A look back at the incredible life of this Korean American glass ceiling breaker, who recently turned 100 (by Korean age reckoning).
Compiled by Julie Ha, with Philip “Flip” Cuddy and John Cha
Actually, the Korean American Navy officer and NSA code-breaker technically turned 99 last month, but about 175 of her admirers gathered Jan. 18 at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate her centennial birthday, based on Korean age. Cuddy grew up the eldest daughter of two of the most revered Korean independence patriots (and among the earliest Korean immigrants to the U.S.), Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and Helen (Hye Ryon) Ahn. The couple’s tireless work to liberate their mother country from Japanese colonization would play a crucial role in Cuddy’s upbringing, identity and values. At the same time, their heroic shadow didn’t seem to keep her from paving her own unique and trailblazing path. Here’s a look back at the incredible life of Susan Ahn Cuddy.
Susan Ahn is born in Los Angeles on Jan. 16, 1915, the third child of Ahn Chang Ho and Helen Ahn, the first married couple from Korea to arrive in America, in 1902. Their Korean passports were 51 and 52. Susan’s name—“Soo-san” in Korean—means “embroidered mountain.” In this photo, Susan is pictured with her parents, older brothers Philip and Philson and baby sister Soorah. The youngest, Ralph, was not yet born. Continue Reading »
New Girl in Town
Arden Cho has earned a loyal fanbase as a YouTube singer and performer. Now she’s winning over a new audience with her exciting (and a**-kicking) role on MTV’s Teen Wolf.
by ADA TSENG
For a good chunk of their childhoods, Arden Cho made life for her younger brother miserable. “Why can’t you be more like Arden?” their parents would constantly nag him. Cho was the seemingly perfect Korean American daughter: She earned straight A’s, dutifully learned everything from piano to cello, gymnastics to taekwondo, while also mentoring younger girls at her church and doing volunteer work. She never broke rules at school or home.
When it was time to go to college, Cho, born and raised in Texas before moving to Minnesota, studied psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the college her parents had wanted her to attend, and envisioned herself practicing law one day. While there, she even entered and won the title of Miss Korea Chicago. This gave her a chance to compete in the Miss Korea Pageant in Seoul and explore opportunities abroad. But that’s when her seemingly perfect life started to reveal its cracks. Even though she had just won a beauty pageant and was in talks for a television show in Korea, the work was contingent upon her agreeing to lose weight and “fix” aspects of her face. It was plastic surgery or nothing. She went home with nothing.
“I felt like if I ever wanted to stand in front of a group of young people again and tell them not to be afraid to be yourself, I couldn’t do it if I had cut up my face and changed who I really am,” says Cho. “After that experience, I had a really negative idea of the entertainment industry. I thought it was very superficial.”
That said, she couldn’t shake the fact that she loved performing. With people telling her that she had given up a great opportunity to work in Korea, she felt more and more insecure, both about herself and her future. Not knowing what she wanted to pursue and feeling less convinced she wanted to pursue a career in law, she went on a humanitarian trip to Kenya for a couple months after graduation.
Up In The Air
Young snowboarding star Chloe Kim is not old enough for this year’s Olympics, but has her sights set on Pyeongchang in 2018.
by STEVE HAN
Five years ago, Jongjin Kim spotted professional snowboarder Soko Yamaoka at a famous resort in the Swiss Alps. Chloe Kim, his 8-year-old daughter, had been competing for two years, and he wanted her to pick up a few tips by watching Yamaoka, who finished 10th at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
As he watched Yamaoka riding, just one question came to mind: “That’s it?”
“Obviously [Yamaoka] looked great,” the 57-year-old father of three recalls in an interview with KoreAm. “But watching Chloe all these years, I expected something extraordinary since she was an Olympian. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s all it took to compete at the Olympics. I really felt like my daughter would be just as good.”
In fact, many in the snowboarding community had already tagged 13-year old Chloe as a prodigy before she turned 10. The California native started competing at age 6 on a mini snowboard that cost just $25. Only a year later, she won two gold medals and three silver medals, finishing first overall at the United States of America Snowboard Association’s 2007 National Championships in the 6- to 7-year-old age group. Continue Reading »
Somewhere Under the Rainbow
Queer rights activists in South Korea step up efforts to support and protect LGBTQ youth, with plans to build a long-term shelter and resource center in Seoul.
by HANSOOK OH
IN APRIL OF 2003, a gay South Korean high school student who went by the name Yook Woo-dang committed suicide in the Seoul office of a queer rights organization, Dong In Ryeon (also known by the English name Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea). Though just 18, Yook had already been active in the fight for LGBT equality, often writing opinion articles and even participating in demonstrations against the war in Iraq “under the rainbow flag.” Along with his last $30, the young, devout Catholic teen left a suicide note, which expressed both encouragement to his fellow queer rights activists, as well as his indignation with discrimination against sexual minorities, especially by the Christian right.
“How cruel and anti-biblical it is to discriminate against sexual minorities,” Yook wrote. “After death, I can proudly say that I am gay, with no need to suffer, no need to hide myself anymore.”
The tragedy shocked the nation and brought the issue of LGBT youth to attention. The following year, LGBTQ activists (the “Q” stands for both queer and those questioning their sexuality) successfully pushed for the repeal of an anti-gay provision in the country’s Juvenile Protection Act, which had categorized LGBTQ-related web content as profane and harmful to minors.
But, despite some gains in the LGBTQ movement, over a decade after Yook’s death, Dong In Ryeon and other queer rights organizations find themselves still struggling against stigma and discrimination in South Korea. Whereas the LGBTQ movement in the United States gained great momentum in recent years—with the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the more than doubling in the number of states allowing same-sex marriage—queer South Koreans remain a very vulnerable minority group. And, knowing that there are many more Yooks out there calling out for acceptance and support, members of Dong In Ryeon and other affiliated organizations, collectively calling themselves the Queer Korean Alliance (QKA), are rallying to help the most voiceless among them: LGBTQ teenagers. QKA’s goal is to build South Korea’s first long-term shelter and resource center for LGBTQ teenagers in Seoul, called Rainbow Teen Safe Space. Continue Reading »
Against the Flow
Pioneering hip-hop artist and producer Tiger JK has long defied convention, so KoreAm decided to take an unconventional approach to covering him. First we look back at this Korean American rebel’s incredible 20-year career, which not only changed the face of music in Korea, but also planted seeds for a larger, lasting hip-hop movement. Then, we hear Tiger tell it like it was and is, in his own words, in a special interview conducted by the Smashing Pumpkins’ Jeff Schroeder.
by JULIE HA
The humility and soft-spokenness of Suh Jung Kwon are surprising—even disarming—upon first meeting him.
Better known as Tiger JK, or Drunken Tiger, the Korean-born rapper is a global superstar, or, as the media and his fans deem him, “hip-hop royalty,” “the godfather of Korean hip-hop,” “the Jay-Z of Korea,” the “most popular Korean rapper in America, Asia and the world.” It’s worth noting that the latter was a designation by the Los Angeles Times, not some gushing fansite.
But on this overcast late Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, Tiger JK extends a warm hand and bows his head as he greets the people waiting for him at a photographer’s cozy Hollywood studio—no swagger in sight. The only indication that there is a major celebrity in our midst is the entourage surrounding him—a handful of men in dark jackets, including a buff, bald bodyguard named Tiny. And then there is, of course, Tiger’s wife, Yoon Mirae (also known as Tasha), herself a bona fide star carrying the title of the queen of Korean hip-hop. The couple has just flown in from Korea, where they live with their son Jordan, for KoreAm’s cover shoot. They will also be performing, along with fellow Korean hip-hop artist Bizzy, at the magazine’s annual Unforgettable gala the following day.
Initially, Tiger JK sits in the center of the couch, his hands together on his lap, head facing forward, almost like a schoolboy, but there is a slightly guilty look on his face. Speaking in hushed tones, he confesses that he’s a bit hung over and apologizes for the cornrows in his hair, perhaps concerned that KoreAm readers might not like that kind of look. Continue Reading »