Calling all law students and undergraduate students studying law!
Andrew Ellis and the Ellis Law firm announced the first Ellis Law Diversity Scholarship Award, which will be available to students who are members of a racial/ethnic minority, or students who have shown a strong commitment to diversity issues throughout their education.
The Ellis Law Diversity Scholarship honors Emil K. Ellis, Andrew Ellis’s great grandfather, who was responsible for setting many case precedents, including the determination of the “seven years presumed dead” law to assist people collecting life insurance when their spouse is missing and presumed dead.
Three students will receive awards of $1000 each to be used towards tuition, books or housing. To apply, eligible students are asked to write a 1500-2000 word essay answering the following questions:
What are your feelings regarding the recent Supreme Court ban on affirmative action in college admissions? In your opinion, is affirmative action necessary to promoting diversity within our colleges and universities, and if so, why? Are there any alternatives to affirmative action in schools’ efforts to maintain a diverse student body?
Candidates must email their submission as a Word document or PDF attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org on or before December 31, 2014. Winners will be announced within 30 business days of the application deadline.
What’s the difference between John Cho and Henry Higgins, the character Cho plays on ABC’s Selfie? Not much, apparently. Cho says he’s “pretty curmudgeonly about social media.” He doesn’t have a Facebook account, and although he has Twitter, he is very cautious of it — just like Higgins.
Earlier today, Cho participated in an “Ask Me Anything” Q&A, where he discussed his experiences in Harold & Kumar, Star Trek and even Better Luck Tomorrow. He also answered a few random questions from Redditors (he wants to be the next Batman!) and delved into some of the challenges he faced as an Asian American actor, from racism in the entertainment industry to finding fleshed-out roles for Asian Americans.
Here are some highlights:
How he is similar to his character Henry on Selfie: “I am pretty curmudgeonly about social media. I don’t have Facebook and I’m on Twitter, but I go through periods where I’m scared of it, and resent it. Haha! And I don’t like how addictive it is, so I have to put it down. So I am cautious with social media, just like Henry. Henry has a better wardrobe, though,” Cho wrote.
On what drew him to the role on Selfie: “What drew me in was the opportunity to play a character that I’m not typically asked to play,” Cho said. “I think it’s a very unique show on the tube right now. It’s got a very fun tone, and I can’t overstate this — Karen Gillan as the lead is fantastic.”
His thoughts on his co-star Karen Gillan: “She’s an amazing actress, and a cool person to boot. It’s been a real privilege to work alongside her. You know what I find amazing? Because people in the UK are typically good at American accents, since they grow up with them? But what’s unusual about her is that she can pop in and out — she doesn’t speak American English between takes. … It’s bizarre. She’s particularly good at it.”
He added, “It’s funny. Karen is on Twitter and pretty good about tweeting. I am less of a tweeter, but have become more so as a result of the show.”
He wants to be Batman: “I want a shot at playing Batman!” Cho eagerly wrote after being asked which Marvel or DC film role he would like to play. “Ben Affleck’s doing it next right? After Ben retires, I call next. A serious Asian tech billionaire maybe?”
His first time being recognized in public as an actor: “The first time I really remember … I had shot American Pie, it was just a little bit role, I didn’t think anyone would know what the movie was,” Cho said. “I was out of the country, shooting another movie, and had missed the release of American Pie, and was unaware it was a really big hit. So I came back to America, and kids were chanting ‘MILF! MILF!’ at me on the street. And I was really confused, and it took me a while to understand what was happening actually.”
His experience as an Asian American actor in Hollywood: “I experienced racism, and in my professional life, I try to take roles (and have always tried to take roles) that don’t fall within the parameters of any Asian stereotype. And so to me, hopefully, that’s a positive thing I can put into popular culture and so maybe in some bizarrely tiny way that helps people not think of Asians in one particular way.”
On Star Trek 3: After stating that he has absolute confidence in Star Trek 3 director Bob Orci, Cho wrote, “I don’t know anything about Star Trek 3. I’m guessing I’m in it? I just went in for a costume fitting.”
On his overall experience on American Pie: “It felt innocent. All those actors were young. I didn’t know anyone; they were all starting out. I didn’t know anything about the business, and Chris and Paul (the director and producer) were great,” Cho said about one of his earliest films.
“It could have been a forgettable gross out movie, but what carried the day was its earnestness and its characters, even though admittedly there’s a sexual pie, a man has sex with a pie, but I think there’s a lot of imitators and they were never able to quite capture the spirit of that movie, because what that movie did was effectively capture and remember what it felt like to be that age.”
On popularizing the term “MILF”: “I don’t know that we needed it in our cultural vocabulary, but it was there and I was the conduit at that moment in time. It’s funny, and it started my comedy career inadvertently, but my joke answer is that I apologize for all the websites I’ve proliferated upon the world.”
On North Korea: “My father was born in what is now North Korea. I saw a Frontline documentary on North Korea, and … There are people who are risking their lives to smuggle in DVDS with Western pop culture movies and TV shows,” Cho wrote. “It is considered a way to fight the regime by spreading images of Western Pop culture to show that what they’ve been saying about the West is untrue. It would be really amazing if they were aware of a person of Korean descent who was part of that popular culture and output.”
He also wants to be on Game of Thrones: “I want to up my swordplay and be on Game of Thrones,” Cho said in response to a question asking him which TV show he wish he was a part of the cast. I guess if Cho were to meet John Snow on set, the two could take turns telling each other they know nothing.
His thoughts on Better Luck Tomorrow: “We did feel that we were making something special. And that was part and parcel of a great movement in independent cinema that came out of the 1990s, but it came out of this great fervor,” Cho wrote about the 1992 crime drama that featured an Asian American cast.
“It felt like we were pushing against a membrane and never really broke through, but I was really proud to be a part of the pushing. And maybe nothing really similar has come along, partially because the business has changed to be less about independent cinema and more about television, that’s where the interesting content is going.”
On working on the Star Trek franchise: “I would say first and foremost it’s a real pleasure to be working with JJ and that particular cast. Everybody involved in that production is pretty much at the top. They are among the best at what they do, so it’s a pleasure that way,” he wrote. “It’s an honor to be a part of this American cultural masterpiece.”
On George Takei: “I find George to be fascinating. First of all, I know George and have been familiar with him for all my life. I also find it amazing that he has moved past being an actor and has become an American cultural icon. It’s pretty crazy. But people who’ve never seen Star Trek know who George Takei is, and if you say ‘Oh, my’ you know it’s the dude from Star Trek.”
When asked about receiving any tips from the original Sulu, Cho responded: “He was just very encouraging with me, because I was very very nervous, and he had put in a good word to JJ on my behalf. And I didn’t know that. And it meant the world to me that he approved of my casting.”
When he refused to do an accent for a film: When Cho was asked to do a Chinese accent for Big Fat Liar, he declined. “I quietly thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this role in a kid’s comedy, with an accent, because I don’t want young people laughing at an accent inadvertently,'” Cho said. He explained that despite knowing that the filmmakers’ intent was not to jab at the accent, he “didn’t want to risk it.” Fortunately, the director Shawn Levy was willing to toss the accent and develop a new character for Cho.
“I bumped into him recently, and for him he says it was his first feature, and it was really awesome from HIS perspective that it was a good reminder that actors need to feel invested and the importance of collaboration, but for ME it was important that someone understood where I was coming from politically as far as representation of Asian-Americans.”
His plans for a zombie apocalypse: “I’m inclined to get eaten as quickly as possible and get it over with,” Cho responded, clearly amused. “I hate being chased, it’s the subject of all my nightmares. Let’s eliminate the chase.”
To read more of John Cho’s answers, check out his AMA thread on Reddit.
It’s survey time again. More than two thirds of Asian Americans in California support affirmative action, according to new figures released this week by the National Asian American Survey, the group behind some of the best Asian American-centric polling of the last few years. These numbers, conducted Aug. 14-28 in a collaboration with the Field Poll, align with what’s generally been reported the past few years, and are given extra salience after the brouhaha earlier this year when a vocal Asian American opposition to affirmative action torpedoed a California state Senate amendment (known as SCA 5) that could have potentially restored some aspects of the policy to university admissions.
But as with everything Asian American, digging a little deeper into the survey numbers is crucial, something that Karthick Ramakrishnan, of the University of California, Riverside, and Taeku Lee, of the University of California, Berkeley, the authors behind the survey, understand intimately; the work they’ve done for the National Asian American Survey spotlights some of the difficulties in surveying Asian Americans.
The poll interviewed 1,280 registered Californian voters of all ethnicities, with oversampling of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese populations, as well as in-language interviews in Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Spanish. Overall, 68 percent favored affirmative action, 25 percent opposed, and 9 percent had no opinion. Asian Americans showed even higher levels of support, with 69 percent in favor, 13 percent against, and 18 percent with no opinion. African Americans and Latinos, meanwhile, registered even higher rates of support, at 83 and 81 percent, respectively.
Disaggregation in Asian American polling is always part of the fun, and they reveal Korean Americans to be outliers. About 47 percent of Korean Americans favored affirmative action, but a strikingly high 40 percent offered no opinion. Overall, 18 percent of Asian Americans offered no opinion. But does this indicate some well of ambivalence regarding the policy? Digging a bit deeper, Ramakrishnan said that 75 of the 107 Korean interviewees conducted their polls in Korean, of whom 55 percent offered no opinion, 35 percent were in favor, and 10 percent were opposed. The results stand out from the NAAS 2012 survey, which did not find Korean Americans to be outliers when it comes to being unopinionated on affirmative action, according to Lee. More polling appears to be required on this question.
A split was also found between northern and southern California, with 81 percent of Northern California responses in favor of affirmative action, and 60 percent in Southern California. This would seem to reinforce the regional base of much of the anti-affirmative action protesting of earlier this year. But it could also reflect some of the regional disparities in Southern California, according to Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. Liberal Los Angeles is balanced out by the surrounding counties, he said.
All of this provides an object lesson in some of the frustrating complexities of modern American democracy. Was it really a small and vocal minority that hijacked the conversation around affirmative action earlier this year, as some have alleged? Would the protesters have been included in a survey like this, given that many of the protesters were likely recent immigrants, and this survey relied on registered voter rolls? What other groups aren’t being included when we talk about polling?
Regardless, these numbers will inevitably be widely quoted, and if these data accurately reflect the public opinion, then at least with regards to the contentious SCA 5 battle, it’s a reminder of the power of the vocal minority. Or in this case, a minority of a minority.
All of this goes to show the difficulty in trying to poll, let alone to extrapolate from such numbers. So as always, a hat tip to Ramakrishnan, Lee and their colleagues for performing such important work. Ramakrishnan offered to provide KoreAm with more detailed analysis of the Korean American population, which will be posted once it becomes available.
The survey also included some general question on the state of the country, as well as on the death penalty. More information can be found here.
Featured image: A protestor holds up a sign opposing the controversial affirmative action measure in California, known as SCA 5. Image via NBC Bay Area.
Margaret Cho reflects on All-American Girl, 20 years after its primetime debut on ABC.
by MICHELLE WOO
photo by LINDSEY BYRNES
In the history of network television, ’90s sitcom All-American Girl faded in and out faster than a thumbprint on a Hypercolor T-shirt.
But for people who looked like me, it was monumental.
On the evening of September 14, 1994, Asian Americans from coast to coast sat in front of their TV sets and held their breath as the opening credits appeared and a spunky Margaret Cho walked down a staircase in a ripped denim jacket and feathered bangs, while talking like a Valley Girl on a Zack Morris-style cordless phone. Collectively, we murmured to ourselves, “Please don’t let this show suck.”
All-American Girl was the first network sitcom to feature a predominantly Asian American cast—a milestone that brought tempered hope for a group that had for decades been reduced to kung fu fighters, dragon ladies and kooky bucktoothed neighbors in mainstream media portrayals. Cho played Margaret Kim, a college student living at home with her culture-clashed Korean American family that included her bookstore-owning mom and dad (Jodi Long and Clyde Kusatsu), older brother (B.D. Wong) and zany grandmother (Amy Hill).
ABC billed the show as based on the comedy of Cho, a then-25-year-old rising star on the stand-up circuit, loved (and sometimes hated) for her loud, raucous and unapologetically crude routines. (“I wanted it to be called ‘The Margaret Cho Show’ because I am such a f-ckin’ egomaniac,” she said onstage before the pilot aired.)
But The Margaret Cho Show it wasn’t, and that may have doomed the series from day one. Instead of inspiring laughter, All-American Girl mostly brought looks of confusion. Critics panned the show for its bad jokes, stereotyped characters and banal storylines that endorsed, rather than shattered, ethnic myths. The show’s ultimate cancellation after 19 episodes sent Cho into a spiral of depression and drug addiction, as detailed in her 2002 autobiography, I’m The One That I Want.
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson
Twenty years later, Cho, 45, has gained perspective on the experience, and with the progress in the media and society over the past two decades, holds high hopes for Fresh Off The Boat—a new ABC sitcom based on Eddie Huang’s bestselling memoir about growing up as a hip-hop loving kid in suburban Orlando. It’s the first network TV show since All-American Girl to be centered on an Asian American family.
Cho talks with KoreAm about All-American Girl and what it meant for Asian Americans, who almost never saw faces like theirs on TV. Perhaps writer Philip W. Chung summed it up best when he wrote in a 1994 Los Angeles Times column: “The most incredible thing about the series is that it even exists.”
Where were you in your life just before All-American Girl?
I was doing stand-up comedy, and I was traveling a lot and working a lot. I was still really young, but I wanted to become an adult, and comedy was what I thought would be the fastest path to adulthood, and it really was. I never thought about the overreaching kinds of things like race and identity. I just wanted to get out of the kind of environment that I was living in. I didn’t want to do what my family expected of me. I wasn’t going to school at the time, so that was already, like, amazingly weird and brave for an Asian American.
How did the show come about?
TV networks were giving development deals to stand-up comedians. There was a lot of that happening, a ton more than now.
Did you have much creative control?
No. No. I didn’t know how to get that, and it was never offered to me.
What did you think when you first read the script?
I thought it was really too much of a kids’ show, and it wasn’t really what I did as a stand-up comedian. They had understood me as a performer wrongly. But I wanted the show to be on the air, so I wanted to be whatever they wanted me to be. For me, this could be job security in an industry where you never know if you’re going to work again. So I just wanted to do anything to make sure the show would happen. I didn’t feel like I had the choice to argue for what I needed.
As the star of the first Asian American family sitcom on network TV, the pressure must have been immense.
I was alone in the situation. Nobody had any advice for me. I couldn’t ask anybody because nobody knew what I was going through. I was the only person who had ever done this. I had nobody who could tell me what the right move was. I was too young to understand what to do or how to deal with it, and everyone just wanted to get a show on the air. And people didn’t realize that having the first Asian American family on TV comes with a lot of cultural baggage that needs to be addressed.
And to top it off, you were criticized for your weight. (In I’m The One That I Want, Cho wrote that she was forced to lose weight rapidly—30 pounds in two weeks—which led to serious kidney failure.)
That was a major thing that came up with the initial camera tests. But it had never come up throughout the development process, and it wasn’t until we were very close to shooting that I heard that complaint. It’s a really terrifying thing to be told, “Well, you don’t qualify for this job that you’ve been a part of all this time because you’re too fat.” I have a feeling, though, that it really wasn’t about my weight. Why wouldn’t they have said something much earlier? I think they just didn’t know how to photograph Asian faces. Asian American faces, at that point, were so foreign, and they didn’t know what to do with people who were different.
When the show aired, what was the reaction from the Asian American community?
The reaction was very mixed. A lot of the younger people were excited about it because it was the first time they saw Asian Americans on TV. That’s a really big deal. Other people were angry that it wasn’t what I normally did as a comedian. And I think other people were, like, waiting to be offended by the show, but were more offended by the fact that I was chosen to do that role. My comedy is much more edgy than anything I would do on mainstream television, and my move toward mainstream television was somehow considered an offensive thing.
People were also concerned about whether you were “too Asian” or “not Asian enough.”
The weirdness of being the first Asian American—I guess, for lack of a better word—star, is that people are constantly judging you. They’re asking, ‘Where do you fit on this idea of who we are?’ With ethnic identity, there’s a right way to be and a wrong way to be, and that’s a really weird thing. The panic comes from not seeing Asians Americans on television, so the few images we do have of them become overly scrutinized.
If you’re coming into visibility, you’re the first person to write the story, and it’s very hard to do that first. What is your identity if you’ve never seen yourself before? How do you carve it out of nothing? That’s a really challenging thing as a performer.
What the All-American Girl did was point out that we are invisible. You don’t understand invisibility until you realize that you’re not invisible anymore. It absolutely was more important than just television or just entertainment. We’re talking about this idea of visibility versus power in society. It’s a huge, huge thing.
In the past 20 years, how have media portrayals of Asian Americans changed?
There still is a lot of invisibility. But it’s better. Certainly, it’s better. There are many more Asian American characters, and the entire industry has expanded exponentially. There are so many television channels and so much more media, including online, and everything that we didn’t even have before. Now people can sort of enjoy [shows with Asian Americans] for the comedy itself, and the humor comes from this organic place. It’s a good thing.
What are your thoughts on the next Asian American family sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat?
I love what they’re doing with Fresh Off The Boat. It’s really funny, the cast is really talented, and the writing is really strong. I really love Eddie Huang’s point of view and perspective. His humor is close to what I would want to do if I were to create a show. It’s like, how do you figure out who you are when you don’t see yourself out there? Here’s a kid who does just that. He finds himself. I think that’s really powerful.
Eddie and I have been in really close contact since the show started, and I feel like, oh my God, my experience actually is really valuable here. I’ll tell him things I wish I had known. What people are buying, in his brand and his image, is identity. His fans want to see themselves in him. This show can be an extension of that, so I think I’m helping him understand his importance, even though I didn’t understand mine at the time.
(ABOVE) The cast of All-American Girl; (BELOW) the cast of Fresh Off the Boat, based on Eddie Huang’s book, to premiere in 2015 on ABC.
What’s new in your life?
I’m working on standup. I’m doing a new record and a new tour that I’m about to go on the road with. I’m back to doing what I really love.
How do you ultimately feel when you look back on All-American Girl?
In the end, I was really grateful to have done it. It really helped me understand a lot more about show business. When re-watching the episodes, I totally forgot some of the stuff that had happened because we were immersed in it. I was just trying to survive within the work of it. I just wanted to keep it going. I wanted to stay alive.
The cast was very close. I’m still friends with all of the actors. B.D Wong and Jodi Long, I see more often.
I’m really grateful for the effect that it had on people who grew up watching it. For a lot people, it was the first time that they saw Asian Americans on television, and that’s really cool. I feel like it did accomplish a lot. It didn’t do exactly what I thought it was going to do, but in a lot of ways, I think it did more. It was a good way to grow up.
This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
Sonny looked around the poolroom at the Green Dragons and sized them up: they had fancy clothes, and money, and beepers, and did not go to school. They had cars. On the spot, he decided to become a member.
It was an easy choice for a teenager who grew up in the underworld of New York City’s Chinatown in the late 1980s. Fredric Dannen extensively chronicled the short-lived and chaotic rise and fall of the Green Dragons in a 1992 New Yorker piece, “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” where the excerpt above comes from.
This week, Revenge of the Green Dragons, a new film based on the article, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. It looks to add another chapter to gang and mafia lore, and the names attached give it unique credence: Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) directed the film, with Martin Scorsese (The Departed) as executive producer.
Korean American actor Justin Chon plays Sonny, inspired by the “Sonny” from the New Yorker piece. After joining the Green Dragons, he quickly rises to prominence within the gang alongside his close friend and brother Steven Ng (Kevin Wu). In the midst of violence and ill-fated love, however, their relationship begins to fray, until Sonny is forced to seek revenge on the very gang that made him.
Chon spoke to KoreAm earlier this month about the new role.
Sonny (Justin Chon, left), with love interest Tina (Shuya Chang).
What was it like to play your first character in an action crime drama?
Chon: The thing about Sonny, my character, [is] I don’t have big monologues or speeches—a lot of it is told through my presence, or my looks. That was really challenging, because the audience needs to understand how I feel without me saying anything. It’s hard to predict and act accordingly.
Getting to an emotional place without having dialogue to ramp me up, or prep me into getting a certain stage, is very hard. It’s like asking someone to go from zero to 100 in a split second. That required a lot of emotional preparation. I think that was the hardest for me.
What is the relationship like between Sonny and Steven?
They’re pretty much like brothers. They’re not brothers by blood, but when they come to the U.S., Sonny loses his mom, and Steven’s family takes him in, not willingly, but it was kind of put upon them. They’re the same age, and they end up becoming like brothers. Their dynamic is different, though, because Steven is more hotheaded than Sonny, who’s more street-smart and has a lot of heart.
As he grows up, I think he is more introspective, and he thinks a lot more before he does anything, as opposed to Steven, who’s just instinctual, animalistic. They start to grow apart because Sonny starts to question why he lives the way he does, as opposed to Steven, who wants to be a gangster.
Green Dragons leader Chen I Chung (Leonard Wu) performs an execution while Sonny (Chon) and Steven Ng (Kevin Wu, right) look on.
Did you read up on the history behind Revenge of the Green Dragons before taking on the role?
I read the New Yorker article, but you have to be careful with these things because it’s based on true events, true people, and a lot of them are alive still.
There’s a lot of research that I did do, but to a certain extent there’s some fictionalized stuff. I [took] my own liberty to make my own interpretations, and I think most of my research just came from what gangs there were at the time, what areas they hung out at, how did they dress, what was their hair like. After I did my research, I took my own interpretation and made my own choices.
How challenging was it to take on a character who is Chinese?
[At first], the directors were scared there would be backlash from the Chinese community casting a Korean kid as the main lead. There was a lot of debate about that. I acted, I did my audition, and I thought I did a great job, and they [agreed]. I met with them again, and they said, “Hey, we’ll be honest with you. If you were Chinese, this would be easy, an easy choice, but the fact is, you’re not.”
It’s tough being an actor and not only [am I] having a tough time being an Asian American actor, but now I’m being subdivided even further by being a Korean American actor. I have a tough time booking Asian roles because I’m not, “whatever” enough.
But I always believed that true talent—if you work hard at your craft—shines. So in this case, it worked in my favor. They believed in me, they really thought I could pull it off. … I literally got cast and I flew out the same day, with the clothes on my back.
The hardest thing was, there’s some stuff I say in Cantonese, and Cantonese is hard. There’s like, [nine] different tones. Mandarin, there’s four. You say a little bit wrong, and it sounds funny.
Sonny tries to get through to a stern Paul Wong (Harry Shum Jr.), the founder of the Green Dragons.
This was your first time shooting with Hong Kong directors. What was the experience like?
The style of shooting was new to me. The way they shoot is really fast. I’m used to doing a rehearsal first, and then blocking it out, and setting up for lights and whatever, but a lot of [Director Loo’s] sets have practical lighting, and you just shoot really fast. A lot of days, you finish after eight or nine hours, but you only get, like, one or two takes [per scene] … because [the director] feels, if you didn’t get it on the first take, it’s not going to get any better than that.
I learned a lot from both directors, I learned about how they shoot in Hong Kong, a lot about filmmaking. It was just different. I’m an American actor who’s worked with mostly American productions, so it opened my eyes to how other people do it around the world.
It was a great experience; I made some really good friends. It was dark—the movie’s dark, but it pushed me as an actor, too.
You can now watch Revenge of the Green Dragons via stream on DirecTV, or wait until Oct. 24 for the theatrical release from A24 Films.
I am KoreAm and proud because (cont.):
My grandfather Choong Sup Park was on the first boat of Korean immigrant laborers to leave Korea in 1902 for Hawaii.
My grandfather Kyung Hak Yoon was one of the first Koreans to immigrate directly from Korea to San Francisco in 1903.
My grandmother Rosa Sunoo, was on the ‘Lost Ship’ of Korean immigrants that was sent to Mexico instead of Hawaii in the early 1900s.
My grandmother Chung Kyung Park, and [grandfather] Choong Sup Park were childhood sweethearts who grew up in the same village, Jeon Ju. Choong Sup worked for 10 years to save enough money for Chung Kyung to come to the United States so they could be reunited.
I own Koreana Gifts and Arts (koreanagifts.com), the oldest Korean Gift Store in the United States. We have many vintage and rare Korean items from the 1950s and 1960s. We may have the largest collection of vintage traditional Korean Dolls in the world. And we are the largest supplier of traditional Korean Drums and traditional Korean Dance Equipment in the Los Angeles area. Koreana Gifts was originally opened in 1961 by John and Cathy Han.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My mom, Gloria Insook Yoon. Gloria is known as The Hommy, and I have done a series of comments on my Facebook page called “The Hommy Chronicles” detailing my life with The Hommmy since 2010, when my sister Leslie passed and I moved The Hommy in with me. I bought the house my parents bought in 1954, so The Hommy is very comfortable living with me.
Gloria is 93 years old, has a pacemaker, is blind due to macular degeneration, is mostly deaf, and has major back curvature from being stepped on by a horse as a child. But her mind is still sharp, and she has a phenomenal memory.
I have also had many good friends who have been with me for decades and I am thankful that I have so many good friends. I could say Jesus Christ, but I see Jesus in my mom every day.
Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
I never tell anyone how smart I really am. My close friends know, but few other people are aware.
My IQ was estimated at 170+ in high school. I had the second highest SAT scores in my high school, and the highest ACT scores.
I skipped 1/2 of the 2nd grade and 1/2 of the 6th grade, so I graduated a year ahead of my peers.
I was accepted by UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Cal Tech when I graduated high school in 1974.
I used to belong to Mensa, but was never active in Mensa.
I am both right brain and left brain, technical mechanical and creative artistic.
If you had to describe yourself using three words, they would be…
Passionate, Creative, Kind
If you could be anybody besides yourself for a day, you would be…
Present – Pope Francis
Past – Leonardo da Vinci
What are your pet peeves or interesting things about you that you dislike?
Cell phone use while driving. I used to autocross and race my 1975 and 1984 Honda Civics, so I have major issues with anyone who is not paying attention to their driving. Plus my father Harold was a big-rig diesel driver for 50 years, and he always made me drive the right way. Both hands on the wheel, always in the right gear, eyes ahead and behind constantly, monitor all the traffic around you all the time. When I would leave my hand on the gear shift after shifting, my dad would hit my hand hard and tell me to put both hands on the steering wheel when I’m not shifting. Thanks to my father, I can upshift and downshift a manual transmission without using the clutch.
Name one of your favorite things about someone in your family.
My mom still has a great sense of humor and is very funny. And she used to fix everything around the house. My mechanical aptitude comes more from my mom than my dad.
One day my mom was eating cookies in her bedroom.
I asked her if she had been eating cookies because I saw the cookie crumbs, and told her I could see the crumbs and now her bedspread was dirty.
My mom looks at me and smiles and says “It’s not dirty, it’s crummy.”
I had no response for that.
What is the kindest thing that someone has ever done for you?
There are so many kind things that my family and friends have done for me. One thing that sticks out is when we had a memorial for my father Harold in 1999 when he passed. My sister had a few friends show up, my brother had a few friends show up, and about 50 of my friends showed up and took up five whole tables. I have always thought that was remarkably kind of my friends to show their support for my family that way. I have some of the best friends in the world.
If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be and why?
I want to go back to Korea (I was there in 2007), and would love to take my mom Gloria with me since she has never gone to Korea. I want to take her to Jeon Ju to see the village where her mother and father came from.
I know the South Korean government offers free trips for US military veterans of the Korean War. Why doesn’t the South Korean government offer free trips to the surviving Korean Pioneers? There aren’t that many left, and the numbers get smaller every year. Many of the early Korean Pioneers have never been to Korea. The South Korean government should step up and right this wrong.
It was the early Korean Pioneers who kept the dream of Korean Independence alive for decades during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. They were the ones who led the Korean Patriot Movement. They were the ones who sacrificed to collect money, food, and medical supplies to send to Korea in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. They were the ones who lived through years of discrimination and racism to pave the way for all future generations of Korean Americans in the United States.
Do the Right Thing.
What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
As a general rule, I don’t eat weird things. I’m a meat and rice guy, and wherever I go, cows die.
Do you have any words that you live by?
Tell us about the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to deal with my severely injured back through the years. I have torn ligaments in my lower back, and when I was 21 I was told by everyone that I would would never run and jump again. I told all the doctors and nurses that they were wrong, and that I was going to play basketball again. I was a basketball junkie for decades. Since I injured my back, I played basketball, played tennis, practiced Kung Fu for seven years, rode a mountain bike, and took up rock climbing, even though I was told I couldn’t do any of those things.
If you could choose one song to describe your life, what would it be and why?
“Desperado” by the Eagles. The words have always spoken to me.
What takes you out of your comfort zone?
Loud stupid people.
Is the glass half empty or half full for you?
Right now, half empty. But if I can raise the funding for the Los Angeles Korea Town Mural Project, it will be overflowing.
It’s my dream and my vision. I know I am an extraordinary art teacher, and I want to give an opportunity to low income Korean American students who can’t afford to pay for after school classes or tutoring. I believe I can teach these art students more in 6 months than most teachers could teach them in two years. My middle school students’ artwork was far superior to any of the artwork coming out of the local high schools.
Who is someone you look up to and what about them inspires you?
Dr Ken Fong. Ken is the senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, and a close friend. Ken is one of the people I know who could have done anything they wanted to do. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, anything. But he became a pastor to follow Jesus and serve God.
Describe your background.
My mother is Korean. My father is German and Irish.
What issues going on in the world, and/or in the Korean American / Asian American community affect you the most?
World: The stability of the Korean Peninsula is something I think about and along those lines, reunification. I strongly believe we are one people.
Community: I worry about health issues in the Korean community and about giving the younger generation the tools to succeed in America. I want to encourage philanthropy in our community.
If you could choose one song to describe your life, what would it be and why?
“Wait A Little While” by Kenny Loggins
What do you feel is your most attractive physical feature?
Before or after photoshop? I think my cheekbones are serving me well.
What takes you out of your comfort zone?
Any form of confrontation.
Is the glass half empty or half full for you?
Half empty! So much to do still!!
Who is someone you look up to and what about them inspires you?
My grandfather Kim Sang Kwon was an amazing man! He was an educator, author, pastor and … prince. He was loving, strong, intelligent and hard working. He braved many adversaries yet persevered by sticking to his beliefs and faith.
When people look at me, they would never guess that I…
I secretly love Cinnabon and eat them every time I am in an airport.
If you were given the opportunity to travel to one place in the world, where would it be and why (money is not an issue)?
Hellooooo … Korea!! It would be great to be able to for an extended period of time. I would like to drink from the river in Pyongyang one day–they say women who drink from that river are very strong minded.
Would you rather be rich or famous?
I wish I were very rich so I could give more to people who need it.
What is your best and worst trait?
Best: I am kind and caring. Worst: I love to complain.
What was the last good book you read? Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander
What has given you the most pleasure in the last year?
I love my German Shepherd.
What food do you absolutely HATE?
Tell us about the last time you had to ask for help.
I ask for help daily. I have the best staff. I hate to talk on the phone so I ask my assistant to call for me.
What would be your ideal vacation?
Hanging out in cafés in Myongdong
If you could go on a date with any Korean/Korean American/Asian American celebrity, who would it be and why?
Are you kidding?? Have you heard of or seen Daniel Henney?! Oh my!
(Of course we have.)
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
What quality do you appreciate most in a friend?
What is one characteristic you received from your parents what you want to keep, and one you wish you could change?
I will keep tenacity and get rid of the whininess.
If you knew you couldn’t fail and money was no object, what would you like to do in the next five years?
I would like to set up an organization that galvanizes the Asian American community to be more philanthropic, whether by volunteering, giving money or serving on boards. It would be great to have resources to educate younger professionals and students on these issues through educational seminars, community round tables, service projects and position papers. Oh wait! We have the organization already–Jade Philanthropy Society! But we need more resources!
Give a little description of your background (where did you grow up, etc.).
I have always lived in small towns where the Asian population is little to none. I never thought it was weird being the only Korean in my class. To me, it was weird when tons of Asian people were together; I felt out of place.
Your go-to food place:
Since I’ve been in California, Chipotle.
Tell us about your favorite and least favorite classes.
My favorite classes are labs because they are hands on. I like being able to move around and actually do something rather than sit and write notes while a teacher is lecturing.
Do you have a worst roommate story? Let’s hear it.
When I was in 7th grade I went to summer camp. My roommate had a baby doll that she thought was real, and it was creepy. I would walk into the room and turn on the lights, and she would quickly turn them back off because the baby was sleeping. It was definitely an experience.
Who has been an influential figure in your life?
My little sister has been really influential because she is always there for me. She is so strong and can make light of any situation. If you need to laugh she’s the first person you should talk to.
If you could sum up your life as a student in three words, they would be…
Stressful, time-management, fun.
Is there anywhere in the world where you’d want to study abroad? Where is it, and why?
I would love to go to Europe because I’ve never been. I have always loved traveling, and a couple of my friends studied in Europe last semester and loved it.
What was the hardest thing you’ve done so far?
College, because you suddenly become independent and you have to find the right balance between school and fun.
What song is representative of your life right now?
“Long Way Home” – 5 Seconds of Summer
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully I’ll be able to support myself with a job that I enjoy.
What was the last book you read…for fun? The Maze Runner
What does your typical day consist of?
Wake up, get stuff done, eat, hang out with friends, sleep.
What does your typical night out consist of?
Spending hours figuring out what to do because all my friends are indecisive, then ending up going to steak’n shake, waffle house, or IHOP.
If you had to evacuate your dorm/apartment/house immediately, what one item would you grab on the way out?
If I was at home I would grab the photo albums, but if i was at the dorm it would be my laptop.
Apple or Android, or neither?
Mac or PC, or neither?
What’s your favorite tree?
Pecan, because there was a pecan tree in my backyard growing up and we would always pick the pecans and eat them.