The Korean American comedian PK offered his “Asian brothers” some advice at the Korean American Students Conference at Yale this weekend.
“It’s not about size, it’s about speed,” PK said. “It’s not about size; it’s about surprise.”
The conference, the 18th annual, proved to be about all three. Over 550 Korean American college students from all over the country traveled to New Haven for a weekend of seminars, panel talks, concerts and parties.
Korean American leaders in politics, law, journalism, civil rights and entertainment led a series of discussions on subjects as diverse as the personal testimony of North Korean-born Yale visiting fellow Hyun Sik Kim, the films of Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, and the self-segregation of Korean Americans on college campuses.
Washington State Senator Paull H. Shin spoke Saturday to about 50 people on the duty of Korean Americans to take part in American society, urging interested students to enter public service. Shin, who was born in Korea and came to the United States after an American G.I. adopted him during the Korean War, commented on the eclectic mix of nationalities in the United States.
“As I understand it, this country was made by immigrants,” said Shin. “America is like a beautiful tapestry. One black string, one white string, one yellow string. Alone each string is weak, but together, [the tapestry] is strong.”
One of Shin’s most influential achievements as a state senator was to help pass a bill that changed the categorical name “Orientals” to “Asian Americans” in 2001. Shin said he found the term “Oriental” offensive because 16th-century dictionaries termed “orient” as “east of London.” The U.S. Congress soon passed similar legislation that affected all U.S. government documents.
Teary-eyed at the end of his talk, he spoke of the link he felt with Korean Americans in the audience.
“Don’t think we met at the KASCON conference by chance. I believe it is a part of destiny,” he said.
While Shin focused on the improving opportunities for Korean Americans, Angela Oh, a former trial lawyer, said in a Saturday seminar that she thinks Korean Americans have to make more progress in the United States. She said the hate crimes committed against Korean American store owners in the 1992 Los Angeles riots were a wake-up call to Korean Americans about their ethnic group’s reputation.
“I appreciate all these speakers who say how great you are, but I have to tell you, you’re not so great,” Oh said.
One of the events that sparked riots in L.A. was the shooting of a 15-year-old black girl by a Korean store clerk whom the clerk accused of trying to steal a carton of orange juice, Oh said. The black community was incensed after the store clerk was acquitted of a second-degree murder conviction by a white judge and given five years probation instead.
Oh said she thinks Korean Americans must become less insular as a group and take a more active role in society.
“You have to maintain your identity but embrace the world as though you’re part of it,” she said.
Once the sun went down on Saturday, students attended “KASCON Live,” the closing show that included Korean American artists such as acoustic guitarist Ken Oak, the rock band Nemo, and the University of Pennsylvania’s A2X dance group. Students then flocked to Club Image for the after party.
Reflecting on the conference, Dean Dieker ’07 of Franklin W. Olin College in Needham, MA said he was inspired.
“It presents to you the possibilities there are. It’s really great that they can get so many Korean Americans together for a weekend like this,” Dieker said.