Korean-Americans celebrate heritage, showcase talent

Patch.com
Jan. 21, 2011

Text and photos by Ted Regencia

SKOKIE, Ill — Donning vibrantly colorful chima jeogori Korean dress, Junghee Lee and four of her fellow performers gracefully glided onstage to perform the Buchaechum fan dance, one of the numbers presented during Korean-American Day.

From traditional dances to contemporary pop music, the Skokie Public Library’s Petty Auditorium was the epicenter of Korean pride and heritage last Saturday, the fifth event of its kind in Skokie.

“We are so proud of our Korean community in America,” Kee Nam Chang, president of the Korean American Association of Chicago (KAAC) told Skokie Patch, while touting South Korea’s economic strength following the devastating Korean War in the 1950s.

Jin Lee of the Keumsil Cultural Society said his organization’s goal was to share Korea’s “rich culture” to mainstream America, including Skokie, home to hundreds if not thousands of Korean-Americans.

It was in 2003, when the U.S. Congress designated Jan. 13 as the Korean-American Day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of S.S. Gaelic in Hawaii from Korea.

On that first trip, 102 Korean immigrants arrived in Hawaii, which was a U.S. territory until 1959 when it became a state, in search of work. Over the next few years, more than 7,000 Koreans, mostly men, made the voyage.

The second wave of Koreans arrived in the 1950s, including thousands of “military brides” and adoptees. The third wave began in 1967, consisting of Koreans who came following the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act.

As of 2000, there were about 1.41 million Korean-Americans, according to the U.S. Census.  The largest concentrations are in the Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., areas.

According to Chris Jang, KAAC vice president, there are an estimated 150,000 Korean-Americans in Chicago.

Jang pointed out that the celebration should not be confused with the Korean Independence Day, which is celebrated Aug. 15 to commemorate the nation’s liberation from Japanese rule in 1945.

Korean-Americans merit a separate celebration as it focuses on the experience of Koreans and the new generations that followed, he added.

Jang said it was “very important,” particularly for U.S.-born children, “to stay in touch with the ‘Koreanness’ within them. It is also important to keep their heritage and culture, so that they will know their roots and they know where they came from.”

Christopher Park, a 16-year-old piano performer, agreed: “My mom would always be talking about the traditional music and dances back in Korea, but I would never actually be able to experience.

“I think this is really important to make sure the next generation still knows what’s traditional, and still experience it for themselves,” he added.

Park, a student at West Lafayette High School in Indiana and the winner of the 2010 Sejong Music Competition, presented an original Korean piece by composer Eun Young Lee.

A group of Northwestern University students also performed a Korean-pop dance remix that had a Western influence.

More traditional dances, string and percussion performances completed the hour-long presentation, followed by a short reception and showing of the 2007 Korean film, Beyond The Years.

“I thought the performance was wonderful,” said Skokie library director Carolyn Anthony. “Skokie is such a diverse community. To me, this is what gives us strength. It makes Skokie such a vibrant and exciting place to live.”

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