Korean Americans, like many other Asian Americans, are recent immigrants to the United States, emigrating in large numbers after 1965. As first and second generation Americans, many still have close ties with their homeland, where family and friends still reside. A discussion with Sam Yoon, Executive Director of the Council of Korean Americans
on the Korean American community, including their ties to both North and South Korea.
Traynham: Close to 2 million Korean Americans live in the United States today, with nearly 62% foreign-born. This is a population that retains a strong tie to their homeland and the family and friends left behind. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me to discuss the concern that the Korean-American population has about the state of affairs in the Korean peninsula is Sam Yoon, Executive Director of the Council of Korean Americans. Sam, welcome to the program.
Yoon: Thanks for being here.
Traynham: It seems that -- and pardon me if this is not the question to ask -- that there is a very, very strong tie between Korean Americans and the peninsula, and their homeland. Is that not correct?
Yoon: That is true. That is true.
Traynham: Why is that the case?
Yoon: Well, we´re recent immigrants, so like a lot of Asian Americans, particularly -- not Chinese or Japanese, who had a little bit longer history, but after 1965, the floodgates were opened for immigration to this country, and Koreans, Vietnamese -- especially because Korea, at the time -- South Korea -- was a developing country -- there was a huge incentive to immigrate to the United States given the opportunities around that -- education and jobs and the economy. So, we´re recent immigrants. That means one generation, our lives -- we lived there, we studied there -- it´s really part of us.
Traynham: Sam, is it also safe to assume, based on what you just said, that a lot of immigrants -- Korean immigrants -- to this country, quite frankly, have maybe first-, second-generation cousins and siblings and so forth, that are still very much a part of the peninsula?
Yoon: Absolutely. You ask Korean Americans, and they´ll all say they now have friends and family who are there, and, in fact -- interesting fact -- a lot of Korean Americans will say they have relatives in North Korea.
Yoon: Maybe a generation away, but direct relatives who were born and raised in North Korea, maybe escaped to the South during the Korean War, and... But others who are still left behind, and that´s kind of the pain of the division of North and South that Korean Americans still feel today.
Traynham: You mentioned North Korea. Let´s talk about that. As we know, Kim Jong-un is the ruler of North Korea. There are a lot of people out there -- I´m somewhat, perhaps, maybe prejudiced a little bit here -- think that North Korea is a bad actor, if you will, on the national stage. It´s a part of our foreign policy in terms of the engagement, or lack thereof, in that part of the world. Is that fair to say, "A," and then, "B," how do we raise the awareness about North Korea?
Yoon: Well, certainly, North Korea has one of the worst human-rights records of any country. They are the most isolated country on the planet, and that´s by their own design. And, so... And they have nuclear weapons that can reach the United States. And so, these tensions are part of the pain of Korean Americans as they think about their ancestry and their homeland. So, the issue with kind of thinking of North Korea as an evil empire -- you know, you can say that, but practically speaking, if there´s going to be peace there, we have to engage. Engagement is part of diplomacy. It´s part of talking. It´s part of understanding how that society works and thinks so that you can sit across from the table and negotiate peace or a way forward.
Traynham: Sam, in the about 45 seconds we have left, I want to transition to racial reconciliation. When we talk about this, oftentimes, we talk about black-white relations, if you will, but I think it´s much more deeper than that, and if so, walk me through specifically what you´re working on.
Yoon: Yeah, so, you know, in a lot of cities, Koreans are merchants, in the inner cities in particular. And so, as an organization, we´ve come across situations where Korean merchants and actually African-American community -- the African-American community and their customers -- where there´s been tensions. And, you know, our job, we feel, is to educate all Americans about what our history is, but also to get our community to learn about the history of other communities. And so, when we down, for example, to Charlotte, North Carolina, and discussed kind of an ugly incident that happened there, we talked about what the L.A. Riots meant to us and the kind of suffering of Korean merchants, but we also learned about the Civil Rights struggle and how we benefited from that. So, that kind of dialogue, I think, is really important in the America that we live in now.
Traynham: Sam, to learn about the Council of Korean Americans, what website can they go to?
Yoon: It´s www.councilka -- C-o-u-n-c-i-l-K-A -- .org.
Traynham: Sam Yoon, the Executive Director of the Council of Korean Americans. Thank you very much for joining us.
Yoon: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Robert Traynham. Have a great day.