ICAS Summer Symposium

No. 2003-0809-JJH

America Is My Country: Let's Be Part of It

Jeannie J.Hong

Summer 2003 ICAS Symposium

August 9, 2003 10:00 AM -- 5:30 PM
Montgomery County Community College
Science Center Room 214
340 DeKalb Pike
Blue Bell, PA 19422

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: Jeannie J. Hong

America Is My Country: Let's Be Part of It

Jeannie J.Hong
(Judge, Baltimore City District Court)

My father was born in North Korea. Just prior to the Korean War my father at the age of seven, my aunt, and my grandmother fled from North Korea to South Korea with only the clothes on their backs. There were times when they were starving and near death but they eventually made it to South Korea. There my father studied, went to college and met my mother. I was born in Seoul, South Korea. Soon my sister was born and my parents knew they had to immigrate to the United States for a better life for our family and for a future for my sister and I.

When they arrived in America, my parents initially worked for the local and federal government but it was during a time where there were few Asians in the public sector and the environment was uncomfortable. My father was subject to ethnic jokes, ridicule, and discrimination. Because of his experience, my parents decided it was best to be their own boss so they became business owners. During the course of their career, they owned a restaurant, dry cleaner, and for twenty (20) years they owned a liquor store in Washington, D.C where they worked six (6) days a week, thirteen (13) hours a day in order to provide a better life for my sister and I.

I am very proud to be the first Asian Pacific American judge in the State of Maryland. I am also honored to have been asked to speak at the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS). It is important to continue to hold symposiums such as this because so many issues that specifically relate to the Korean American community are addressed and highlighted at this forum. This year we are celebrating one hundred (100) years of Korean Immigration to the United States. While it is important to measure how far we have come, it is also imperative to emphasize how far we still need to go.

By sheer physical appearance, Korean Americans can never one hundred percent (100%) assimilate into the population because we will never completely look like the majority. There will always be some people out there that will look at you and treat you a certain way based on your outward, physical appearance. My parents deliberately did not teach me the Korean language as a child because they thought it might hold me back. I still have people tell me, "you speak English very well and you have no accent." I recently went to a swimming meet at a local country club where my six (6) year old son was scheduled to compete in, and one of the members said out loud, "Since when are we letting Chinese people in?" A person’s perspective and personality are molded by their experiences in life. Korean Americans share common experiences and from those experiences we gather strength.

Just be yourself. Take the best from both cultures and move forward. I love to have kimchi and chop chae with my turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like to have the choice to go to an English speaking church or a Korean speaking church. Speak out, have a voice, but at the same time treat people with respect.

Be active and participate in the community. Be aware of the most pressing issues that affect both the mainstream and Korean Americans whether it be human rights in North Korea or nuclear arms and disarmament. Participate in politics. Anything you do whether it is in the public or the private sector will involve politics. In order to become a judge, a person has to be somewhat politically connected. This is just the beginning. Whereas before the public sector was an uncomfortable place for people of our parents’ generation, nothing is beyond your reach today because language is not a barrier. The 1.5 and second generation Korean Americans represent the future leadership of the Korean American Community. While we are expanding to fields beyond our parents’ – from doctors, lawyers, consultants, business people, lobbyists, activists, and the judiciary. We still have far to go. Our success will be measured by how much you gain in the next 100 years. My advise to you is to have a DREAM. My dream was always to be a judge. When people told me you’re too young or that is not what Korean girls do. Believe in yourself and remain confident. Keep trying and take chances. Your family, your friends and the Korean American Community is behind you.

In the words of Carl Sandburg….
Thank you.

ICAS Fellow
ICAS Speakers
& Discussants
Summer 2003