Korean American professionals working in various fields gathered at the University of Southern California on Saturday for the Korean American Coalition (KAC)'s National Convention. For the first time, KAC collaborated with USC's Korean American Student Association (KSA) to host its convention.
Accordingly, the convention's seminars and topics were geared more towards a younger audience, according to Steve Kang, the current KAC-LA deputy director. The convention, themed, "Building Communities," focused on numerous Korean Americans' trajectories in various career fields, and featured accomplished Korean Americans in fields such as politics, entrepreneurship, law, finance, and entertainment. One panel session in particular was dedicated to the issue of divided Korean families due to the Korean War, with the showing of the 'Divided Families' documentary and sharing of testimonies of two women whose families were divided and directly affected by the war.
Assemblywoman Young Kim of the 65th District and Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu were featured as the keynote speakers during lunch, and La Palma City Councilmember Peter Kim was featured as one of the panelists of a session focusing on political activism.
Other speakers throughout the convention included Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich; Michael Sohn, a supervisory special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Mike Fong, a member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees; Young Cha, CEO and founder of OnDemandKorea; Gene Kim, the senior consultant for the Imprenta Communications Group and former executive director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC); Ted and Yong Kim, founders of Seoul Sausage Company; Jun Oh, the senior vice president of business affairs at Warner Bros. Pictures; and Hank Kim, commander in the U.S. Navy specializing in surface warfare, among others.
Many of the speakers shared stories of how they arrived at their current position to the some 100 people -- mostly students -- at the convention.
"There's so many people who say, 'It's not for me,' or 'It's too hard,' and just quit," said Michael Sohn. "Name every test -- I failed it. But I kept trying and that's why I'm here."
"There is no such thing as a small job," Councilmember David Ryu said. "You've got to work hard at every thing you do." He added that many of the opportunities that he was able to have was due to his seeking out various people in his life for help.
"I thought you needed a special handshake or you needed to know someone to get into politics," said Ryu, "but it's just a matter of working hard and asking questions."
Assemblywoman Young Kim said that she herself stands as an example that "as a female," and as a part of a minority ethnic group, "You can have the career of your dreams, and have kids, and make a difference."
"You need to work on one person, one community at a time," Kim added.
Some speakers discussed the degree to which Korean American culture and interests have been garnering more awareness in the mainstream. In the political realm, Gene Kim of Imprenta Communications explained that there has been much progress in terms of getting more representation of Korean Americans through elected Korean American officials, but there is still room for "much more progress," he said, in terms of pushing for Korean American interests.
"It's a sign of progress that these Korean Americans are getting elected, but once elected, my hope is that they wouldn't just be present, but leading and fighting for the interests not only of Korean Americans but all Americans," Kim said.
"Guys like us, we're few in number," said Ted and Yong Kim of Seoul Sausage as they encouraged those who were present to support Korean American products. "We've only scratched the surface of what could be done."
Many of those who spoke at the convention were former volunteers and/or employees of KAC. Young Kim once headed KAC's Orange County office and was a volunteer as a college student, while David Ryu was also active as a volunteer and employee in various positions for KAC's Los Angeles office. Ted Kim of Seoul Sausage was once on the board of KAC-LA, and Cdr. Hank Kim is also currently heading KAC's San Diego office.
Ryu attributed his beginnings of public service to his experiences in KAC, saying, "Everything I know, everything I am, is because of KAC."
Meanwhile, KAC currently has eight branches throughout the nation, including in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, and Orange County. Last year in particular, the Portland chapter hosted the first ever Korean food festival in the city, and Seattle held legislative panels to increase recognition and awareness of the Korean American population. Most chapters have continuously held voter registration drives, one of the key activities by which KAC was founded.