Tag Archives: politics


David Ryu Sworn In As L.A.’s First Korean American City Councilman

Above image: David Ryu celebrates his May 19 victory.


by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Accompanied by his parents and civic leaders, David Ryu was officially sworn in on Sunday in front of Los Angeles City Hall. The oath of office was administered by former L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, who Ryu once worked for as an aide years ago.

“I am humbled to be the first Korean American City Council member and the first Asian American to stand here in a generation,” Ryu, 39, said to hundreds of supporters and civic leaders gathered on the south lawn. “I am proud to lead my community through these doors to take our rightful place sharing in the leadership of Los Angeles.”

Ryu also thanked his family members who had flown in from Korea to attend the ceremony. In particular, he called his grandmother, the first from his family to immigrate to the U.S. and become a citizen, his “hero and inspiration.”

On May 19, Ryu beat opponent Carolyn Ramsay, who had been supported by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the 14 other councilmembers, by 8 percentage points in the general election to win the seat for District 4. The lobster-shaped area stretches from Sherman Oaks into Silverlake and portions of Hollywood and Koreatown—all in all, about 7.4 percent Asian American. In his speech, Ryu did note that he didn’t ride on the backs of just Asian American voters.

“I was not chosen because of my ethnic heritage,” he said. “I was chosen because I made the commitment to the people of the 4th [District] to put our neighborhoods first.”

Ryu ran against Ramsay emphasizing his non-establishment ties and status as an “outsider” to city council politics, promising to be more transparent with his policies. Ramsay formerly served as chief of staff to the outgoing 14-year incumbent, Tommy LaBonge, who had termed out.

See Also

David Ryu Makes History with Decisive L.A. City Council Win

David Ryu Sets Sights on City Council Seat


Featured image via David Ryu/Twitter

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David Ryu Makes History with Decisive L.A. City Council Win


A few minutes after 11 p.m. on Tuesday, David Ryu stood on a raised platform in the patio of a Sunset Strip restaurant, in front of dozens of his supporters, and told them what they did not want to hear.

“It’s not over yet. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” proclaimed Ryu, as his run-off election against a heavily favored opponent was slowly drawing to a close.

With more than 50 percent of the ballots tallied and Ryu leading past Carolyn Ramsay, who was endorsed by all 14 other councilmembers and Mayor Eric Garcetti, by more than a thousand votes, there was a charged excitement of inevitability emboldening the multiculturally-mixed crowd. And so they chanted, “Da-vid! Da-vid!”

The anticipation was getting to Ryu, as well. “I had a speech prepared … but I can’t remember anything right now,” he said, as the election results were projected from a laptop onto a screen nearby.

By midnight the outcome was no longer in doubt. Ryu had won the seat for Los Angeles City Council District 4. And in doing so, he became only the second Asian American, and the first Korean American, to gain a spot on the 15-person governing body of the second-largest city in the country.

Throughout his campaign, Ryu has stressed that he is a candidate for all, not just for Asian Americans. And he continued to relay that populist message on election night.


“Today, it’s historic not because I’m Asian American. It’s historic because we’re finally telling City Hall that we do not like business as usual,” said Ryu. “Yes, I’m not going to change things overnight; it’s going to take some time. But it’s the start. It’s about shaping the new City Council. And if we can do what we did today, what can’t we do together?”

But for the Korean Americans in attendance, who have been desperate to gain representation in city government, Ryu’s victory is truly momentous. “The fact that David won is a huge boon for the psyche of the API (Asian-Pacific Islander) community for Los Angeles. It’s been too long,” said Grace Yoo, who also tried to join Ryu on the council this year. Her attempt to unseat Council President Herb Wesson failed in the March primary.

“I am delighted David was able to win, that the outsider beat the insider,” Yoo added. “David will now have the opportunity to represent all of the communities, and not just those that have been represented in the past. I am delighted that David will be able to take a stand on behalf of everybody, including the Korean American community.”

In the end, the 39-year-old Ryu had edged out his opponent by 8 percentage points – 54 percent to 46 percent – without ever trailing behind, to claim the seat for Council District 4, an irregular lobster-shaped area that stretches from Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks and includes parts of mid-L.A.

Ryu, the eldest son of Korean immigrants who came to the U.S. at age 6, embarked on what many saw as an improbable run to defeat Ramsay, the former chief of staff to Tom LaBonge, who occupied the seat for 14 years and was barred by term limits from running again.

Ramsay and Ryu finished a respective one-two in the March 3 primary by a slim vote differential to advance to Tuesday’s general election. Ryu will be sworn in July 1 to begin his four-year term.

While not much separated the two candidates’ positions on issues such as the need for city repairs and tempering gridlock, Ryu emphasized his non-establishment ties and outsider status when appealing to voters.

The UCLA grad and former director of development at a nonprofit health center garnered 11,269 votes compared with Ramsay’s 9,657, according to unofficial election night results from the city clerk’s office. There were nearly twice as many votes cast by mail-in ballot than at the polls.

The one other Asian American to serve on L.A.’s City Council was Michael Woo, from 1985 to 1993. In a phone interview with KoreAm Wednesday morning, Woo said the relatively large margin by which Ryu won—1,500 votes—could reflect a combination of factors: high turnout by Korean American and other Asian American voters; Ryu’s emphasis on his outsider status and anti-developer campaign theme; plus voter fatigue with the establishment.

“I think it’s a major landmark in the coming of age of the Korean American community in Los Angeles,” said Woo, who is Chinese American. “I know people have talked about this for years, but David was the first one who was actually able to get to the top of this mountain. I think it’s extremely important, historically.”


All images courtesy of Jimmy Lee/KoreAm

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story that was posted earlier today.


Former ‘Comfort Women’ Journalist Vows to Take Stand

Pictured above: Takashi Uemura greets Grandma Lee before his talk May 8 at UCLA co-sponsored by the Center for Korean Studies and the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. (Photo courtesy of Korean American Forum of California)


by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

At age 57 and with graying hair, Takashi Uemura is considerably older than his 33-year-old self who in 1991 penned two articles in Japan’s second-largest newspaper about a Korean comfort woman who was the first to come forward and publicly tell her story about Japan’s wartime abuse.

All these years later, the fiery spirit in the former journalist has not subsided.

That much was clear when the Sapporo resident came to UCLA’s Perloff Hall on May 8 to deliver a presentation to a packed room about the smear campaign that is being waged against him and other liberal media by Japan’s political conservatives over the country’s culpability for the forced prostitution of approximately 200,000 women from Korea and other Asian countries in military brothels before and during World War II.

“I will fight. I cannot lose this fight,” said the former journalist, dressed in a gray suit and who gestured frequently to illustrative slides on the projector screen.

UemuraUemura points to a slide featuring an article about him in a Japanese newspaper at his colloquium at UCLA’s Perloff Hall. (Photo courtesy of Korean American Forum of California)

Los Angeles was Uemura’s last stop on a five-city U.S. tour that began April 30 in Chicago and which has taken him to Milwaukee, New York City and Princeton, N.J. to speak about his crusade to combat the backlash.

Twenty-four years ago, Uemura, then a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, wrote about Kim Hak-sun, who was the first so-called “comfort woman” to provide recorded testimony about being forced to service Japanese officers at a military outpost in southern China. Her testimony helped bring greater attention to the issue of forced sexual enslavement of these women, nearly 50 years after the fact.

Today, Uemara’s articles have come under renewed attack by some members of Japan’s political right who dispute that Japan forced the women into prostitution and are calling for the Japanese government to revise a 1993 apology and statement acknowledging the existence of comfort stations and the coercive nature of their operations.

Speaking through a translator May 8, Uemura, who retired from journalism and is now a lecturer of social issues at Hokusei Gakuen University, says the attacks against him in conservative publications and on the Internet have cost him one teaching post, threaten his current position and have been aimed at his 17-year-old daughter.

UCLAroomTakashi Uemura’s Colloquium: Reporting on “Comfort Women,” held May 8 at UCLA’s Perloff Hall, drew a full crowd. (Photo courtesy of Soo Yeon Kwak)

Rather than retreat, Uemura has embarked on a global awareness campaign of sorts, visiting American universities to explain why he’s taking a stand against these forces: “Attacking my articles as ‘fabrication’ is tantamount to a denial of the comfort woman issue,” states one slide from his presentation. “It hurts the dignity of the former ‘comfort women’ halmoni who were courageous enough to recount their painful experiences.”

Earlier this year, Uemura filed defamation suits against Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University, and Bungeishunju, the publisher of the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, for alleging that he fabricated the 1991 articles.

“There are forces in the Japan of 2014 that attack and intimidate those who try to fix their gaze upon the dark side of history. There are also people who refuse to surrender and are raising their voices. My younger self seems to be telling me, ‘Go stand with them and confront those forces,’” Uemura wrote in a piece published in the January 2015 issue of Bungei Shunju magazine.

EdRoyceGrandma Yong Soo Lee with Rep. Ed Royce at the 22nd annual Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (CAUSE) dinner held May 7 at the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown L.A. (Photo courtesy of Soo Yeon Kwak)

In attendance at Uemura’s talk at UCLA was Yong-soo Lee, one of only a few dozen surviving comfort women who traveled to the U.S. from her home in Taegu, South Korea, to overlap with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington, D.C. in late April.

Lee was invited to Washington by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who in 2007 proposed House Resolution 121, which calls for Japan to formally acknowledge and apologize to former comfort women; publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement never occurred; and include lessons from the wartime abuse in school curriculums.

Lawmakers, Korean American groups and others hoped that Abe, whose conservative administration has sought to dilute Japan’s 1993 apology, known as the “Kono Statement,” would use his high-profile address to a joint session of Congress to issue a formal apology; that did not happen.

Speaking through interpreter Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California, after the UCLA talk, Lee told KoreAm she went to Washington as “a living witness of history.” “I wanted to show [Abe] the clear proof,” she said, adding that she wanted to see the Japanese leader make a formal apology in person.

CAUSEDinnerYong-soo Lee with members of California’s congressional delegation at the 22nd annual CAUSE dinner held May 7. (Photo courtesy of Soo Yeon Kwak)

Dressed in a traditional hanbok, the 86-year-old Lee stood at the front of the room after Uemura’s presentation at UCLA and briefly addressed the audience gathered for the May 8 event, which was sponsored by the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies and Center for Korean Studies. The night before, Lee was a guest at the 22nd annual Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment (CAUSE) dinner in downtown L.A., attended by members of California’s congressional delegation, including Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and state legislators.

Of her trip overall in the U.S., Lee said, “I felt my heart was breaking to see so many people trying so hard at making a lot of efforts to resolve this issue in the United States.”


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Former Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang to Run for California Senate in 2016

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Former Irvine, Calif. mayor Sukhee Kang announced last Friday that he will be running for the California Senate, Korea Times reports. The 62-year-old will be running as a Democrat for Senate District 29, which includes parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernadino counties.

“I am excited about bringing my background and experience in both the private and public sectors to serve the citizens of Senate District 29,” Kang said in a statement. “This very diverse district includes parts of three counties, and it deserves to have an advocate in the state Senate who will exercise strong bi-partisan leadership and fight for issues important to the residents who live here.”

“I am looking forward to campaigning door-to-door throughout the district, as I have always done in my campaigns to meet voters where they live and listen to the concerns on their doorsteps.”

A 38-year resident of Orange County, Kang immigrated to the U.S. in 1977 after graduating from Korea University. He previously worked in the private sector in the Orange and Riverside counties before entering the public sector, following the L.A. riots in 1992. Kang spent some time working different Korean American community organizations, including serving as chairman of the Korean American Coalition of Orange County, before branching out into politics.

In 2008, Kang was elected as mayor of Irvine, touted as the “first Korean American mayor of a major U.S. city.” He won re-election in 2010 and served until 2012, although 2011 saw a failed run at U.S. Congress against incumbent Republican Joseph Campbell.

The California Senate primary will be held on June 7, 2016. A top-two finish will allow Kang to advance to the November election. The Korea Times notes that if he becomes elected, he will be the first Korean American state senator in 42 years since the late Alfred H. Song.

You can find more information on Sukhee Kang’s campaign at his website, www.KangforSenate.com.


Image via Sukhee Kang’s Facebook page

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Study: South Koreans Becoming More Open-Minded About LGBT Issues

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

South Koreans are becoming more open-minded and adopting increasingly favorable attitudes regarding LGBT rights and issues, according to a recent study by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

The South Korea-based think tank conducted five annual surveys of South Koreans from 2010-2014, noting that the trend was most noticeable among respondents in their 20s. In 2010, 26.7 percent said they were open-minded about homosexuality. By 2014, the figure nearly doubled to 47.4 percent.

The numbers also doubled for South Koreans in their 20s and 30s who supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, going from 30.5 percent and 20.7 percent respectively in 2010 to 60.2 percent and 40.4 percent in 2014.

But while more South Koreans are indeed changing their attitudes towards LGBT issues and same-sex marriage, they still represented a minority. The overall numbers are a bit more tempered: Respondents who had no reservations of homosexuality increased from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 23.7 percent in 2014, while those who supported legalizing same-sex marriage went from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 28.5 percent in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.17.58 PMImage courtesy of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies


The numbers among South Koreans in their 50s and 60s remained relatively unchanged in the last five years. Among religious respondents, 70.6 percent of Protestants had reservations about LGBT issues, compared to 41.9 percent of Catholics.

Along political lines, progressives have a firmer stance on LGBT issues than moderates or conservatives. The majority of progressives supported LGBT rights and were quite open-minded about homosexuality: 83.6 percent said they would accept or at least make an effort to accept LGBT family members, compared to 60.9 percent of conservatives who answered the same.

When it came to actual political discussion, however, the Asan Institute projected that LGBT topics were still likely to be overshadowed by economic and national security concerns. Politicians, therefore, are unlikely to take up an active stance, especially when there are no voting blocs to pressure them. LGBT people in South Korea aren’t clustered and typically hide their identities, the study noted.

South Korea has supported international laws and norms, most recently joining an effort last year with the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to adopt international human rights standards to protect LGBT individuals from torture, discrimination and violence. When it comes to domestic politics, however, LGBT topics are a “major deal breaker.”

A 2007 anti-discrimination bill reinforcing basic human rights in South Korea ran into staunch conservative opposition due to sexual minorities being named as one of the principal beneficiaries. The bill was reintroduced in 2010 and again in 2013, but the National Assembly voted to repeal the legislation the last time. In October 2014, a bipartisan human rights education bill for government employees also met opposition from Christian and conservative groups who argued that the bill promoted homosexuality. The bill was repealed a month later.

LGBT issues perhaps garnered the most national attention in South Korea last year, when Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that he “personally agree[d] with the rights of homosexuals” and hoped that Korea would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

His comments drew heavy controversy after South Korean media picked up on them, and conservative groups criticized the mayor of supporting homosexuality and only doing so to gain political favor. Park backtracked on his comments and one of his election pledges, the Seoul City Charter of Human Rights. The charter had included a clause that prohibited discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and identity.

The Asan Institute noted that Mayor Park was the first prominent politician to bring LGBT issues to the forefront as a serious political and social issue. Although his backtracking may not serve as much confidence for future politicians to follow suit, the Asan Institute said LGBT activists can take over the conversation by “framing the issue within the universal context of anti-discrimination and human dignity” rather than “seeking privileges.” 

Park reportedly said something similar to the Examiner: “Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage]. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”


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Shinzo Abe Invited to Address Joint U.S. Congress Session

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will speak before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on April 29, reports Yonhap News Agency. House Speaker John Boehner officially announced the invitation on Thursday.

“As the United States continues to strengthen our ties with Japan, we look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Abe to the United States Capitol. His address will provide an opportunity for the American people to hear from one of our closest allies about ways we can expand our cooperation on economic and security priorities,” Boehner said in a statement.

“That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade,” he added. “Prime Minister Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress, and we are proud to host this historic event.”

Abe was poised to make a trip to the United States this spring in late April to early March before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August. He is expected to meet with President Barack Obama over discussions on security and trade agreements. His speech before Congress is expected to mark the partnership the two countries have enjoyed and the peaceful path Japan has taken since the end of the war.

There is intense speculation in Tokyo and other Asian countries about how he will mark the anniversary. Abe has stirred fierce controversy over signs that his government was looking to reexamine and revise previous statements and apologies from former Japanese leaders.

In response to speculation over Abe’s visit, a number of Korean American activists and U.S. veterans groups called on Abe earlier this month to issue a clear apology for Japan’s war crimes, including sexual slavery, committed during World War II. U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) also added that “nothing less than” a clear apology would be enough for Abe to be a global leader in women’s rights, as the prime minister said in a speech at the United Nations last year.


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Elections Lawsuit Focuses on Asian American Voting Rights

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Two prominent civil rights groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the City of Fullerton, located in Orange County, Calif., alleging that its at-large election system dilutes the Asian American vote in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

The suit was filed on behalf of Korean American community organizer and Fullerton resident Jonathan Paik by the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

The suit argues that Fullerton’s at-large elections system, which allows any eligible voter in the city to vote for any candidate regardless of where they reside, creates a racially polarized voting pattern where the city’s white majority vote is preventing Asian Americans from wielding any real electoral influence.

From the city’s founding in 1887 up until present day, “despite the fact that many Asian American candidates have run for Council seats, only two Asian Americans have ever won election to the City Council,” the complaint states.

Asian Americans make up nearly a quarter of the city’s population while 54 percent is Caucasian and 34.4 percent Latino. No Asian Americans or Latinos currently sit on Fullerton’s five-member City Council, in which members are elected to four-year terms and elections are held on a staggered basis on even-numbered years.

Last year, Vivian Jaramillo, a Latina candidate who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2006 and 2012, sued the City of Fullerton, alleging vote dilution among Latino residents under the city’s at-large elections system.

Paik’s suit seeks an order requiring the city to adopt an alternative election system, such as a district-based system where candidates from a district are elected by voters of that particular district.

“If you look at the last several elections when an Asian candidate has run, that candidate has ben preferred by a majority of the Asian electorate,” Laboni Hoq, litigation director at AAAJ, told KoreAm. “But because of the way the at-large system works, that voice gets drowned out by the majority, and they tend to elect candidates who are white or of another ethnicity.”

With a population of roughly 135,161, Fullerton is one of the largest cities in California that still holds at-large elections, according to the complaint. In March 2013, Escondido, just north of San Diego, settled a similar voting rights lawsuit by moving to a district-based election system. And last November, voters in Anaheim approved a ballot measure, prompted by another voting rights lawsuit, proposing the city switch from at-large elections to district-based voting. Anaheim residents will be able to vote for two additional City Council members based on districts come 2016, according to the Orange County Register.

“There is clearly a will and desire for the Asian American community to run and be represented in [Fullerton’s] City Council. But the at-large election system prevents that,” Brendan Hamme, an ACLU attorney who helped file the suit, told KoreAm. “I would think once Asian Americans are aware that they have a real shot at being elected and having their voices heard on the City Council, that would galvanize even more people than we’ve seen to run for office.”

Paik’s complaint argues that an alternative voting system is particularly important in Fullerton due to the “long history of discrimination against Asian Americans throughout Orange County,” including a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found a pattern of racial discrimination against minorities in hiring practices for the city’s police and fire departments between 1986 and 1993 and the repeated questioning of a former Asian American council member’s citizenship status by Fullerton residents back in 1996.

More recently, the complaint notes, Young Kim, a Korean American who in November was elected to the California State Assembly District 65, faced off against an opponent, Sharon Quirk-Silva, who deployed the phrase “Not One of Us” next to Kim’s photo in her campaign mailings.

The complaint also points out other problematic voting practices in the city, such as an elections website that has translations in Japanese and Chinese “hidden from immediate view” despite the fact that 66 percent of Fullerton’s Asian American population is foreign-born.

Paik, a 27-year-old who works as a civic engagement coordinator at the Korean Resource Center in Buena Park, told KoreAm on Wednesday that as a longtime resident of Fullerton, he has always felt “a disconnect from city government and that my voice couldn’t be heard.”

“We’re hoping that we’re able to elect an official, in my voice, [representing] my interests in the community,” he said. “I believe that with a district-based election system, that becomes more possible, getting an elected official from a particular community.”

KoreAm has not yet heard back from Fullerton city officials regarding the lawsuit.