The Korean American Community
with Abraham Kim of the Council of Korean Americans
Korean Americans, similar to other AAPI groups, are recent immigrants who came to the United States in large numbers after 1965.
Abraham Kim, Executive Director of the Council of Korean Americans, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the challenges this population faces and their impact on art, culture, and technology in the U.S.
April 30, 2021
Anderson: Korean pop music, also known as K-Pop, is a musical and cultural phenomenon. From bright and colorful costumes to perfectly choreographed dance moves, there's no other genre quite like it. Although Korean culture has grown globally, there are still misconceptions, though, about who they are in this country. Hello. And welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Korean-Americans, like other AAPI groups, are recent immigrants. They came in large numbers to the United States after 1965. And today, the Korean-American experience shows patterns of promise as well as paradoxes of uncertainty. Abraham Kim is the executive director of the Council of Korean Americans, and he joins me to talk about the Korean-American experience. And, Abraham, thanks for being here.
Kim: Nice to be here. Thank you.
Anderson: So I know one of the big focuses of the council is this whole issue of identity. And it seems like there are a lot of misconceptions by the greater public in the United States about exactly who Korean-Americans are. What is going on, and what are some of the things that you face?
Kim: Well, first of all, the challenges that we face is that the Korean-American immigration history has been -- is over 100 years. And so, Korean-Americans have not only immigrated here many decades ago, but many Korean-Americans have been born here in the United States. So we are -- Many of us are Americans. But oftentimes, we are faced with the assumption that, when they see an Asian face, that we're foreigners or we don't speak English very well. So this notion of this perpetual foreigner that we face oftentimes, and that is a challenge because many of us are -- want to be recognized as Americans. We are Americans. We vote. And we also are actively engaged in the promotion of a better society in the United States. And so, I think there is a challenge on that front of not being -- feeling like we're Americans. And so, there are obviously Koreans who have recently immigrated and they are foreigners and they're here as either students or they've immigrated recently or they have a job here and they are of Korean citizenship. But there's a large part of Korean-Americans that are Americans. And so, that's some of the challenges that we face. And the Korean-American community, the Korean community in general, is very diverse, of course, with different types of history when they came to the United States. So that's one of the challenges that we face.
Anderson: As part of painting this picture of identity, I know the council has put together some pretty fascinating data. And it is part of a report that shows that there's a lot of disparity within the community itself. For example, despite being highly educated, Korean-Americans face some pretty severe economic inequality and some pretty severe wealth disparity. Explain some of those findings and why these things are happening.
Kim: Sure. One of the challenges that Korean-Americans face is that, as you mentioned, we're very highly educated as a group. Over 56% have received their B.A.'s. But the challenge that many Korean-Americans face, even though they are educated, they become professionals, but their income mobility is somewhat limited. If you look at some of our data that we pull together, Korean-Americans in general at each educational level actually receive 5% to 10% less than the national average of each of those educational levels. And so, the question is why? Why do these professionals not have the income mobility as other -- as a general average of the United States, U.S. citizens? And part of that may have to do with what we call bamboo ceiling, which is a limited opportunity for professional growth into senior management levels. And so, those are some of the questions that we ask and we look into. And there's also -- Part of our data is not only are they very successful and highly educated people, but there's a huge population of Korean-Americans that are close to the poverty level, and many of them are often older in age, and they don't have necessary or proper health insurance coverages and things like that. And so, what's interesting is is that there's a huge wealth disparity within our community and much more than the national average in the United States.
Anderson: And I think it is safe to say that Korean-Americans are a proud people. They're very proud of their culture. What does that look like, though, when it comes to interaction within the community at large between first-generation Korean-Americans and second?
Kim: Well, that's an interesting dynamic, because first-generation communities are traditionally Korean-speaking, and many of them have recently come to the United States or perhaps came as an adult. And so, a lot of their perceptions about the world and about the United States were shaped as they came in as an adult. And they're interested in Korea. While the second generation of people that you mentioned are Korean-Americans that have been born here in the United States. So all they know is the United States. They grew up speaking English. They obviously grew up in an immigrant family, but their exposure to Korea is really through their Korean-American parents. And so, there's a bit of, sometimes, language and culture gaps between these two communities, and their perception of the importance of the United States, for example, is different. And many of these second generation see themselves as Americans. And they're here, and they care about America.
Anderson: So, you know, despite what we've talked about, whether it's disparity, diversity, the fact remains that Korean-Americans have had a huge impact on the world and, of course, the United States, when it comes to art and culture and technology. What do you attribute that to?
Kim: Well, part of that is, really, I would say the resilience and the sacrifice and just the grit of the Korean-American people. And Korea, historically, have gone through a number of periods of ups and downs and crises and so forth. And despite all that, the people have survived. And that's been passed on from generation to generation. And so, this innovation and this grit and this willingness to sacrifice all to survive and promote the community is an important part of our history and our culture. And so, that has been passed on to our immigrants who lived here in the United States and who came here not knowing the language and became entrepreneurs, but also that flourished back in Korea and developed companies like you've mentioned, like Samsung and all of these K-pop things. These are really part of Korea's innovation, grit, trying to be world class in everything that we do.
Anderson: And, Abraham, if people want to find out more about the Council of Korean Americans, where should they go? What's your website?
Kim: So our website is councilka.org. That's councilka.org.
Anderson: Abraham Kim, thank you so much for being here.
Kim: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.