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Legacy Project Video: Haewon Latorre

Haewon Latorre was born in Korea, moved to Argentina as a toddler, then moved to NYC as a teenager. She identifies herself as a Latin Korean American. She has struggled with bipolar disorder and explored her sexuality as a bisexual woman, without the support she longed for from her family and community. She is now happily married, and lives in Flushing, NY, to the only Latin American man who can't Salsa (her words).






The Choi Family

"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood," says Seung-Hui Cho, in a video he mailed to NBC on the day he opened fire on fellow students on April 16, 2007, an event that became known as the Virginia Tech massacre.

"You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."

Cho, filled with hatred and pain, spoke directly to the camera, haunting viewers with the words of a dead man who killed 32 people before taking his own life.

But in the short film, "The Choi Family"*, there is no rage or wrath—only the grief and chaos surrounding a family left to pick up the pieces of a world shattered by tragedy. Jason Stefaniak, an NYU film student whose girlfriend was at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting, chose to focus on imagining Cho's family in the aftermath of the shooting. How would they cope not only with the loss of Cho but also his act of mass murder?


The Choi Family was selected as one of the REEL 13 films , and the film with the most number of votes will be aired on Saturday night, February 22nd of WNET/Thirteen station.  You can submit your vote until 5pm EST on Wednesday, February 19th, so please go support this film by voting on 

Though the filmmaker's main intention behind "The Choi Family" was not to discuss the Korean immigrant experience or mental health, these were topics that came into my mind as I watched the short film. Before the shooting, it seemed like virtually no one in my life outside of my family and our small immigrant community in North Carolina knew who Koreans were. But in the days following the tragic event, the name "Seung-Hui Cho" and the pictures of a Korean man were plastered all over the news. It made me uncomfortable and even ashamed that the first Korean I had ever seen featured so prominently in American media would be remembered as a killer who perpetrated one of the deadliest acts of violence in U.S. history.

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2014 Annual Benefit - Hold The Date

There are people who are making a difference in our community that did not start out with the intention of becoming an activist.  Sometimes, they are simply taking a step towards righting the wrong they see in the world, and that experience transforms them forever.  At our 2014 Annual Benefit, we have asked our storytellers to share their experiences of how they became activists who have made, and continues to make, a difference in our community.  Our guest storytellers will be announced soon.

Date:     Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Premium open bar cocktail reception with pass hors d'oeuvres, buffet dinner and desserts.  Live and silent auctions.

We work hard to make our Annual Benefits a fun evening, so we promise minimal amount of boring speeches and maximum amount of terrific storytelling.  Bring your friends and family and have a fun evening out while supporting our effort to create and preserve the cultural history of Korean Americans.  You will also be part of a live recording session of storytelling performances! 

More details to follow shortly, so please check back.  CLICK HERE for the Battery Gardens website





What Walks like A Duck is A Goose

What Walks like A Duck is A Goose

This has been the week of Loud Asians in the News. First, Suey Park's Twitter hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick, posted this past Sunday, went viral so quickly that the London Guardian boldly declared it the rallying cry of a "civil rights" movement. On Monday, college student Eldo Kim emailed a bomb threat that shut down half of Harvard University campus and made the national news. On Wednesday, Han-sol Kim was placed under police protection. A student at a prestigious university in France, he is on record calling his uncle "a dictator." That uncle, Jong-un Kim – or, if you will, Kim Jong-un -- just executed another close family member for being a traitor.

Of these three, Eldo Kim is the only one whose actions don't make any sense. In my day, panicking kids used to pull fire alarms to get out of exams. Today, apparently, they manufacture bomb threats. On the one hand, it was pretty clear to the Harvard community that the threat was probably a hoax. The four buildings gave it away, as did the timing: the ominous email appeared in various administrative inboxes a half hour before the first set of finals. The question remains: why? A report in the Harvard Crimson suggests that Eldo Kim was, by all accounts, a sweet, nice, kind, thoughtful, and highly accomplished young man who was doing pretty well in the fateful class. According to Edward Cho, one of his friends on campus: "it was pretty surprising to hear that he went to such great lengths to avoid a final that he probably would have done well on anyway."

So, let me see if I have this straight: Because he was unsure about getting a top grade, he was willing to break the law, send the campus into panic, and risk his future and his freedom?

Apparently, yes.

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Considering North Korea

"What do you think about Korean reunification?"

The question came out of the blue. I was taping a Radio Free Asia interview about my just-released 2006 book, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea. I had no idea what the correct response was. Having been told that the broadcast could be heard in the DPRK, I mumbled something generic about Koreans all being one people.

Despite having lived within two hundred or fewer miles of the dividing border for much of my childhood, I only thought of the northern half of the Korean peninsula on occasion . My earliest associations were of spooky, dramatic names like "No Man's Land" and the "Bridge of No Return," from our family's visit to the DMZ soon after our 1960 arrival in Seoul. Several years later, living in Daegu where my father worked in the mission hospital, I scared my 10-year-old self by imagining that my parents were wearing masks, underneath which they were actually North Korean spies. The residents of the other half of a divided Korea were my childhood version of the boogeyman.

Like most South Koreans, we foreigners got used to the bellicose threats and posturing of the DPRK. I was in high school at Seoul Foreign School the day in 1968 when thirty-one North Korean commandos came across the DMZ on a mission to assassinate President Park Chung-Hee. They got within half a mile of the Blue House before they were apprehended. The whole city was on alert and there was a charged atmosphere at school, knowing that the infiltrators had been moving through the city within three miles of us. Afterwards, we shared rumors with that excited sense of having been on the edge of the action. One story claimed that when the soldiers came over the mountain range they were disoriented by the brilliant lights of Seoul; they'd been told South Korea had no electricity.

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Profiles of 2 Korean American Women Filmmakers

The Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY) claims to be the first and only film festival of its kind in New York City. David Kim, the founder of KAFFNY, observed the lack of Korean American film festivals that explored Korean diaspora.

"Korean film festivals may have extra elements about Korean diaspora on the side, but ours is the only one that focuses on that," he said.

Emerging filmmakers showcased their films in the 7th annual Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY) on October 24th–27th, 2013. Among the films shown in the festival this year, several illustrated identity and experience of Korean Americans living in New York City. Jules Suo's "528 New York" and Jamerry Kim's "Who is Pauline Park?" were some of the films that observed the complicated and nuanced lives of Korean Americans.

"With Asian American films, they can be the same thing, like, 'Look at those stereotypes,' the same movie, over and over again nonstop. We're trying to go beyond that as much as possible," David Kim explained. "Everybody immediately goes, 'Korean Americans, it's a niche!' No, it's actually not just Korean or American, we're bringing both together."

For Suo and Kim, their films showed their personal experience by illustrating how diverse the lives of Korean Americans are through the perspective of individuals.

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We Are One

Dangerous, isolated, and repressive. Growing up in Seoul and later in Portland, these were the words I was used to hearing about north Korea (or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea –DPRK) from my parents, media, and my peers. The image of north Korea was portrayed as being vastly different from south Korea (or the Republic of Korea –ROK). Due to this stark contrast between the two nations, I wanted to understand north Korea beyond the dominant narrative perpetuated by the US and the ROK. Furthermore, I wanted to know what was important enough to divide a nation and separate families for over 60 years. Like many Koreans, my family members were separated from each other and their hometowns after Korea was divided. I was not satisfied with an explanation that blamed north Korea’s “communism” as the reason for this division and absolved south Korea of any responsibility. There had to be more to this story.

My curiosity and desire to hear the “other side of the story” led me to KEEP (Korean Exposure & Education Program). KEEP, a cultural exchange program for people of Korean descent in North America, works toward the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. I was honored to be selected as a participant in the 10th KEEP-DPRK delegation to north Korea. Through this rare opportunity, I wanted to experience and learn about north Korea outside of books, articles, and CNN news coverage. I embarked on a journey to begin formulating my own thoughts on the DPRK and to better realize how my understanding of the divided Koreas affected how I envisioned reunification for the peninsula.  

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Legacy Project Video: Irvin Paik

Irvin Paik was born in Bakersville, CA in 1940. His father came to the US in 1905 with the first wave of sugar plantation workers to Hawaii. His mother came to the US in 1914. This is a rare recording of a Korean American who can recollect what life was like during the early period of Korean immigration. Irvin also recollects a high school play that he was in with George Takei, the Japanese American actor.  This interview was conducted in Los Angeles on August 31, 2013 





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Heart and Seoul

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by Julie Young @biggirlvoice

I think, often, about the fact that my relationship with my husband is the primary and most influential relationship my son and daughter have upon which to model their own future "significant other" relationships. Our marriage, is the way they will learn to communicate - or not. By watching how we interact and soaking in our marital energy, they will learn to be kind and patient with their future significant relationships - or not.

My parents are divorced. My Korean parents, also divorced shortly after I was given up for adoption. Even from the new beginnings of my life, I did not have the best role models on how to function in a happy and healthy marriage. Divorce is so complicated. Yet, it is so common nowadays, that it seems to me the effects of it upon the children of divorce, is taken less seriously than it should be. My parents divorced when I was in my twenties, yet, I still wish that they never did. Family gatherings would be so much easier. Perhaps, healing and forgiving would be easier too. But, this is not the case, so the healing and forgiving has to come from a place deep within. 


My Korean American Story

julia-katz-sqBridges by Julia Katz

In popular culture, Asian Americans always seemed concerned with building bridges from- old country to new country, first generation to second generation. The books I read and the movies I watched featured disconnect and miscommunication between two separate worlds. Watching "Flower Drum Song" with my third-generation mother, I often felt my narrative didn't match the typical Asian American tale of struggle to be understood.

My mother is an American, born in Oahu and raised in a Korean American family. Her parents' own separation from traditional Asian culture was a constant source of embarrassment. A favorite story of hers is an account of childhood mortification when, after badgering her mother to pack her sushi for lunch like the rest of her classmates, she opened up her lunch container to find "two cannonballs of rice and tuna salad." Her father, originally from southern California, answered the phone "like a haole" according to her friends and brought home pizza for dinner - equally bizarre. My mother grew up as a military brat. Her family left Hawai'i for three years, following her father to Segregation-era Indiana. Her paternal uncles had fought for America in WWII – one lost his life in the war effort. Like good Americans, her brothers fought in the Vietnam War and, like a good American, my mother went on a speaking tour of mainland universities to protest it.

I always believed she and I spoke the same language. And then I came out.



jason ahn18-sm-sqDivided Families: Profile of Filmmaker/Physician Jason Ahn

"It just started off as an idea and passion," says filmmaker and physician Jason Ahn, 30, of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Divided Families," the documentary that Ahn co-directed and co-produced, tells the stories of Korean American immigrants who have been separated from family members in North Korea for more than fifty years as a result of the Korean War, which divided the country into north and south. Through recording their histories, Ahn seeks to raise awareness of divided families and to advocate for reunion.

Early childhood experiences may have instilled in Jason a strong sense of social justice and a desire to advocate for the Korean American community. Ahn recalls his early childhood in Los Angeles' Koreatown: "My family didn't have much growing up. We just lived month to month. There were a lot of homeless people on the streets. I remember the ice cream truck coming by and that would be our treat for the day. Even though we didn't have much, there was a Korean American community, and we went to church and felt supported."

When the L.A. riots, or Sa-I-Gu, occurred in 1992, Ahn was nine years old. "We would go to the HK Market for groceries and I remember ajussis with rifles on the rooftop and National Guard troops patrolling the area. I remember watching the news and seeing people breaking into stores, looting, lighting things on fire," he says.

As a U.C. Berkeley student, Ahn became involved in Poetry for the People, where he became immersed in storytelling through poetry. He also enrolled in a medical anthropology class taught by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a renowned expert in the field, where he learned about ethnographic inquiry and the art of interviewing while conducting a project on traditional Chinese medicine.

After graduating with a dual degree in history and molecular cell biology, Ahn was awarded a Fulbright to Korea. He conducted an ethnographic study of structural violence and health among North Korean defectors living in South Korea. During this project, he was able to meet his mother's cousin who was a defector.


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