As of 2010, California has held the largest Korean population in the United States. This serves great importance to Korean Americans who are currently residing in California, and it is just as important to share the history behind this movement.
According to Boston University, Korean American Day is celebrated on January 13, and it commemorates the first appearance of Korean immigrants to the United States. On January 13, 1903, the first 102 Korean immigrants settled in Honolulu, Hawaii. Furthermore, they set the first wave of Korean immigrants, and there were two more waves, one in 1950 and the other in 1965. The main reason behind Koreans immigrating to Hawaii was to escape famines and the unstable political climate.
Plantation owners in Hawaii needed plantation workers because of the annexation by the United States, so they recruited immigrants from China. However, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned the recruitment of Chinese laborers. As a result of this, Hawaii plantation owners started to recruit Korean immigrants to work on their sugar and pineapple plantations.
Following the first wave, the second wave of Korean immigrants started migrating during the Korean American War. The second wave consisted of Korean wives of American soldiers (war brides), war orphans, students, and businessmen. During this period, the Asian immigration ban was nullified and made Asian immigrants able to receive citizenship in America. Although there was much racism and segregation, it can be said that these immigrants were mostly accepted into America.
Finally, the last wave of Korean immigrants started with families in Korea joining the Korean immigrants who were already settled in America. Most of these immigrants chose to immigrate and they were not influenced by the harsh conditions that the first and second wave of immigrants experienced. The first two types of Korean immigrants had no choice but to immigrate for the chance to live a better life. However, the third wave of immigrants were able to join their families because of the government’s decision to revoke the quota system.
Additionally in 1976, Korean immigrants were included in the largest group of immigrants in America and the children of these Korean immigrant families are currently known as second generation Koreans, who represent the majority of the present Korean American community.
Many Korean immigrants, past and present, hold a great positive influence to the American community, and some of these immigrants include Ahn Chang Ho, Judge Herbert Y.C. Choi, David Hyun, and Wendy Gramm. Ahn Chang Ho helped the establishment of the Korean Airforce by establishing the Willows Korean Aviation Corps. Judge Herbert Y.C. Choy was the first Asian American to serve as a United States federal judge. David Hyun was the architect in charge of reinvigorating Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Wendy Gramm was the former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the Reagan administration and the wife of the former United States Senator, Phil Gramm.
This significant movement of Korean immigrants has influenced the formation of the large Korean population today. Thus, many Korean Americans should feel proud of this accomplishment and represent the former Korean immigrants with pride in their country. Jeremy Lin, a professional basketball player for the Atlanta Hawks felt pride in his culture and stated, “I want to be a representative and be a role model for the Asian American community.”
This serves as an inspiration for other Korean American citizens to represent their culture in the same way, in gratitude to their ancestors who made it possible for them to reside in America comfortably.
Sharon Pak, Grade 11
Crescenta Valley High School