With several hit singles and a slew of musical accolades already in tow, the New Jersey-raised K-pop singer reflects on her journey from the object of netizen outrage to respected rising star.
by STEVE HAN
How could this happen? Why is a U.S. citizen going to sing our national anthem? What if she starts singing the American anthem instead? She only came here to make money!
Those were just a few of the jabs South Korean netizens hurled at Ailee, after the young Korean American singer was chosen to perform the Aegukga on opening day of the Korean professional baseball season in April 2012.
Baseball is arguably Korea’s most popular professional sport, and for K-pop artists, singing the country’s national anthem on the season’s first day is considered a high privilege. So, when news of the selection of Ailee—a fresh-faced K-pop singer whom most Koreans at that point only knew from her appearance on the MBC reality show Singer and Trainee—went public, netizens lit up the blogosphere with scathing criticism.
“I was really, really proud to sing the Korean anthem because I’m Korean!” recalled Ailee, 23, during an interview in February at the InterContinental Hotel in Los Angeles. “But I got a lot of unexpected criticism. I was really hurt. I mean … really, really hurt.”
But when the moment of truth came, the singer stepped up to the mike behind home plate and did what she had been doing throughout her young career—she sang from the heart. It may have been the anthem of her parents’ motherland, but it had deep meaning for her as a Korean American, too. Continue Reading »
Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk shares her personal story in a candid new memoir, written for a Korean audience.
by SUEVON LEE
For someone just entering the teaching limelight, it’s the last thing you’d want to happen: tripping and falling to the ground in a lecture hall packed with students.
But for Jeannie Suk, the potentially embarrassing moment was a transformative moment.
During her first year teaching at Harvard Law School, the young professor recounts in a recent memoir how she tripped and fell face forwards while descending the steps to begin class, her heavy casebook, cardboard seating chart and hot drink flying out of her hands.
Mortified, the novice professor calmly stood up and walked to the lectern where, she describes, she went on to teach “the best class I had ever taught up to that point.”
“I realized afterward that it had actually been a relief to fall flat on my face. It became blatantly obvious and undeniable in one fell swoop that there was no perfection here,” Suk writes. “I believe it was a huge boon to my comfort as a teacher going forward. Everyone felt more comfortable. Everyone was human.”
Misstep is not a word one might associate with Suk. She has an all-star resume, studded with schools like Yale and Harvard Law, attended Oxford University on a Marshall scholarship, did a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship, joined the Harvard Law faculty before turning 34, and in 2010, became the first-ever Asian American female (and first-ever Korean) to receive tenure at Harvard Law School. Continue Reading »
John Choi addresses supporters after the primary for the L.A. City Council District 13 seat.
The Race Within the Race
A Korean American has never been elected to Los Angeles’ city council. After a primary that saw the community split over two KA candidates, John Choi has advanced to the runoff. But will the community now unite behind him?
story by JIMMY LEE and EUGENE YI | photographs by JIMMY LEE
A pathetically low 20 percent of registered voters in the City of Los Angeles made it to their local polling place in last March’s primary election for the next mayor of the second largest municipality in the country. While interest citywide was abysmal, the race for the empty seat on the Los Angeles City Council representing the 13th District, which includes Hollywood, the hipster trifecta of Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park, and the northeastern sliver of Koreatown, was being closely watched by Korean Americans.
Among the 12 vying for the seat were two Korean Americans. The hopeful whispers among Korean Americans became nearly audible: Could one of us finally ascend to elected office in L.A., the spiritual capital of Korean America?
We’re halfway to finding out, now that one of the two, John Choi, has made it past the primary and will face Mitch O’Farrell in the runoff election later this year.
This local race, for many in the Korean American community, marked a major milestone in its political coming of age. Finally, in 2013, there was a local election with no false pretenders—no one like Andrew Kim, a lawyer who seemingly ran for every political office during the 1990s and early aughts, including City Council. With minimal to nonexistent campaigning, Kim’s efforts were largely seen as a joke—the races were mere opportunities for him to plaster his name all over Koreatown with posters.
Rather, for the contest for District 13, it looked like there were going to be three legitimate KA contenders, each with extensive — albeit varied — experience in Los Angeles city governance. BongHwan Kim was the head of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after years of leadership positions at various nonprofits. Emile Mack, a deputy fire chief, ran on his compelling backstory as the Korean adoptee of African American parents, and as a firefighter during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. And Choi, whose resume includes stints with the mayor, a councilman and the city’s Public Works Commission, was a relatively unknown but well-connected, young lawyer who had amassed the biggest war chest of any candidate in the race. Continue Reading »
Kish and Tell
KoreAm taps your favorite sausage-making food truck winners to interview Kristen Kish, the newly crowned winner of Top Chef: Seattle.
interview by CHRIS OH, TED KIM and YONG KIM
Kristen Kish is a happy woman these days. Sleep-deprived, certainly, but over-the-moon happy.
The 29-year-old chef became only the second female to win Top Chef, the popular reality show contest on Bravo that just wrapped its 10th season Feb. 27. Less than a month after the televised win, an excited Kish announced on Twitter that, starting in June, she will be the new chef de cuisine at Menton, the Boston restaurant that boasts Relais & Châteaux status, in addition to a AAA Five-Diamond rating. Menton is part of a restaurant group owned by Barbara Lynch Gruppo, which also runs Stir, where Kish currently works as a chef de cuisine.
Kish, adopted from Korea at age 4 months by a family in Kenton, Mich., took the reality show competition by storm, showing early on her mad skills in the kitchen and quickly emerging as the one to beat. However, she was shockingly booted off in Episode 11, a Restaurant Wars-type episode with Kish leading the female team; she essentially accepted responsibility for the mistakes of a teammate (that Josie!). But Kish, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, battled her way back on the related Last Chance Kitchen web series, where eliminated chefs get a second chance, and became the first Top Chef contestant to win in this comeback fashion. In a tearful moment on the show, she said that she planned to use part of the $125,000 prize money to travel to Korea, so she could explore her heritage.
Kish is the first Korean American to win Top Chef, though there have been Korean Americans who have previously won a food reality show competition. So we at KoreAm thought, who better to interview Kish than those who can relate to her sense of elation, exhaustion and newfound celebrity? Chris Oh and brothers Ted and Yong Kim of the L.A.-based Seoul Sausage Company, who won Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, spoke with Kish by phone last month. Funny enough, both parties took care of business — the interview, that is — from their respective restaurant bathrooms.
Ted Kim: How you doing? Continue Reading »
The Queen is Back
Kim Yuna returns to the world stage, after 19 months away from competitive skating, and shows everyone—including herself—she just may be on the road to her second Olympic gold.
story and photographs by MARK EDWARD HARRIS
Some 500 sports journalists from around the world — I among them — descended upon London in Ontario, Canada, last month for the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. All of us were jostling for coverage of the most important skating event in the period leading up to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next year.
One of the main attractions, of course, was reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna, the elegant South Korean skater who three years earlier had come to Canada, carrying the dreams of a nation excited by the prospect of Korea capturing its first Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating. The pressure on the lithe skater’s shoulders, going into the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, was intense and palpable. But Kim would surpass her countrymen’s expectations by not only winning the gold, but also skating perfect routines before a dazzled world audience.
Last month, Queen Yuna, as she is dubbed in Korea, was facing a different kind of pressure, however. The period after the Olympics had been rocky. She parted ways with her then-coach Brian Orser and skipped the entire 2011-12 season. After training in Los Angeles under American coach Peter Oppegard, she left him last year and returned to Korea to train with her childhood coaches, Shin Hye-sook and Ryu Jong-hyeon. Last July she announced that she wanted to return to competition and to skate in the 2014 Winter Olympics. But many speculated whether Kim’s competitive skating career was over; she had been away from this arena for 19 months, after all. Continue Reading »