California Dreaming

Hi.

such beauty.

I’m now in sunny Southern California.

 

If you’ve been following me, you’ll realize I was on a plane for three 10-hour-long trips within a week. o_O

I spent a few days in Australia, came back home to Seoul for a day, and then flew for another 10 hours to the Golden State. The Fourth of July weekend was spent with some incredible women, most of whom I met for the very first time, as we celebrated a woman I’ve known for almost my entire life. Now the last few days have been spent in the City of Angels, as I catch up with other family and friends whom I love.

 

Thus far, I think I’ve had the conversation explaining why I left journalism at least ten times. I expect to repeat myself many times more.

 

However, I’ve also conversed with a man who wants to start a wave of Korean-American history awareness, an architect who has the success anyone would crave but chooses not to claim it, a tour guide who failed to achieve his dream of architecture but made art his muse, an ardent supporter of North Korea’s first privately funded university, a deputy director for the Ready for Hillary PAC and of course, the most loving and loyal friends I’ve ever had.

 

These conversations haven’t shaped a future path for me just yet. Right now, they’re pushing and expanding and opening my heart so that I can begin to grasp how big this world is and the hearts of you who support me in this state of uncertainty.

LACMA

A Korean-American’s Thoughts on Korean-American History

The first memory I have of the name Dr. Philip Jaisohn was as a teenager. I walked into a slightly run-down waiting room and sat, looking curiously about me. It had been awhile since I was in any sort of medical clinic in the U.S., having lived in Seoul for three years now.

 

“Ah, the waiting rooms still have magazines,” I thought.

 

I asked my grandmother how she was feeling. “괜찮지 [I’m fine],” she replied, next to me.

 

Soon she was welcomed by a nurse who addressed her by name, and I saw my grandmother’s dentures flash as she realized she could understand everything the young health professional was saying. This an anomaly for a woman who immigrated to a country where she still didn’t speak the language and had managed to survive as head matriarch of a transplanted and scattered family.

 

A short time later we left, and I asked my mother, “How is there a Korean hospital in the middle of Philadelphia?”

 

She answered, “This is the 서재필 (Dr. Philip Jaisohn) Memorial Foundation.”

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KALAGNY 28th Anniversary Gala

This week I was honored to emcee the Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York (KALAGNY)’s 28th Anniversary Gala Dinner. The theme: The Korean American Experience: 150 Years in the Making, as it recognized what would’ve been the 150th birthday of Dr. Philip Jaisohn, believed to be one of the first Koreans to immigrate to the United States in the 19th century. He was the first Korean to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen, the first Korean to graduate from medical school, went onto marry an American woman, and then later returned to his native soil to demand democracy for the people.

 

His accomplishments are far-reaching, but knowledge of them is not. At the New York event, one of the evening’s honorees asked the room of 300+ attendees who had heard of Dr. Jaisohn prior to that night. Barely a few dozen raised their hands.

 

In a conversation with the honoree afterward, he lamented the ignorance, including his own. “Honestly, I didn’t even know of him until I started researching him for my speech,” Young Lee admitted. “Yet how many others still don’t know of this great man?”

 

Thankfully, there seems to be progress. I was privileged enough to attend a university (go Quakers!) where Korean history classes were an option, leading to my Asian Studies minor.

 

At UC Riverside, a center devoted to Korean American Studies opened its doors just four years ago. It is named in honor of the only Korean American officer in a mostly Japanese-American Army unit during World War II: Col. Young Oak Kim. Be sure to learn more about him, as my dear friend’s father is the one who researched and brought awareness to this great Asian American advocate’s accomplishments.
Clearly, this is only the beginning.

 

I’m getting ahead of myself, but these are the conversations I hope to keep having in the next few months. I look forward to these triggers, catalysts, sticking points where I’m forced to stop and self-ask,” Is this where my heart wants to venture forward?”

 

More thoughts and questions to come. Let’s chat.