Tag Archives: politics


Maryland’s Yumi Hogan Is Good to Go as First Lady

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

It’s a season of firsts for the Maryland governor. Larry Hogan, a Republican in a state that is considered to be widely Democratic, never held public office until he pulled off an upset this past November. His wife, Yumi, is believed to be the first Korean first lady in the United States, according to the Washington Post.

Yumi probably never even considered that title before she met Larry in 2000. After growing up in a rural area outside Seoul as the youngest of eight children, she immigrated to the United States in her 20s, married to her first husband with whom she had three daughters.

After a divorce, Yumi was left to take care of her children on her own, teaching art in her basement and working as a cashier to make ends meet. As an aspiring artist, she continued working on her abstract landscapes, until she caught the eye of Larry at an art show. According to the governor, he was “more interested in the artist than the art” and gave Yumi his number. She never called, but the couple eventually met again and got married.

Fast forward 15 years, and the two are moving into the governor’s mansion with the kimchi refrigerator in tow. Larry encouraged Yumi to pursue an art degree; she now has two, including a masters degree. Her artwork has been on display in various locations around the country.

Yumi plans to continue her regular job of teaching painting while also making arts a priority as first lady. She may be new to a public office, but she’s fine with the responsibilities. All she wants is her studio space once things are settled in their new place.

KoreAm‘s February/March 2015 issue will include a full profile of Yumi Hogan, so stay tuned!


Photo courtesy of the Washington Post

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Electoral Wins Signal New Political Center of Gravity


Pictured above: Young Kim (left) and Michelle Park Steel, who won their respective races. (Photo courtesy of Young Kim for State Assembly)

Early last week, at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, a few hundred people gathered at the trendy Line Hotel to recognize a handful of individuals who are emerging as the next leaders of the Southern California Korean American community.

Guests dined on a banquet menu consisting of chicken, salmon and roasted carrots from a menu by celebrated chef Roy Choi as they listened to a seemingly unending number of speeches from the guests of honor—a roster of notable politicians.

The more succinct remarks of the evening came from the three U.S. Congress members in attendance—Democrats Judy Chu and Mike Honda, and Republican Ed Royce—each of whom received leadership awards from the Korean American Economic Development Center, which sponsored the event along with the Bright World Foundation and Korea Times.

But the true VIPs at the 4th Korean American Political Conference & Next Generation Leadership Forum (KAPOL) were the Korean Americans who won tightly contested races this November midterm election.

At the $40-per-person ticketed dinner, attended by young professionals and older Koreans alike, these victorious pols were touted as “Rising Stars.”

There was just one problem: the politicians did not represent the districts of the majority of those in attendance.

That’s because the list of honorees included Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, Cypress School Board member Sandra Lee, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Park Steel and California Assembly member Young Kim.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 4.33.31 PMPictured above: Michelle Park Steel

In the city of Los Angeles, Korean Americans running for office over the last two decades have failed, for the most part, to win over voters. While there is no lack of passion or desire to represent a place that is often considered the heart of the community’s social, cultural and economic existence, campaign execution has been deficient.

Just look at recent history as evidence: in the 1990s, Andrew Kim, an attorney, failed multiple times to win a seat to represent Koreatown in either the city council or the state Assembly. In 2013, three candidates—John Choi, Bong Hwan Kim and Emile Mack—threw their hats into the race for the same Los Angeles Council district, dividing the Asian American voting bloc.

Although Choi eventually made it to a run-off election, he lost to Mitch O’Farrell.

But if this past midterm election is any indication, in the suburbs of Orange County, a growing number of Korean Americans is gaining traction with voters—most notably, Michelle Park Steel, who has traded one elected post (eight years on the California Board of Equalization) for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and Young Kim, who will represent the district that includes her hometown Fullerton, in the California Assembly.

Steel, a Republican who is married to California Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, will help govern a county of approximately 3 million people and which has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. Kim, a Republican who previously served as Director of Community Relations and Asian Affairs in Rep. Royce’s office, is now one of four Asian American freshmen in the lower house of the California legislature.

Both Steel and Kim have been involved in community work and politics for more than 25 years.

“I never liked meeting people; I was a very shy person,” Steel told KoreAm at the dinner. “[But] while you’re running, you build your own strength.”

As for her fellow victor, Steel added: “Some people think, ‘Oh my god, Young just came out of nowhere [to win].’ [But] we’ve been preparing for where we are at. I think of it like the swan — underwater moving really hard, but on the surface so peaceful. Nobody knows how much work we’ve been doing to get here.”

Marisala_stdYoung Kim at her election party in the Coyote Hills Country Club
(Photo courtesy of Marisela Gonzalez/Daily Titan)

Kim’s victory against Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva, meanwhile, helped prevent California Democrats from obtaining, yet again, a supermajority in the state house. In a brief interview with KoreAm at the dinner, she said she sensed the pressure.

“I’m from a minority community, and I’m also a minority in the sense that I’m one of the very few women legislators,” Kim said. “I do represent the new face of [a more diverse Republican] party, something they’ve been touting for over two decades, but have not been successful with, until now.”

“That is a huge responsibility. … I do feel that I need to do everything I can to meet that expectation,” she added.

The recent twin victories by Kim and Steel may indicate that the new political center of gravity for the Korean American community is moving away from Los Angeles—and into Orange County. That is, unless the two Korean Americans running for Los Angeles City Council in 2015, Grace Yoo and David Ryu, have something to say about that.


Nearly 9 out of 10 South Koreans Don’t Trust Their Government


Persistent political wrangling between the two opposing parties has left the South Koreans questioning their government more than ever before, according to a survey released Friday.

A poll conducted by Gallup Korea showed that 89 percent of its 1,011 respondents said South Korean lawmakers are not performing their duties properly. The figure is a significant bump up from a similar poll conducted in June when the disapproval rate was at 65 percent. It is conceived that the excessively long standoff between the ruling Saenuri Party and the opposing New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) before finally passing the bills to investigate the cause of the ferry tragedy has contributed to the people’s distrust.

“This is the highest rate of disapproval we’ve seen,” Gallup Korea reportedly told Gobal News. “These results show that the support base for South Korean politics is frigid.”

Of those who expressed their discontent, 20 percent said that the political standoff and lack of communication make it difficult for them to support the government’s lawmaking body. While 14 percent cited nepotism among lawmakers, 10 percent said their inability to handle bills is the main reason for not trusting the government.

But perhaps the most telling aspect is that, even as 61 percent of the survey’s respondents said they disapprove of the Saenuri Party (an increase from 43 percent in June), a staggering 80 percent still said they don’t support the opposing NPAD. The Saenuri Party, represented by President Park Geun-hye, still garnered an approval rating of 45 percent, followed by 28 percent who responded that they don’t support a specific political party. The NPAD’s rate of approval was only at 20 percent.

Photo courtesy of Crnxue.com

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.39.10 PM

Asian American Voters: The Nation’s Fastest Growing Political Force


According to a survey conducted by AAPI Data, Asian Americans voters are planning to turn out for the upcoming November midterms, and since most of them do not affiliate with a political party, they are now being seen as a promising political force.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) recently released the results of the survey, which polled 1,300 Asian American registered voters nationwide, and found that at least 60 percent of registered Asian American voters are planning to vote in the upcoming 2014 midterms.

Compared to the 37 percent of Asian American voters who are Democrat and 17 percent who are Republican, 46 percent were identified to be unaffiliated with a political party, making Asian Americans votes a prime target audience for future political candidates.

“Asian Americans should no longer be an afterthought in our political process,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of AAJC.

“It is clear that Asian Americans will have a say in shaping future elections and the future direction of our country. Candidates from both sides of the aisle should be making inroads with this community, and yet, most Asian Americans have yet-to-be contacted by either political party.”

Considering the survey’s results as well as the rapid growth of Asian American population in the South and Midwest, it’s gradually becoming clear that there are enough Asian American votes to close the gap in some of the upcoming House races. Thus, many API community-based organizations across the country are launching campaigns to outreach to voters of Asian descent and advocate for policies to make the voting process easier for first-time voters with limited English proficiency.

Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, for example, is opening a 14-language phone bank this week as a part of the “Your Vote Matters” 2014 campaign and plans to use hundreds of bilingual volunteers to make phone calls providing electoral information in multiple Asian languages including Bangla, Cantonese, Hindi, Japaneese, Korean, Mandarin, and more.

In addition, the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center‘s (AALAC) has been running a campaign since July with the goal of reaching out to 10,000 Korean American voters in Gwinnett County, which has the highest concentration of Korean Americans in the state of Georgia.

“The Asian American electorate is growing rapidly and is already a significant presence in many states and Congressional districts,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of AAPI Data and lead researcher on the survey. “In-language polling of Asian Americans is now getting to be critical, in order for us to have a more accurate picture of what voters care about, and how they will vote.”

Below is an infographic of the survey’s findings:


eeoc jenny yang pic

President Obama Appoints Jenny R. Yang EEOC Chair


Jenny R. Yang was sworn in today as the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), making her the first Asian American chair of the EEOC. Yang, whose term expires July 1, 2017, was nominated by President Obama and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 25, 2013.

“It is an honor and privilege to have been named by President Obama to serve as Chair of the EEOC,” Chair Yang said. “Our outgoing Chair, Jacqueline Berrien, has left an extraordinary legacy. I look forward to building upon that foundation with my fellow Commissioners, our General Counsel, and all of our dedicated and talented staff.”

Yang previously served as Vice Chair of the EEOC since April 2014 and led a comprehensive review of the agency’s program, which addresses issues regarding alleged discrimination that have broad impact on an industry, profession, company or geographic region. She also represented EEOC on the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“Fifty years ago, this nation made a fundamental promise to its people to assure equality of opportunity at work,” Chair Yang said. “Congress created the EEOC to make good on this promise — to lead the nation in enforcing our anti-discrimination laws and to champion equal employment opportunity in workplaces across America.  It is a tremendous privilege and responsibility to serve this remarkable agency in fulfilling this promise to our nation.”

Yang is a longtime, experienced civil rights and employment lawyer. Prior to joining the EEOC, Yang was a partner at Cohen Milstein, Sellers & Toll PLLC, where she represented thousands of employees across the country in numerous complex civil rights and employment actions. She also served as chair of the firm’s hiring and diversity committee. From 1998 to 2003, Yang was a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Department of justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section, where she enforced federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment by state and local government employers.

Yang received her B.A. from Cornell University in government and her J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she was a note and comment editor of the law review and Root-Tilden Public Interest Scholar. She and her husband, Kil Huh, director of the States’ Fiscal Health Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, have two sons.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about Chair Yang and the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

Photo via SDCBA.

Sunha Paul Kim

Student Spotlight: Harvard University’s Sunha Paul Kim

Give a little description of your background (where did you grow up, etc.).
I was born and raised in the South Bay area of L.A., but I have also lived in Ohio and New England. I am grateful to have lived in all three places because I have gained greater insight with regards to my cultural identity. It really wasn’t until I moved to Ohio that I realized I was, as a Korean American, different from the majority of this country. Even though I spent most of my life in California, I like to say that I really grew up in Ohio, because I definitely experienced a profound cultural awakening which enabled me to gain a truer sense of what it means to be an American in Ohio.

Are there any organizations/clubs you are involved in? Tell us about what you’re up to!
I helped establish a Harvard based religious grassroots movement and Super PAC called Stand For Democracy that is currently aiming to repeal gambling laws in Massachusetts. Repealing gambling laws is important for me because gambling is such a large problem for Korean Americans and Asian Americans in general. It is also something that has directly affected my family and I am sure that my family is not the only one. Also, a win in November’s election would mark the first time in American history that a state has ever overturned gambling laws. Repealing gambling laws in Massachusetts would be a watershed moment in American history.

Our organization has been responsible for getting the Muslims, Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to work together all throughout Massachusetts in order to overturn this state’s gambling laws. We have also assembled a team of world class advisors from Harvard’s faculty (including the professor who created President Obama’s successful grassroots campaign in 2008) who are helping us grow this movement. Currently, we are working on raising close to $2 Million from all over the country to take on the casino industry this November. You can check out our website at StandForDemocracy.com and even donate a few dollars to support our cause.

press conference copy

What was the hardest thing you’ve done so far?
Helping to start a grassroots movement to fight a $50,000,000 political machine funded by multiple casino corporations is by far the hardest thing I have done and am currently working on. It’s a David vs. Goliath struggle, but with the right tools, David sometimes wins.

What’s the best thing about your school?
Having incredible role models. There aren’t too many schools where one can have dinner with the former President of Mexico, work with gubernatorial candidates, and take classes with million book selling authors and one of the European Union’s top economic advisors. Of course, this is a double-edged sword because it this is how some people lose touch with reality.

What song is representative of your life right now?
“Get Up Stand Up” by Bob Marley.

I think Bob Marley is too often written off for having merely written stoner hymns. While there is nothing wrong with this perception, people too often miss the powerful and profound message of Marley’s work.

Your go-to food place:
When in LA: Kogi. I am a huge fan of chef Roy Choi because he simply makes a damn good taco. I also believe that Chef Roy has created a new type of food: Korean American Food. My advisor at Harvard, Professor David Carrasco, teaches about the cultural exchanges that particularly take place in large cities. Whether Chef Roy knows it or not, Kogi’s food signifies a Korean-Mexican cultural exchange that has given rise to a new Korean-American-Mexican culture that could only have originated in Los Angeles. I write a lot about Roy Choi’s work in my classes and I know he’d be welcome anytime to speak at Harvard.

When in Boston: Bon Me. I love food trucks. There is a food truck that parks in front of Harvard Yard almost every day and sells Miso Braised Pulled Pork foot long sandwiches for $6. Bon Me takes cultural exchange to another level. Think about it. Vietnamese sandwiches (Bon Me) were first created in Vietnam during French colonial times. So here we at least have Vietnamese, French, Japanese (Miso), and American (good old pulled pork) culinary influences coming into play with one sandwich. It’s pure magic.

Is there anywhere in the world where you’d want to study abroad? Where is it, and why?
Supporting Manchester City Football Club has given me a window into the socio-political dynamics of everyday life in Manchester, England. City fans are generally hard working blue collar people who have historically supported an awful soccer team for many fascinating reasons. Most of Manchester supports City even though Manchester United is obviously the bigger global club. Imagine if Los Angeles, in the midst of the Shaq-Kobe dynasty, was mostly Clipper fans. I admire City fans for their loyalty to Manchester City and it would be incredible to have a chance to live and study in Manchester and to learn more about the incredibly interesting people there. It would also go a long way towards getting people to stop calling me a glory hunting wanker.


What does your typical night out consist of?
I don’t get many of these, so it’s important to take the most out of a night out. A typical night out is all about going out to Boston, going to the clubs, and taking trip to rage city. I never drink cheap alcohol and you shouldn’t either. It might certainly mean drinking less often but that’s the smart thing to do anyways.

What was the last book you read…for fun?
The Martyred by Richard E. Kim.

My grandfather died earlier this year and I never spoke to him about how he fought in the Korean War or how he moved his family across an ocean to re-start life. Richard E. Kim and my grandfather are similar in very specific ways. Kim was born in 1932 and my grandfather was born in 1931, which means they were 21 and 22 when the Korean War broke out. This means that out of all the Korean soldiers that fought in the Korean War, Kim and my grandfather were only one of a relative few that actually dropped out of university and sacrificed their education to fight in a war. Of course, afterwards both Kim and my grandfather came to America. I viewed Kim’s book as perhaps the only window I had to look into what Korean Americans of my grandfather’s generation were thinking about the Korean War. That’s why this book was, for me, a wonderful read.

What has been your favorite memory so far?
Organizing and witnessing Muslims, Jews, and Christians pray together in public for greater good has been my most moving and favorite memory so far.


If you would like to participate in KoreAm U’s Student Spotlight feature, you can find more information here. Alumni, we have something for you too!

Rexon Ryu-FP 2008

Rexon Ryu Named Defense Secretary Hagel’s New Chief of Staff

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has tapped Rexon Ryu to be his next chief of staff, replacing the outgoing Mark Lippert who was appointed U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Foreign Policy has reported.

Ryu formerly worked as a foreign policy adviser to Hagel when the latter served as a U.S. senator, and observers say it’s not surprising he was named to be the Defense Secretary’s right-hand man. He is said to mesh well with Hagel’s leadership style, according to John Lettieri, who was formerly Ryu’s Senate deputy, the FP article said. “He’s one of the few people who can hit the ground running in this position,” Lettieri told the publication.

In a statement to FP, Hagel said Ryu “is a proven talent when it comes to working with the interagency, Congress, and outside groups and he will be a tremendous asset to the Defense Department. [I] have long relied on [Ryu’s] counsel and wise perspective on national security matters.”

Ryu leaves his position as a deputy to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and is reportedly already starting his transition to the new Pentagon post this week. Waiting for him will be a sizable list of pressing security issues, including ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), Ukraine and Syria, according to the Foreign Policy article.

The Korean American has had plenty of experience in foreign policy and national security issues. Ryu formerly served as a special assistant to former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and the Washington Post called him a “confidant” to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a former assistant to National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Ryu one one of a handful of directors who worked on nonproliferation issues at the National Security Council, with a specific focus on Iran and Syria.

When he was on Hagel’s Senate staff, the then-Nebraska lawmaker credited Ryu with having “a good global assessment of reality and policy … and can talk simply, straightly, directly.”

Top photo: Rexon Ryu (left), from a 2008 picture. Photo via Foreign Policy.

Roy Cho

Election Roundup: Korean American Candidates Roy Cho and Young Kim Score Victories


A dozen Korean Americans were on Tuesday’s primary ballots, but only a handful emerged victorious from their respective races. Among the big winners were Democrat and first-time congressional candidate Roy Cho of New Jersey, who won an impressive 90 percent of the vote and will move on to the general election for the state’s 5th Congressional District; and California’s Republican State Assembly candidate Young Kim who will also advance to the November election.

More than half of the Korean Americans candidates were running for seats in California.

Here’s the roundup of how the candidates performed at the June 2 primaries.


Republican State Assembly candidate Young Kim is now a step closer to “kicking butt” as she famously declared last year, after garnering 54.7 percent of the vote to incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva’s 45.3. The historically conservative 65th District went to Quirk-Silva in 2012, which allowed the Democrats to gain the supermajority in the State Assembly.

In the 24th District of the State Senate, Peter Choi is headed to the general elections with fellow Democrat Kevin De Leon, after collecting 20.3 percent of the vote and finishing in the top two. Sam Kang (6.4%) also lost in his bid (31.1%) for a seat in the 15th District in the California Assembly, as did Mary Chung Hayashi (21%) in her 10th State Senate District race.

Meanwhile, Michelle Park Steel (46.6%) advanced to the general elections for the 2nd District seat for the Orange County Board of Supervisors seat. Carol Kim (31.05%) came in at second in the 6th District seat for the San Diego City Council and will face Chris Cate in the general election in November.

James Na was on the ballot even though he withdrew from the race for the 4th District seat on the San Bernadino County Board of Supervisors last February and still received 9.34 percent of the votes.

Three Korean Americans ran for Los Angeles County Superior Court judgeships this year. Prosecutor Ann H. Park ran unopposed and won her race. Criminal prosecutor Helen Kim (43.3 percent) lost to Alison M. Estrada (56.7 percent), while Songhai “Sunny” Armstead (47.65 percent) ran a closer race, but still lost to Teresa P. Magno (52.35 percent).

New Jersey

In the 5th District for Congress, Democrat Roy Cho of Hackensack garnered 90.4 percent of the vote which will send him to the general election in November, when he’ll face Republican Scott Garrett, the incumbent.


Rep. Rick Allen will face Democrat John J. Barrow in the general elections in November after Eugene Yu garnered only 16.5 percent of the vote.

(This story reflects corrections to the total number of candidates in the June 2 primaries. An earlier version stated the total number in all 2014 primaries, including those after June 2–that figure is 20. It also corrects the results for Peter Choi’s race.)

The original version of this story erroneously stated that Carol Kim lost to Chris Cate. We regret the error.