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‘Riding the Wave: A Summit on Envisioning a Korean Studies Institute’

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“As a model, comprehensive University, Cal State Fullerton has a long affiliation with the Korean community,” said Danny Kim, vice president for administration and chief financial officer, in his opening remarks at the Dec. 4 conference, “Riding the Wave: A Summit on Envisioning a Korean Studies Institute.”

Ambassador Hyun-myung Kim, consul general of the Republic of Korea in Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Young Kim also welcomed the crowd.

About 100 individuals from the Korean community, elected officials, dignitaries, faculty members, staff and administrators gathered to discuss ideas for a potential Korean Studies Institute on campus.  

“How has Korea transformed?” asked Edward Chang, the keynote speaker and founding director of Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at UC Riverside. “Over the past 50 years, there have been significant changes. Keep in mind, that Korea is surrounded by super powers: Russia, China, Japan … and there is a large American military presence in South Korea.”

When Chang left Korea at age 18, he left an impoverished country. Today, Korea is the 10th largest economy in the world. Names such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai have helped establish the country as a high-tech giant.

“The South Korea of today is a democracy. Since the war, South Korea has transformed,” said Chang. “Most of the population used to live in rural areas. … Now about 70 percent of the population is in urban centers.

“Education is the source of Korea’s economic development,” he continued. “The people are changed by this.”

“Korean Americans, nationwide, number 1.7 million, based on the 2010 census data,” said Daniel Ichinose, project director of the Demographic Research Project for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the nation’s largest Asian American civil rights group. “Based on this same data, the Korean American population grew more between 2000 and 2010 than in any previous decade, adding 478,000 to the number of Korean Americans.”

And where do they settle? Primarily in California, home to more than 375,000 Korean Americans. Southern California dominates these figures — 230,876 in Los Angeles and 93,710 in Orange County, Ichinose said.

“Yet because of the ‘model minority’ status of Asians, many are unaware that 13 percent of Korean Americans live below the poverty line,” said Ichinose. “What’s worse is 21 percent of Korean American seniors live below the poverty line — the largest number of any Asian American ethnic group.”

Other figures indicate that one in three Korean American households are linguistically isolated and more than one in five Korean Americans are uninsured.

“This is a community of contrasts,” Ichinose said. “While there is an increase in geographic dispersion, Southern California remains the epicenter. We have to be aware, however, of the ongoing and often invisible needs of this community.”

Eliza Noh, program coordinator and associate professor of Asian American studies at CSUF, moderated a panel that focused on Korean scholarly activities at Cal State Fullerton. Panelists:

  • Kristine Dennehy, professor of history, has studied ethnic Korean communities in Japan and, more recently, worked with the Fullerton Museum to develop an exhibit on “comfort women” — Korean women who were used to provide sexual services to members of the Japanese army.
  • Ellen Kim, assistant professor of management, has studied Korean tourists visiting Southern California and some of the language and cultural barriers they encounter.
  • HyeKyeung Seung, professor of human communication studies, focused on a support group she started for Korean parents and their autistic children in Fullerton. She also discussed more recent research she conducted during a sabbatical in Kore, where she worked with parents of autistic children.
  • Jim Tauli, professor of theatre and dance, worked with musical theatre students and directed “Les Miserables” (in Korean) at Dong Ah Institute of Media and the Arts.

Following the presentations, roundtable discussions were held to focus on how to continue to reach out and engage the Korean American community and next steps to develop a Korean Studies Institute at Cal State Fullerton.

The summit was sponsored by the Korea Foundation and Cal State Fullerton.