to elected officials and participated in

grassroots action campaigns. In this way, the Korean Americans who participated

learned, firsthand, about the policy-making process and the difference

that grassroots activism could make in the process. For many, it was their first

time participating in politics in this way.28

More importantly, NAKASEC and its affiliates felt that Justice for Immigrants

helped build the profile and capacity of the organization.29 This campaign

was also the first time a (newly formed) Korean American organization led a

national immigrant rights campaign that was able to engage tens of thousands

of individuals from diverse communities and sectors throughout the country.

While mainstream immigrant rights advocates were initially skeptical of an

unknown and new organization leading a campaign such as this, NAKASEC

leaders found local community-based immigrant organizations to be both

curious about the novel approach and excited about a strategy designed to

enable immigrants to gain agency and tell their own stories. Organizers in

local communities used all available resources to raise the money they needed.

In Chicago alone, thousands of Korean Americans gave a dollar or more in

donation boxes at churches and supermarkets. English as a second language

students at the Erie Neighborhood House, a social service center serving the

Latino community, took up collections during their night classes. The Polish

Daily News urged its readers to mail in checks, and KRCC received a flood of

checks averaging $5 and $10 in small white envelopes from Polish Americans.

To recognize the diverse base of support, press events were in English, Korean,

Spanish, Chinese and Polish, and included representatives from women, labor,

and African American communities.

NAKASEC and its affiliates were thus able to build on this newfound capacity

in the fight for welfare reform. These groups continued to work together over a

28 For more detail on the campaign, see Lee, “The Political Awakening of Korean Americans.”

29 During the early years, NAKASEC maintained affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.

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622 Lee And Han

two-year period as several versions of welfare reform were passed in Congress.

Each time, NAKASEC and its affiliates responded with actions that included

petitions, fax writing drives, rallies, marches, and, at one point, a five-day hunger

strike in Los Angeles. In July 1996, President Clinton announced that he

would sign the third version of a welfare reform bill that Congress had passed.

After successfully pushing for two vetoes of previous bills, Korean American

activists around the country were devastated by the news. Through meetings

and conversations with impacted and active community members as well as

leaders of ally organizations in multiple cities, Korean American organizers

decided that immigrant communities could not back down without a final

fight. Within days, NAKASEC and its affiliates mounted a mass national letter

writing drive, building on the organizational and leadership capacity they had

built in the previous two years.30 In just two weeks, 17,000 letters from Korean

Americans as far away as Alaska were shipped to Washington, DC and hand

delivered to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) leadership. KRC also

participated in protests against the Republican National Committee (RNC) in

San Diego while KRCC hand delivered an organizational sign on letter to the

RNC offices in Chicago.31 All this work helped build the constituency and organizational

profile of these organizations.32

Integrating Electoral and Civic Organizing to Build Governing Power

While organizing around welfare reform, NAKASEC and its affiliates also sought

to carry out an ambitious voter education campaign in 1996. Dubbed “Project

Participate,” this campaign focused on transitioning Korean Americans who

had been newly activated through immigrant rights fights to become electorally

engaged for the first time during the 1996 presidential elections. Project

30 In the early years NAKASEC and its affiliates emphasized activities that allowed Korean

immigrants to communicate through letters and postcards because the majority of the

population were Limited English Proficient. As time progressed, the community’s “organizing

and movement vocabulary” developed. As well, political norms had changed.

These days, immigrants are less deterred from speaking out or making phone calls

because of the level of their English-speaking skills.

31 Recognizing that the 1996 Presidential Elections was months away, NAKASEC focused its

attention to reaching the major political parties.

32 In late August, days before President Clinton was scheduled to sign the welfare reform

bill, NAKASEC received a surprise phone call from Donna Shalala, then US Secretary of

Health and Human Services. She acknowledged the concerns of the Korean American

community and said the administration would take steps in the future to improve certain

provisions after the welfare reform law was enacted. Having not had the type of influence

or contact with the Clinton administration as other national advocacy and organizing

groups, this direct outreach to the Korean American community through NAKASEC signaled

the impact of the organization’s activities.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 623

Participate included a broad range of activities, such as voter registration

drives, election hotlines, “How to Vote” seminars, interpretation at key polling

sites, and the Asian Pacific American exit poll. NAKASEC also published the

Guide to 1996 Elections a non-partisan Korean language guide explaining the

federal electoral process, highlighting key election issues, and emphasizing the

importance of Korean American political participation within the context of

the voting rights achieved through the Civil Rights Movement. NAKASEC and

its affiliates worked with the Korea Times of USA, the largest Korean daily newspaper,

to nationally distribute 50,000 copies.

NAKASEC and its affiliates have since further developed their capacity and

expanded their scope and scale in the areas of voter education and electoral

engagement, reaching out to young English speakers and older, first generation,

Limited English Proficient seniors. Recognizing that the constituency

they seek to engage are generally first-time voters, the organizations typically

manage comprehensive, culturally sensitive, bilingual voter registration, contact,

and outreach activities. Their leaders perceive that this work has made a

noticeable impact. For example, the registration rate for Korean Americans in

Southern California, one of their main areas of organizing, more than doubled

from 35 percent in 2000 to 73 percent in 2011.33 Through this integration of nonpartisan

electoral work with robust, year-round civic engagement, these

organizations seek to build a stronger, informed Korean American voice that

can impact policy decisions in a meaningful way.

Consistent with other civic associations focused on community organizing,

NAKASEC, KRCC, and KRC worked throughout these campaigns to develop

leaders from the Korean American community who could organize their own

campaigns. As previous research has shown, community organizing works by

identifying and developing leaders, building community around those leaders,

then leveraging that community to advocate for the interests of that community

in the public sphere.34 NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC did just that. In engaging

Korean Americans in activism around welfare reform, immigrant rights, or the

elections, they sought to engage people in ways that would continually build

their long-term motivations, identities, and skills. As such, these organizations

were beginning

to develop a cadre of leaders who had political experience,

and could leverage that experience to think strategically about different forms

of political advocacy. Those strategic capacities became evident in subsequent

campaigns, detailed below.

33 Other areas for increased civic engagement and organizing currently are Illinois and Virginia.

34 Ganz, “Leading Change.”

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The Restoration of SSI

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC continued their fight for just social policies after Bill

Clinton won a second term as president in November 1996. He had made a

campaign pledge to rescind the discriminatory and unfair immigrant provisions

of the welfare reform bill he had signed into law in 1996. These provisions

had a particular impact on seniors within the Korean American community.

The 1996 Current Population Survey found that one out of five Korean

Americans over the age of 65 were living in poverty and close to half relied

on public assistance, particularly Supplemental Security Income (SSI).35 The

1996 welfare reform law included a provision denying this assistance to many

legal permanent residents. In protest, NAKASEC and its affiliates launched the

National Telegram Campaign to Restore Immigrant Benefits in December of

1996. Working with local and national allies, they collected pledges and funds

to coordinate the sending of 2,600 individual telegrams to President Clinton

on Inauguration Day, January 19, 1997 with the clear message: “Keep your

promise to immigrants.” A few months later in May, President Clinton negotiated

a budget bill with Congress that restored SSI benefits to certain groups of

immigrants.

Post-Welfare Reform Immigrant Rights Organizing

Buoyed up by their success, newly engaged senior activists wanted to continue

their efforts and address other parts of welfare reform. In 1998, NAKASEC, KRC,

and KRCC joined immigrant rights organizations across the country in working

to restore food stamps to low income legal immigrants. These organizations

collected more than 5,000 paper plates with mostly hand-written messages

under the theme “Our Plates Are Empty.” Each day, seniors arrived at KRC and

KRCC doors with signed paper plates that they had gathered at the adult day

care center, medical centers, or bus stops, among other sites. Six months later,

on June 24, when President Bill Clinton signed the Agricultural Research Bill

restoring food stamps to low income legal immigrants, the White House invited

NAKASEC to attend the signing ceremony. The restoration of food stamps represented

a significant victory for immigrant communities and an indicator of

the political maturation of the Korean American community. Unlike SSI, the

Korean American community is less dependent on food stamps. Nonetheless,

immigrant Korean Americans, particularly seniors, had become more cognizant

of their potential to influence policy and the alignment between their

issue priorities and those of other immigrant and low-income communities.

When asked why she participated, senior leader Hwang Jin Sean said, “We are

all minorities and we have to support each other.”

35 SSI is a cash benefit program for low-income disabled or elderly Americans.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 625

The victories over SSI and food stamp restoration furthered what leaders

of NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC identified as the political awakening and education

of Korean Americans. The impact of this awakening became evident in

subsequent years. In this time period, the tide was changing for immigrants.

For the next two years, leading up to the 2000 Presidential Elections, NAKASEC,

KRC, and KRCC shifted its posture from continually defending and protecting

the rights of immigrants to promoting a bolder immigrant rights agenda. For

example, the Fix ’96 lobby day and rally brought close to 130 Korean American

seniors from across the country to testify and meet with lawmakers on the need

to “right the wrongs” of the 1996 immigration and welfare reform laws. In 2000,

the Full Participation of Immigrants campaign coordinated a series of activities

with policy goals that included the legalization of undocumented immigrants,

restoration of 245(i),36 and repeal of employer sanctions. The campaign

sent over 30,000 letters demanding that these policies become adopted into

major political party platforms to the DNC and RNC that summer. Democratic

Presidential candidate Al Gore subsequently endorsed legalization policies

during his campaign that fall.

Heading into the twenty-first century, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC continued

to explore new tactics, building on the strategic capacities it had developed,

and identifying strategies that focused on broader consciousness-raising and

expanded the issues to tackle. In a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in 2005,

a conservative Congress passed HR4437, a bill that, among other provisions,

criminalized undocumented immigrants and many who came into contact

with them. Protests, marches, and rallies erupted in major US cities including

Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York throughout the

first half of 2006. NAKASEC and its affiliates, along with many of their allies,

mobilized community members to march. In Los Angeles, NAKASEC and KRC

were part of the organizing core for local events, including a May Day march,

and the inclusion of a Korean percussion troupe in these marches, creating

a loud and visible Korean presence. In addition, NAKASEC and its affiliates

organized impacted Korean Americans as spokespeople in cities where they

were based, including Chicago and New York. These historic marches precipitated

various policy responses, such as the introduction of a bill in the Senate

(S.2611) to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented

immigrants. Perhaps more importantly for organizations like NAKASEC, KRC,

and KRCC, however, the marches politicized a new generation of immigrants,

including undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants became

more willing to come out of the shadows and assert their rights and contributions

to American society.

36 A provision allowing eligible immigrant to become Legal Permanent Residents without

leaving the country and thus avoid the three and ten-year bar for re-entry.

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As the historic immigration marches of 2006 put the issue of immigration

reform at the forefront of the national agenda, a need to humanize the

immigration debate became clear. In early June of 2007, NAKASEC, along with

Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Los Angeles County Federation

of Labor, Courage Campaign, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, launched

Dreams Across America. Over a hundred “Dreamers” new immigrants, children

of immigrants, Native Americans, working mothers, white entrepreneurs,

Asian Americans, Latinos, and African Americanstraveled by train from

various cities across the country to Washington DC. Asian American Dreamers

included Andrew Jung, a young Korean American from Toledo left to be raised

by his neighbors after his parents were deported, Cambodian American Many

Uch, fighting against possible deportation and separation from his family,

and Hee Pok Kim, otherwise known as Grandma Kim, who drew her determination

to “fight for those who go unnoticed” from the imprisonment her

parents endured as freedom fighters during the Independence Movement in

Korea. This media-focused campaign shared personal stories to communicate

the idea that whether they had migrated across states or across continents,

they were all Dreamers in search of a better life. The tour sought to break new

ground in reshaping the public narrative on immigrants and the Dreamer stories

conveyed the urgency for change to US immigration laws. In addition, the

Dreamers held key legislative meetings and spoke at rallies and press events,

generating over 500 media hits.

In the summer of 2008, NAKASEC, the Northwest Federation of Community

Organizations (now Alliance for a Just Society), and the Center for Community

Change launched an ambitious initiative to re-authorize and expand the State

Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to include immigrant children.

The America’s Future Starts with Healthy Children Campaign executed a number

of press events and mobilizations, including the delivery of petitions to

all major Presidential candidates in the fall. These actions culminated in a

well-publicized national children’s art exhibit in Washington, D.C., timed to

coincide with both the 2009 Inauguration Day events, and the Senate’s consideration

of the bill. In total, public school classrooms, after school programs,

and community groups in twenty-three states submitted 400 art pieces. The

exhibit displayed sixty-two of the drawings received at Union Station and the

Rayburn House Office Building, two high-traffic areas and represented another

unique method for communicating the importance of health care for all children

to the general public. The artwork was also available to view online and to

the media, with a special press conference organized by then Senate Majority

Leader Harry Reid. On February 4, 2009, President Obama signed a bill authorizing

the expansion and re-authorization of SCHIP, and NAKASEC was one of

several community organizations

in attendance.

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 627

In Southern California, KRC also undertook a campaign to provide bilingual

information to Limited English Proficient Medi-Cal recipients in Los Angeles

County. Like other campaigns, this campaign enabled the organization to

build up their senior organizing and empowerment goals. Until then, too many

seniors were seeking translation for all types of basic correspondence. Some

even lost their benefits for being unable to respond to requests for basic information

by set deadlines. The Community Health Promoters (CHP), a senior

organizing group formed by KRC led the mobilization and advocacy campaign.

After three years of activities that included a town hall with 250 monolingual

seniors, thousands of petitions, and countless legislative visits, LA County

Department of Public Services agreed to send monolingual Medi-Cal recipients

information in Korean and English. As with all its other work, NAKASEC,

KRC, and the KRCC defined success not only based on whether they were able

to win policy changes or specific benefits for their constituencies. They also

defined success based on the extent to which they were able to fight for and

enact those changes in ways that built the individual and collective capacity of

Korean Americans. This strategy of organizing in ways that not only won visible

change in the world but also built capacity is central throughout the

ongoing work of these organizations.

Affordable Housing for Seniors

The lack of affordable housing in California continues to contribute to poverty,

negative health outcomes, and rising homelessness among immigrant

communities. Many low-income seniors in the Korean American community

recount stories of waiting seven to ten years to move into affordable senior

apartments. In Koreatown, Los Angeles, for instance, more than 60 percent of

residents are renters and over half of all elderly renters pay 65 percent of their

income for housing. Further, there are now “closed” waiting lists in many units

with overwhelming backlogs.

To address the affordable housing needs for low-income seniors, KRC

reached out to the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation

(LTSC) in 2006 to construct an affordable senior housing apartment

on its premises. As soon as a partnership was developed, the Wilshire Park

Association (WPA), the neighborhood homeowners group organized in opposition

to the project. In response, KRC led a deep canvassing effort, wherein

organizers and senior volunteers conducted in-home visits to the majority of

residents in the surrounding area, and led presentations and meetings with

WPA members.

Sustained direct contacts with residents in the WPA seemed to make the difference

from the perspective of KRC leaders. When KRC stood in front of the LA

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City Planning Commission seeking approval for the senior apartments, the

WPA president was one of many who came to testify her unequivocal support.

The project was thus unanimously endorsed. In 2015, a groundbreaking ceremony

was held for the construction of two new affordable senior housing

complexes in Koreatown, opened its doors in September 2016. In addition to

providing quality housing for low-income seniors, these buildings enable KRC

to offer expanded services and educational programs, as well as opportunities

for residents to become civically active.

During the two-month open application period in early 2016, KRC received

4,000 applications for the sixty-seven units. This figure underscores the serious

and continued need for affordable housing in the city. This fact is not lost on

the senior activists who are now leading the charge for increased funding to

affordable housing. Low-income seniors have thus transitioned from being

passive applicants on a waiting list to individuals that are informed about

housing policies and processes, and actively educating and organizing their

peers. Most recently, senior members gathered 5,000 individual petitions to

introduce a permanent source of public funds for affordable senior housing. As

such, these organizations are enabling those who are directly impacted to lead

these campaigns, and in doing so, communities are being transformed.

The Campaign to Support Immigrant Rights Today

When the 2008 elections ushered in new leadership in the White House and

Congress, reformers thought this was the moment for comprehensive immigration

reform. As immigrant rights groups increased the intensity of their

activities, Congress also became more polarized, particularly after the turnover

of Congress to Republican control in 2010. By 2014, the pressure within the

immigrant rights community mounted as it became apparent that any possibility

for policy change before the 2016 presidential election was near to none.

At that time, NAKASEC joined a coalition of organizations to put the immigration

issue back into the national spotlight through the Fast for Families

campaign.

NAKASEC’s executive director DJ Yoon was one of the core fasters,

along with SEIU’s Eliseo Medina, Mi Familia Vota’s Christian Avila and

Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper. Fasting for twenty-two days in a tent on the

National Mall in Washington DC, the four fasters sought to uplift the suffering

of the millions of families being separated by inhumane immigration policies.

Over 500 organizations across the country also took part in 24-hour solidarity

fasts and hosted conversations about immigration reform.

During Fast for Families, more than fifty members of Congress, Senators,

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph

Biden, and five Cabinet Secretaries visited the tent. During these meetings,

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Engaging Korean Americans in Civic Activism 629

leaders educated the elected officials about deportations, family separations,

and other negative impacts of the current broken immigration system. Through

these actions, NAKASEC worked with others to take an ancient practice of protest

and make it relevant and impactful in the modern era. While immigration

reform is still in the works, Fast For Families tried to jettison the issue back onto

the national stage.

Throughout the immigration reform debate, NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC were

able to build on the leadership they had developed through the years. Some of

these leaders include Ju Hong, a young leader recognized for standing up to

President Obama for not making progress on immigration reform, Sang Hyug

Jung, an undocumented father who travelled to Washington DC to participate

in the Fast for Families, and CHP, the group of low-income, limited English proficient

senior citizens who have fought on issues such as language rights, health

care and affordable senior housing through the years.

NAKASEC, KRC, and KRCC believe that it is this consistent organizing model

of building the leadership and trust of directly impacted and often marginalized

community members that contributed to the implementation of the

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Since DACA’s introduction

in 2012 to the end of 2014, the three organizations received more than

13,000 calls and office visits, carried out over 4,300 one-on-one consultations,

and processed more than 1,500 DACA applications. KRC specifically has become

a hub for processing the largest number of Asian American DACA applications

of any group in the nation. By June 2014, South Korea ranked in the top fifth of

countries of origin for DACA applicants.

Conclusion

The 1990s and early 2000s saw a rise in the active participation of Korean

Americans in the grassroots social justice movement due to several factors.

A seminal moment in modern Korean American history was the 1992 LA Civil

Unrest. For some Korean Americans, it pulled them out of their reverie to the

realization that they must become informed and responsible to the community

around them. Myung Shim Lee is one such person. She owned a clothing

store on Slauson Avenue, less than a mile from the corner of Florence and

Normandie where crowds first gathered on April 29. One of many who lost

their businesses and eventually foreclosed on their homes, she recalls the tremendous

assistance she received from her neighbors and those around her.

She participated in community dialogues following the unrest and realized

how little she knew about the African American community. This experience

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is why she and other Korean Americans store owners made a contribution to

the local community for the first time, why her daughter became a public

school teacher in Watts, and why she is now a senior activist today.

Compounding the impact of the civil unrest in Los Angeles was the antiimmigrant

legislative wave that vilified immigrants and challenged their

access to rights and benefits in America in 1994. Moreover, Korea’s election of

its first civilian president in the early 1990s led many Korean American activists

at that time to begin directing their attention to pressing domestic issues. All

these factors created a sense of urgency and need within the Korean American

community, as it became clear that they needed to develop their own political

voice. This urgency led to the development of a civic infrastructure that could

help cultivate the capacities of the Korean American constituency. Existing

groups like YKU and community organizations such as KRC in Los Angeles provided

crucial leadership, resources, and incubation of these early groups. Yet

the political climate of the early 1990s demanded that the Korean American

community expand its existing civic infrastructure to transform itself into

civically engaged and active participants of American society. It was in this

moment that organizations like NAKASEC and KRCC emerged and organizations

such as KRC redirected their purpose. In this way, the Korean American

community came together to establish a progressive Korean American voice at

the national level.

The civic participation of Korean American has taken on new dimensions

today with the visible organizing and leadership of seniors, undocumented

high school and college students, and most recently, adoptees. This multigenerational

activism challenges the outdated stereotype of Asian Americans as

self-absorbed, passive, and conservative. The three organizations of NAKASEC,

KRC, and KRCC have evolved in the past two decades from expanding their

work beyond immigrant rights to address broad civil rights issues and by

increasing the depth and scale of their electoral campaigns beyond short term

voter registration drives or the mailing of voter guides. The imperative before

them, like all organizations that are no longer volunteer-run and operating

with donated office supplies, is how to remain rooted in community as they

expand their operations and capacity. Today, the three organizations are clear

that those most directly impacted must remain the leaders in the community

as they strive to embed an enduring culture of community activism and civic

engagement.

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