Tong Soo Chung Tong Soo Chung paper

The ICAS Lectures

No. 2000-0818-TSC

"Main Streaming" and Participation in Politics and Government:
State of Korean Americans in Year 2000

Tong Soo Chung

ICAS Summer Symposium
Korean Diaspora: Challenges facing the Korean-American Community (KAC) in the New Century

Yuong Sang Presbyterian Church Mission Center
706 Witmer Road, Horsham, PA 19044
August 18, 2000

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992

Biographic Sketch: Tong Soo Chung

"Main Streaming" and Participation in Politics and Government:
State of Korean Americans in Year 2000

Tong Soo Chung
U.S. Department of Commerce

Korean Americans have made huge progress economically and in education and professional advancement, but have hardly progressed politically.

Why political involvement?

  • Can't claim to be full participants/citizens in this country without having our voices heard and views represented -We need to be at the table when decisions that affect our welfare are being made.
  • Part of our interests also include the well being of Korea and Koreans.
Possible reasons for lack of involvement and progress in politics
  1. Lack of financial rewards
  2. Lack of interest -education and upbringing
  3. Lack of sense of ownership in the U.S .Government -ownership brings responsibilities
  4. Lack of role models
  5. Lack of training opportunities -internships
  6. Difficulty in getting elected -requires dedication over a long period of time
How do we get more KAs involved in politics? We can address the above reasons for lack of involvement.
  1. Can't do much about the lack of financial rewards. Politics is not the right field if one is looking to make money.
  2. Raising awareness of importance of politics -first among the parents, and then by parents to their children. Thc same applies to the sojourner mentality that results in the lack of sense of ownership, particularly among the first generation immigrants.
  3. We need to generate successful role medels and provide more training opportunities for those young people who want to pursue this field. This requires institutionalization and cooperation with other organizations outside the community, both political and grass roots organizations. Korean American Coalition as a case study
  4. Getting elected will always be difficult, but organized community efforts can reduce the difficulty by bloc voting and fund-raising, Interested candidates need to have a long term strategy. Jay Kim case study -importance of decennial census and redistricting Positioning and seizing opportunities Appointed positions in federal and state governments
Becoming an appointed official can be an option to those who do not want to make the commitments necessary to get elected.
  • There are full-time and part time appointments at federal, state and local governments.
  • At the federallevel, highest level appointments require Senate confirmation. We have one such appointee, Harold Koh at the State Department, Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy.
  • The recently announced Advisory Commission to the President for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative includes two KA women appointees who will serve as part time commissioners without pay. Martha Choe is a full time appointee of Governor Gary Locke in Washington.
Career Civil Service

The Greater Washington area has many civil servants, including KAs. Government service can offer options to those who are interested in public service as a career. Over time one can achieve positions of great importance in terms of public policy making. In certain fields, such as international trade, young persons can come in for a few years to obtain necessary training or to broaden contacts and then leave for the private sector.

How can KAs become Stronger Politically?
Three Elements of Politics -Candidate, Votes and Money
  1. Generation of viable candidates -education, training, internships, post-graduate fellowships
  2. Voter registration, education and mobilization
    Case study of Hispanic Americans: Southwest Voter Project
    Case study of California -How Hispanics have finally achieved political power in the second half of the 1990's
  3. Money-importance of fund-raising
    Case study of American Jewish community
Importance of a national KA advocacy organization with chapters across the country in areas with major KA population

  • each chapter should function under similar goals with dedicated leadership and membership.
  • should also have paid professional staff capable of delivering high quality service.
We do not have such an organization at this time that is recognized by both the mainstream as well as the KA communities. Such organization should have multiple generations of KAs involved in leadership and membership.
  • first, second and 1.5 generations.

This page last updated 9/16/2006 jdb


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