Esther Kang

Esther Kang is a researcher, educator, and Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin. As both a child and adult she moved often, experiencing life across a diverse range of cities spanning from Los Angeles and San Francisco, to Dallas and New York, and abroad in Perth, Australia, and Durbin, South Africa. Having lived in Los Angeles the longest and throughout her formative years, she considers the city to be her hometown; her family moved to L.A. in January of 1992, just months before the L.A. Uprising in April. Kang recounts how Saigu was a catalyst in her family’s discussions about race, the idea of which stuck with her as the family moved around the country: while attending school in Dallas, she was one of only two Asians students in the entire student body. As a researcher and educator today, Kang’s work centers on the political, cultural and social implications of Design, incorporating the recognition that design is more than just a means of communication, and that in many ways, the process of design itself is the product as well. She continues to ask what an equitable design process looks like, and what ethical design ethos is, questions she compels us to think about with critical and sensitive understandings of their consequences.

Sammy Kim

Sammy Kim (they/them) is a multifaceted individual: a queer artist, writer, healer, sex worker, community organizer, caregiver, and friend. From a young age, Sammy took on a caregiving role when their mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, moving in with relatives as her condition progressed. Seeing their mother struggle with her health, Sammy naturally came into a role of caregiving, grounding themselves in gratitude while extending empathy towards their family. By their pre-teen years, Sammy knew they were queer but felt compelled to hide it due to their Christian upbringing, even trying to “ungay” themselves to avoid eternal damnation. Operating out of fear, Sammy didn’t come out to their parents until their mother approached them about it, by which time they had been living openly for three years. Although their mother struggled to accept this part of Sammy, she affirmed her love, signaling a need for more time to understand.

Through sex work, what began as a caregiving role to provide for men seeking to feel wanted eventually evolved into a way for Sammy to heal from their early childhood trauma of sexual abuse. Their work became a way for them to deeply question their relationship to the sexualization tied to their identities. As Sammy continues to unravel the many intersections of their experiences, they choose with intention to feel alive in the present, living in the joy that stems from simply being themselves without distraction.

Andy Marra

Andrea Hong Marra (she/her), often known as Andy, is a trans activist and executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF). From an early age, she knew who she was as a Korean American and person of color. Adopted into a white family and growing up in a diverse neighborhood, she was raised to be in touch with her Korean heritage. However, there were fewer resources available about being transgender, leading to a journey of helping her parents understand and accept her queer identity.

With a commitment to service and leadership instilled by her parents, Andy began volunteering at LGBTQ organizations in her hometown. She realized that a life of service and advocacy was her calling, a path she’s dedicated herself to for the past couple of decades. Andy reminds us that activists often prioritize their work over themselves, but the spaces they create are for them too. She encourages us to leave behind our stories so that those who come after know they are not alone, asserting that leaving evidence of our existence is a powerful act of defiance.

NAYA: Yon Yuh Zweibon

Welcome to the whimsical world of Beyond Costumes, owned and operated by Yon Yuh Zweibon for the past 20 years in Yonkers, NY. A Wharton MBA graduate and former accountant, how did this spunky woman end up owning one of the largest independent costume collections on the east coast? In this episode of NAYA, Yon takes us through infinite rows of costumes as she shares her story and the drive behind her passion for running this magical warehouse.

Our Mission

To capture, create, preserve and share
the stories of the Korean American experience
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Legacy Project

To capture, create, preserve and share the stories of the Korean American experience by supporting and promoting storytelling

Esther Kang

Esther Kang is a researcher, educator, and Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin. As both a child and adult she moved often, experiencing life across a diverse range of cities spanning from Los Angeles and San Francisco, to Dallas and New York, and abroad in Perth, Australia, and Durbin, South Africa. Having lived in Los Angeles the longest and throughout her formative years, she considers the city to be her hometown; her family moved to L.A. in January of 1992, just months before the L.A. Uprising in April. Kang recounts how Saigu was a catalyst in her family’s discussions about race, the idea of which stuck with her as the family moved around the country: while attending school in Dallas, she was one of only two Asians students in the entire student body. As a researcher and educator today, Kang’s work centers on the political, cultural and social implications of Design, incorporating the recognition that design is more than just a means of communication, and that in many ways, the process of design itself is the product as well. She continues to ask what an equitable design process looks like, and what ethical design ethos is, questions she compels us to think about with critical and sensitive understandings of their consequences.

Sammy Kim

Sammy Kim (they/them) is a multifaceted individual: a queer artist, writer, healer, sex worker, community organizer, caregiver, and friend. From a young age, Sammy took on a caregiving role when their mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, moving in with relatives as her condition progressed. Seeing their mother struggle with her health, Sammy naturally came into a role of caregiving, grounding themselves in gratitude while extending empathy towards their family. By their pre-teen years, Sammy knew they were queer but felt compelled to hide it due to their Christian upbringing, even trying to “ungay” themselves to avoid eternal damnation. Operating out of fear, Sammy didn’t come out to their parents until their mother approached them about it, by which time they had been living openly for three years. Although their mother struggled to accept this part of Sammy, she affirmed her love, signaling a need for more time to understand.

Through sex work, what began as a caregiving role to provide for men seeking to feel wanted eventually evolved into a way for Sammy to heal from their early childhood trauma of sexual abuse. Their work became a way for them to deeply question their relationship to the sexualization tied to their identities. As Sammy continues to unravel the many intersections of their experiences, they choose with intention to feel alive in the present, living in the joy that stems from simply being themselves without distraction.

Andy Marra

Andrea Hong Marra (she/her), often known as Andy, is a trans activist and executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF). From an early age, she knew who she was as a Korean American and person of color. Adopted into a white family and growing up in a diverse neighborhood, she was raised to be in touch with her Korean heritage. However, there were fewer resources available about being transgender, leading to a journey of helping her parents understand and accept her queer identity.

With a commitment to service and leadership instilled by her parents, Andy began volunteering at LGBTQ organizations in her hometown. She realized that a life of service and advocacy was her calling, a path she’s dedicated herself to for the past couple of decades. Andy reminds us that activists often prioritize their work over themselves, but the spaces they create are for them too. She encourages us to leave behind our stories so that those who come after know they are not alone, asserting that leaving evidence of our existence is a powerful act of defiance.

Yoon Grace Ra

Yoon (they/them) is a trans/non-binary filmmaker and organizer raised by communities in and around New Jersey and New York. Growing up in a family of mixed classes and statuses, they were exposed to a diversity of identities early on. It was through a class-based understanding of identity that Yoon mediated other modes of identity, such as queerness and love. Acknowledging the beauty of romantic love and romantic queer love, they describe their formative experiences as being shaped by community, spirituality, and family. Yoon soon began to understand that love could also be a collective force. In their own words, queerness is how someone builds relationships outside of what the “norm” may be; queer people are anyone who chooses to live outside a nuclear family, “having the liberation to be with whoever is best for you.”

Mudang Sung Park

Mudang Sung Park (he/him) was born in Seoul, Korea, and immigrated to the Ridgewood/Bushwick area with his family when he was young. Growing up, they were the only Korean family—or East Asian family, for that matter—for blocks around, and although Sung tried his best to reproduce the joys of his Korean childhood from within New York, his new environment slowly changed aspects of his personality. Encountering racism as a child, he became withdrawn, and was disappointed that the racism followed him into college, where he was battered with microaggressions ranging from compliments to his English, to students touching his soft hair.

Sung always knew that he was born in the wrong body, but being “queer” was something he attributed to whiteness. And there was another complication to his gender: like many Korean Americans, Sung grew up in the church, and came from a family of ministers. After college, he went to seminary, where he obtained a divinity degree, and was under care at a church to be ordained when his father suddenly passed. He wanted to honor him, but because his family had stopped practicing traditional rites long ago, didn’t know how to, and left ministry, having grown resentful of the ways in which the church prohibited indigenous practices in Korea. Wanting to relearn the practices of his spiritual heritage, he sought out a mudang to mentor him in musok, and was surprised to learn that he came from a lineage of not only ministers, but mudangs as well. He doesn’t know of other trans men who are mudang, and isn’t sure if there’s a significance to his gender and his spirituality, but he feels that there must be one, as coming into the musok tradition has felt like a second homecoming into the queer Korean American community.

Vanilla Honey

Vanilla Honey (she/they) is a queer architect and community organizer based in New York. Growing up on Long Island, Honey was never taught Korean by their mother, but they connected with their family and other Koreans through humor and playfulness. Being biracial, Honey often felt out of place in certain spaces, but discovering their queer identity brought a familiar fluidity between their experiences with race and gender.

Queerness has been, and continues to be, a bridge connecting them to the larger Korean American community. Partnering with friends and other queer Koreans, they helped bring KQTx(@kqtxnetwork @kqtxnyc)—a national grassroots network aimed at uplifting Queer and Trans people of Korean descent—to New York City. Queer joy, for Honey, is a mix of warmth, smiles, and a sense of safety surrounded by loved ones. They remind us: “You’re not alone. Support is out there; you don’t have to rely on yourself.”

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