Tag Archives: politics


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.


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Link Attack: Yeon-mi Park, Racist Frat Email, Tokyo Students Say “We’re Friends” with Koreans

The Woman Who Faces the Wrath of North Korea
Yeon-mi Park is a 21-year-old North Korean defector who has devoted herself to revealing the brutal truth about the country, but the regime is fighting hard to discredit her. (The Guardian)

University of Maryland Investigates Racist, Sexist Frat Email
Angry Asian Man highlights an email from a Kappa Sigma chapter that came to light just days after the racist video from Oklahoma University’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon blew up online.

Choi Sun

Choi Sun’s Paintings That Will Make You Cringe
Since graduating from the art college at Hongik University, the “rebel artist” has sought to disrupt accepted norms in painting, according to Korea Herald.

The Untapped Political Power of Asian Americans
Third Way‘s Michelle Diggles, Ph.D, explains how Asian American diversity and experiences are often overlooked and not well understood in national political debates. Asian Americans also lag in participation in civic life … so far.

With Plan to Walk Across DMZ, Women Aim for Peace in Korea
Last Wednesday at the United Nations in New York, using a conference on the status of women as a backdrop, leading female advocates of disarmament formally announced their intent to walk across the Demilitarized Zone. (New York Times)

“We’re Friends”; Tokyo High School Students Speak Korean and Touch on Korean Culture in Speech Competition

Talking Kimchi and Capitalism with a North Korean Businessman
The Washington Post talks to Mr. Kim, a factory manager in a small town outside Dandong, China’s commercial gateway to North Korea.

Ron Kim

Ron Kim Calls for Student Resolve in Face of Failures
The New York State Assemblyman spoke to the AHANA Management Academy (AMA) and the Korean Students Association at Boston College about his journey into politics as an Asian American man.

Hyphen Magazine Interviews Seoul Searching Writer and Director, Benson Lee
Lee talks about Asian cinema today, premiering the film at Sundance and preparations for the film. Check out KoreAm’s feature on Benson Lee and Seoul Searching here.

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Margin of Votes Widens in Tight L.A. City Council Race

grace@iamkoream.com | suevon@iamkoream.com

In a close race for the Los Angeles City Council District 4 seat, David Ryu, a community health executive running in his first political race, inched closer to advancing to the May 19 runoff after the city clerk’s office released updated vote tallies on Thursday.

Ryu and council aide Carolyn Ramsay were the top two finishers in the March 3 primary for the District 4 seat, which covers the area from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile. Because no candidate in the 14-person race earned more than 50 percent of the vote, the race is heading to a runoff.

However, at the close of the primary, only 61 votes separated Ryu’s second-place finish from the candidate most closely trailing behind him, nonprofit leader Tomas O’Grady. Based on Thursday’s updated tallies of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, Ryu has widened his lead by 149 votes.

In a statement issued Thursday, Ryu expressed confidence of holding on to that lead until final election results are certified on March 24.

“It now looks like our campaign has successfully made it into the general election and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my fight to bring a fresh perspective to City Hall,” Ryu said. “Our campaign will remain focused on knocking on doors and listening to residents, one neighborhood at a time.”

O’Grady has not conceded, however, and vote counting is not finished. There are roughly 1,300 provisional ballots left to be counted in the District 4 race and a final update won’t come until next week.

In a statement posted to his website Thursday, O’Grady, who is director of EnrichLA, said that “based on our strong showing on Election Day, it is possible that we make up this difference.”

“I want you to know that if we were behind 250 votes today, I would be conceding the race. We will know so much more by the end of next week,” O’Grady said.

For now, Ramsay is leading with 15.3 percent of overall votes, whereas Ryu is in second place with 14.62 percent. O’Grady has 13.98 percent of the votes.

Ryu, a 39-year-old Korean American who is director of development at the Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital and Community Health Center, was the top fundraiser in the District 4 race, having raised more than $400,000. If he advances to the May 19 runoff and wins, he would be the first Asian American L.A. City Council member in 22 years.

Earlier this week, the county Democratic Party endorsed Ryu over Ramsay, former aide to the termed-out City Council member Tom LaBonge. “Our members chose to endorse David Ryu because of the activist nature and tone of his campaign,” party chair Eric C. Bauman told the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, Ramsay has picked up the endorsement of City Council president and 10th District councilmember Herb Wesson, who was challenged in the March 3 primary by Korean American attorney and activist Grace Yoo.


Featured image courtesy of David Ryu

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Ruling Knocks Down Challenge to 2012 L.A. Redistricting

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Just one week before the Los Angeles City Council primary races this coming Tuesday, a federal judge in California ruled against a group of Koreatown residents who challenged the city’s redrawn boundaries of electoral maps in 2012 that sliced up the neighborhood into multiple districts.

In her Feb. 24 ruling, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said she found no evidence that the city was “predominantly motivated by race” when it created the new boundaries, which the plaintiffs alleged diluted and negatively impacted the voting power of Koreatown residents.

Tuesday’s primary race for Council District 10, which spreads across L.A.’s city center and includes most of Koreatown, features two key players from 2012’s contentious redistricting process, in which L.A.’s Korean American community rallied in large numbers to protest the proposed divisions, voicing their dissent in heated public hearings.

Grace Yoo, an attorney, a leader against the 2012 redistricting and the former executive director of the Korean American Coalition, is seeking to oust District 10 incumbent Herb Wesson in this year’s election. As the City Council president, Wesson oversaw the map-making process in 2012 and is accused in the lawsuit of redrawing the lines so as to boost the percentage of African American registered voters in his district—and in so doing, splitting off parts of Koreatown’s electorate.

While L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown has never previously been incorporated into a single district, neighborhood advocates, citing historically absent Korean and Asian American representation on the 15-member City Council, urged 2012 to be the year to change that. The redistricting process occurs only once every 10 years to account for population and demographic shifts.

The rancor over the redrawn districts also stems from Koreatown residents’ frustrations with the slow pace of neighborhood improvement under Wesson’s leadership, even as the veteran councilmember has drawn campaign contributions from a sizable portion of Koreatown businesses and merchants requiring city alcohol permits.

“To this day, Koreatown has no park or recreation center, no athletic facilities, no community center, no performing arts center, no senior citizen housing, and a shortage of affordable housing,” the redistricting lawsuit filed in July 2012 stated.

Advocates, to no avail, pushed for the commercially thriving neighborhood—which the Wilshire-Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council estimates as having a population of 95,324 that is 52.4 percent Latino and 35.4 percent Asian—to be folded into a single district: Council District 13, which includes the areas of Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town, to create a more concentrated Asian American voter base.

Yet the city’s redrawn boundaries in the end reflected a new Council District 10 in the shape of a “fat turkey,” as LA Weekly put it. The new boundaries claimed most of Koreatown’s commercial corridors, preserving an important source of campaign funding for Wesson, while it folded in historically African American neighborhoods from District 9.

The redrawn ordinance was approved by the council, by a 13-2 vote, in June 2012.

Spearheaded by Yoo’s efforts, angry Koreatown residents turned to the federal court system to challenge a process they claimed was secretive, lacking transparency and blind to the community’s concerns. A redistricting commission comprised of individuals appointed by city council members, the mayor and other city officials was tasked with seeking public input throughout the process and advising the council on the new boundaries.

Named plaintiffs Peter Lee, Miri Park, Ho Sam Park, Yonah Hong and former KoreAm staffer Geney Kim—all identified as registered voters in District 10—alleged that the city’s redistricting scheme constituted racial gerrymandering by “packing” African American voters into the district and excluding Koreatown voters from a single district apportionment, preventing these residents from “obtaining a City Council resident who best represents the shared socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic, public health and other common interests of the Koreatown community,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit asserted that the City of Los Angeles used race as the overriding consideration in redrawing district lines, in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It referenced emails exchanged between council members and statements uttered by Wesson in other settings as evidence.

Indeed, the political veteran was recorded in a ministers’ gathering after the redistricting vote as saying that, when it came to the redrawn maps, he “did the very best I could with what I had”—continuing, “I was able to protect the most important asset that we as black people have, and that’s to make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

In her 24-page ruling last Tuesday, Judge Marshall sided against the plaintiffs. She said she saw no evidence that race was the predominant factor in drawing up the new boundaries and that every change to District 10 “satisfied a traditional, non-racial, redistricting purpose.”

She also said that District 10 was “a multiracial district where no one racial group constitutes a majority” and that 2012’s redistricting only increased the district’s African American voting population from 36.8 percent to 40.5 percent, or by a 3.7 percent change.

Nevertheless, the judge made note of the fact that the evidence demonstrated that “some individuals involved in the redistricting process (namely Commissioner [Christopher] Ellison and Council President Wesson) may have been motivated by racial considerations.” (Ellison, it should be noted, was one of Wesson’s appointees to the redistricting commission.)

But, she added, “that one commissioner expressed racial concerns and one councilmember praised the redistrict ordinance after it was passed cannot be imputed to prove the city’s motivation.”

Although race can be used as a factor in the redistricting process, it cannot be the primary consideration, and it was the plaintiff’s burden to show otherwise to the court in this case.

The parties in this three-year legal battle had been awaiting a ruling from Marshall ever since last summer, when both sides moved for a judgment in the case based on facts presented in court papers.

The lawsuit consolidated a separate complaint filed by registered voters in Council Districts 8, 9 and 10 who also alleged an equal protection clause violation over the city’s inclusion of the two historically African American neighborhoods into District 10 and the formation of a majority Latino district in the 9th District. The judge also ruled against those sets of plaintiffs.

Hyongsoon Kim, senior counsel at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and an attorney to the Koreatown plaintiffs, told KoreAm that his clients are considering a possible appeal of the ruling.

“We respect Judge Marshall’s decision but do not agree with it, given the uniquely strong evidence in this case that the city redrew city council district lines based predominantly on race,” he said. “Given that evidence, we believe Judge Marshall should have allowed plaintiffs an opportunity to present their case at trial and required the city to explain its actions at trial.”

Through a spokesman, Wesson said about the ruling, “The city attorney’s office did an excellent job advising the city throughout the process, along with our outside counsel Remcho, Johanson & Purcell. It’s now time to move on with the city’s business.”

Yoo did not respond to a request from KoreAm regarding the ruling. In an interview with USC Annenberg’s political news blog, Neon Tommy, she said, “I think it’s very important that we have another woman at the table. I think it’s important to have an Asian voice at the table. The lines are drawn so that this was not supposed to be done. I’m really one of those people that if you keep pushing me, I’m going to stand up.”

Yoo and David Ryu, who is running in Tuesday’s District 4 primary race, are the only Korean American candidates in the field for City Council this year.


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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