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WE THE PEOPLE

[Repo]Blazing a trail. The National Assembly Forum on Establishing the Identity of korean Americans.



Prof. Cheong-Hwa Lim is speaking during the second part of the forum.

(From left) Rep. Seok-jun Hong, who hosted the forum; Byung-man Lee, president of the Korean American Foundation of Los Angeles, an Elder Kyu-sung Han, a chairman of the worship planning the committee for the 120th anniversary of the Korean American immigration, a former Rep. Kyung-jae Lee, who gave opening remarks, and Hyung-seok Kim, teh president of Korea History and Future Foundation, who served as a panelist.


On June 1st, a parliamentary forum for the establishment of overseas multiethnic and second- and third-generation Korean identities was held at the National Assembly Hall, hosted by parliamentarians Hong Seok-jun and Choi Joong-hoon. The event was organized by the 120th Anniversary Committee of Korean American Immigration History and the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Americas, sponsored by Cheongwoon University and hosted by Rev. Sung Jeon Yang. I was born in America and graduated from elementary, middle, and high school in Korea and college in the United States. I also went to KATUSA where Korean and American soldiers live and train together. It's a rare case to have an experience of both Korea and the U.S. culture, naturally and acquired. That's why this forum was truly meaningful.


The forum was especially relevant to the MZ generation who have studied abroad and are often confused about their Korean identity in different cultures. The history of Korean Americans in the United States is not well known in Korea. The forum provided a glimpse of the hidden heroes who graced Korea during the most difficult times of the country, only to have been marginalized. A Korean version of "16 Great People Who made their mark on Korean American History," published by Byung Man Lee, Chairman of the Korean American Foundation LA, was distributed on the spot. A chairman, Byung Man Lee said, "Had it not been for God's grace, we could not have come this far to publish '16 Great People Who made their mark on Korean American History." He also told that he is planning an English translation so that future generations and people of all ethnicities can learn and realize that Korea's history today is not coincidence or miracle obtained for free."


Han Kyu-sung, the organizer of the 120th Anniversary Korean American Immigrant Appreciation Service, is rehabilitating misunderstood or distorted figures of modern history, such as General Baek Sun-yup. Han said, "The lives of our Korean ancestors who left for Hawaii 120 years ago, on January 13th, 1903, were devastated. We were enlightened by the teachings of God and have gained wisdom and faith in life. Nevertheless, today's youths are leaving the church and trying to live on their own. I pray sincerely on my knees for wisdom on how the next generation should live in the next 120 years."




The opening remarks were delivered by former Chairman of the Korea Communications Commission Lee Kyung-jae, a four-term member of the congress. "The 120-year history of Koreans in the United States has been marked by 16 visionaries, including President Syngman Rhee, who have significantly raised the profile of Korea in the United States," said Lee. "On the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance, President Yun's speech to the U.S. Congress and the U.S.-Japan summit during his visit to the U.S. showed the world and American the new status of Korea. Now, we need policies that consider not only Korean migrants, but also other ethnic groups from other countries who are migrating to Korea."




A Representative Hong Seok-jun welcomed the participants and thanked them for allowing the National Assembly to host the event. "I would like to thank Dr. Kang Young-woo, Nam June Paik, Hong Shin Kim, Hyun-ok Park, Sung-sook Lee, and Prof. Cheong-hwa Lim for their precious presentations that shed light on the lives of anti-Japanese economist Paik Il-gyu. The sweat and sacrifices of Korean immigrants have led to the development of today's Korean American community and the Republic of Korea since the first 120 Koreans arrived in the United States in January 1903."



A representative Cho, who organized the forum with Representative Hong, is an internationalist who spent 15 years at the World Bank (WB). "Korea, which has the second largest number of overseas Koreans after Israel at 7 million, is the sixth wealthiest country in the world and will soon be a member of the G8. Having so many overseas Koreans is something to be proud of, but it's also heartbreaking. I will try to make good policies for overseas Koreans."



Hongshin Kim, who wrote the biography of Kang Young-woo, the first blind man to become a doctor in the United States, is South Korea's first million-selling author. Kim credits South Korea's rise to prominence to people like Dr. Kang who have made their mark in the United States. Dr. Kang is the highest-ranking Korean in the United States. There are 127 chairs in the auditorium of the Roosevelt Center for Public Affairs in the United States. Each chair bears the name of a great person who practiced President Franklin Roosevelt's vision of freedom, humanity, human rights, and democracy. The name of Kennedy, Reagan, MacArthur, and others are engraved on the chairs, and Dr. Kang is listed alongside them. He overcame a disadvantaged family history and disability to become one of the 15 members of the President's Advisory Council on Disability Policy, a body directly under U.S. President George W. Bush.




A professor Hongki Kim, who prepared the discussion topic on Dr. Kang, explained why the evaluations of people like Dr. Kang should be detailed and three-dimensional.


"We evaluate others in our lives which is inevitable. Evaluating people is different from eulogizing. Human beings are inherently finite and relative, so they can't be perfect. "Immortal, absolute evaluations like 100% good are not inherently possible. However, we should not deny the immutable truth and evaluate someone's life by our own standards, like Protagoras, who deceived the world with the plausible statement that "man is the measure of all things".


Dr. Kang's life is very similar to the "Hero's Journey" written by Joseph Campbell, a comparative religionist. Dr. Kang was the "hero with thousand faces" that Joseph Campbell sought to identify: a hero who suffered from the childhood tribulations, met helpers through wanderings and adventures, and returned to the place he had left to fulfill the hero's mission. Dr. Kang said, "If God had said "Yes" when I prayed for my eyes to be healed, I would've had worked for the factory following my older sister and become the head of the family. However, God said "No," and trained me from the blindness center." He testified that he had been blessed "through" his blindness, not "in spite of" it.


I am saddened by the lack of such role models in Korean society hating heroes. There are not many heroes in Korea. Thomas Carlyle in England and Ralph Waldo Emerson in America had different ideas of what a hero should look like, but they agreed on the need for heroes. They said, "Even if we are born in the image of God, it is very abstract for each of us to be conformed to the image of God in our real life, so I believe that such a person on this earth is what Albert Einstein called 'a man of value,' which is the value of a great human being."




Dr. Hyunok Park, who presented the life of Nam June Paik, is a spatial artist who recycles trash to create artworks. Park spent seven months studying Nam June Paik's writings and visiting the places where he worked, trying to understand his struggles and life. At first he was unsure, however, he wrote a 50-page biography of the artist in a few weeks when he was finally able to talk about him. According to Park, Nam June Paik's artistic roots stem from colorful and multifaceted mind formed naturally from childhood growing up as the youngest of three boys and two girls in a rich family so-called 'a silver spoon.'


While most Koreans at the time had limited access to education due to economic hardship, he was able to receive an advanced education from a rich family. His older sister, Baek Hee-deuk, even took piano lessons, but his father, Baek Nak-seung, wanted to raise his son as a businessman. Contrary to his father's wishes, Paik loved the sound of the piano and felt its rhythm with his whole body. He was a pioneer ahead of his time, a unique type of person hard to be including his birth circumstances and acquired endeavors.



Seo Jin-seok, a director of the Ulsan City Museum, describes Nam June Paik as more of an "earthling" than "Korean." According to Seo, Paik connected with the entire planet to connect himself with others, recognizing technology as a means of connection rather than a means of execution. The enduring nature of Nam June Paik's work across generations is based on his desire to create video art based on Eastern thought and philosophy. Nam June Paik viewed the ever-changing, indeterminate world with a harmonistic perspective, and fused art with the properties of contingency, indeterminacy, and complementarity in a horizontal connection.





Ms. Lee explained about Mr. Baek Il-gyu who was selected as one of the 16 people along with Syngman Rhee and Dr. Seo Jae-pil as the following: "Dr. Baek Il-gyu was the first Korean American journalist and independence activist in the United States who campaigned for anti-Japanese independence through media such as the Korean People's Association, Shinminbo, Independence, and Kookminbo, and an astute economist who portrayed the distorted Korean situation from an economic perspective rather than a political perspective. "Lee evaluated Paik as an independence activist and a national leader who had a unique perspective, considering that he regarded enlightenment and an economic independence of Koreans as utmost importance. The author also highlighted the fact that Paik actively participated in the movement to save Jeon Myung-woon and Jang In-hwan who shot American Durham Stevenson who argued that Japan's rule of Korea was legitimate.




Hyungseok Kim is a chairman of Korea History and Future Foundation, who served as a member of the editorial board for the list of 120 Christians who shined Korea in 2019. He shares his experience and explains the challenges of selecting great people: people have different perspectives on greatness, and thus it is common for great people who have made great achievements to be left out despite an objective evaluation. According to Dr. Kim, the United States is trying to honor as many great people who contributed to the founding of the United States as possible by calling them "American Founding Fathers + Alpha." In Korea, however, even Dr. Syngman Rhee, who is credited with the greatest contribution to the founding of Korea, is not easily called a Founding father by opposing forces. Kim said, "Instead of being divided into factions, Korea should create a social atmosphere like the United States that recognizes everyone who have made a positive contribution.




A professor Chunghwa Lim has dedicated her life to globalizing Korean opera music called K-Classic. She said, "The 'Hongik Human' idea of widely benefiting humanity inherited from Dangun is the same as the servant's way of life of Jesus on the cross. Those who dedicate themselves to K-Classic should not do business and work exclusively to build a national soul." She explained that saving the world is a matter of reason which is science. Music is also science; a thinking of the three elements is necessary as a creative medium to merge the two. She also expressed her happiness that K-Classic has been able to become a reference because it originally had no reference.




A Professor Taeyeon Kim continued an explanation following the speech of a Prof. Lim. He wrote the song "National Anthem of the New Era," which Lim sang at the 120th Anniversary Korean American Day in Los Angeles. He said, "A professor Lim is practicing the aforementioned two-headed philosophy," explaining that "adopting a young man from Kazakhstan and training him to teach K-Classic at a Kazakh university is an example of Korea entering the Premier C-1 category of cultural powers." Also, he stated, "The purpose of K-Classic should not be to 'show' but to be filled with music and to share."




At the end of the forum, a former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who chaired the 120th Anniversary Korean American Day, gave closing remarks and presented a chairman Lee Byung-man's book, "Paving the Way (16 People Who Made Korean American Immigration History)." He was serving as a chairman of the Syngman Rhee Memorial Foundation. He said, "There has been malicious distortions of history and insults to a President Syngman Rhee. I would appreciate if many people make more efforts for the country in the next 120 years as they have done in the past 120 years."

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