This article is still being transferred from the old website. In the meantime, please visit http://old.krcla.org/ko/The_Political_Awakening_of_Korean_Americans
Lee, Eun Sook. 2005 The Political Awakening of Korean Americans In Koreans in the Windy City: 100 Years of Korean Americans in the Chicago Area. Pp. 337-350. Hyock Chun, Kwang Chung Kim and Shin Kim, eds. New Haven, CT: East Rock Institute for the Centennial Publication Committee of Chicago.
1990년도에 들어서면서 한인동포들의 시민참여는 적극성이나 발전의 측면에서 유례없는 수준에 이르게 되었다. 한인동포는 그들의 역할을 자기 만족적인 방관자에서 참여자와 투자자로 바꾸어 나갔다.
한인동포들은 그들 자신의 다양한 신분들을 통하여 정치적으로 참여하는 시민의 임계질량을 구축하여 이민자들의 권리의 쟁점들을 조직화하였고 전국 차원에서 한인동포의 한 목소리를 이루어 내는데 성공하였다.
한인동포 사회내에서의 정치적 변화는 이민자 관련법의 제정에 중대한 영향을 미쳤고, 더욱이 한인동포 사회가 사용한 정치적인 과정들은 미국적 디아스포라하에서 변화하는 인구통계와 민족적 다양성, 그리고 이민사회의 다양성등과 관련된 사회적 변화의 조직화에 관한 새로운 개념의 발전에 기여했다.
이 논문은 한인동포의 조직화의 성공을 연대기적으로 정리함으로서 미국에서 우리 이민 역사의 풍부하고 역동적인 시기에 대해 문서화 하고자 한다.
1990년대 재미 동포의 시민적 참여는 활동과 성장에 있어서 전례 없는 단계에 다다랐다. 재미 동포 공동체는 방관자에서 참여자이자 이해당사자로 자신의 역할을 변화시켰다. 재미 동포들은 자기 내부의 다양한 구성원으로부터 정치 활동에 참여하는 비판적 시민 대중을 구성했고, 이들은 이민자 권리 의제를 조직, 전국적 수준에서 재미 동포의 발언권을 확립하는데 성공했다. 재미 동포 공동체 내 정치 단체로의 변화는 이민 관련 입법에 상당히 영향을 미쳤고, 나아가 재미 동포 공동체가 이용한 정치적 과정은 변화하는 인구 통계 그리고 미국적 디아스포라 안의 민족 및 이민 공동체들의 다양성과 관련된 사회적 변화의 조직화에 관한 새로운 개념의 발전에 기여하였다. 재미 동포의 조직화가 이룬 성공을 연대순으로 기록함으로써, 이 논문은 미국에서 우리 이민사의 풍성하고 역동적인 기간을 입증한다.
재미 동포 공동체 내 정치적 정체성과 정치 단체의 최근 발전에 있어서 정치적 기폭제는 1992년 LA 사태와 1994년 반 이민자 정책이었다. 이 사건들은 재미 동포들의 사회적, 경제적, 정치적 취약함을 겨냥했고, 이민자 권리 의제에 관한 재미 동포들의 엄청난 교육과 조직화로 이어졌다. 10년 동안 재미 동포들은 유권자 교육, 등록, 동원, 연구와 권리 지지를 포함하는 정치 및 선거 과정에 참여하기 위한 자원과 능력의 전략적 할당량을 동원했다.
재미 동포 공동체의 정치화 시기, 말하자면 ‘극적인 시작’은, 다수의 고령 이민자들의 정치적 성숙에 적절히 반영된다. 고령 시민들은 취약한 상태로부터 강화, 정체성 및 사회 변화의 주체로 바뀌었다. 반 이민자 정책들로부터 직접적으로 상처받았던 우리 공동체의 구성 연장자는 이 문제에 선명성과 긴급성을 제공했다. 기본적인 생존에 필수적인 것으로부터 배제된 채 한인 연장자들은 발언하기 시작하여 가장 잘 알고 헌신적인 공동체 구성원이자 조직가가 되었다.
한인 연장자들의 참여와 함께 재미 동포의 민권 운동은 대중 운동에서 자주 실종되는 세대간 관점을 독보적으로 체득해왔다. 미 전역의 다른 도시들에서, 그리고 시카고한인교육문화마당집(KRCC) 재미 동포, 청년, 자원 봉사자 및 실무자는 한인 연장자들과 함께 일하면서 한인 연장자들이 자신의 이야기를 의원들에게 써서 알리는 것을 돕고, 한인 연장자들의 입장과 요구 공식 영어 문서로 옮겼으며, 시위하는 동안 한인 연장자들과 나란히 서서 행진하였다. 재미 동포 이민자들의 청년 세대와 연장자 세대는 함께 정치적 과정에 대해서 배웠고, 미국의 정치 지형에 의미심장한 각인을 남기고 재미 동포에 대한 미국 일반 대중의 인식을 바꾸었다. 나는 이 변화하는 과정의 일부에 속했던 나 자신을 행운아로 여긴다.
나는 시민적 참여를 “공동체(지역사회) 문제에 참여하는 것”으로 이해하고 정의한다. ‘평균적인’ 미국 시민들(미국에서 태어났고 영어를 유창하게 구사하는 백인)에게 시민적 참여는 쉽고, 태생적으로 주어진 권리이다. 이 용어와 행동의 형태는 자원이 없고 기회를 제대로 누리지 못하는 사회적 소수 계층이 어떻게 이를 인식하고 활동으로 연결시키느냐에 따라 새로운 의미를 부여한다. 재미 동포는 이러한 윤곽에 부합하는, 많은 공동체들 중 하나이다. 재미 동포들의 사회 참여는 평균적인 미국 시민이 관여하게 되는 시민적 참여와는 근본적으로 다르게 경험되고, 접근되며 이해되는 권리이다.
2000년 인구조사에 따르면, 미국에는 107만 명의 재미 동포가 있고, 시카고 및 외곽 지역에는 4만 명의 재미 동포가 있다. 이 수치는 다른 출처들에 따르면 상당히 높게 추산된다. 한국 외교통상부는, 예를 들자면, 미 전역에 210만 명, 시카고 및 외곽 지역에 가장 밀집하여 거주하는 중서부에는 50만 명이 있다고 열거한다. 대다수 재미동포 중 75% 이상은 1980년 대 미국에 이민 온 신규 이민자이다. 또한 재미동포 인구 수의 18% 서류미비이민자(소위 말하는 불법체류자)이다. 재미동포 인구 50%가 시민권자이고, 78%는 제한적으로 영어를 구사하거나 아예 영어를 구사하지 못하는 자들이다. 재미 동포가 경제적으로 성공해왔다는 폭넓은 믿음이 있으나, 많은 재미동포들은 빈곤과 사회적 차별의 벽속에서 어렵게 살아가고 있다. 이들 다수는 하루 14시간 노동, 주7일 노동과 같은 열악한 노동 현실 속에서 살아가며 그들의 건강을 해치고 있다.
이 자료는 재미 동포에 관한 윤곽을 요약하고, 정치적 장으로부터 그들이 소외된 이유와 조건을 나타낸다. 슬프게도 근대 대중문화는 재미 동포들이 자기중심적이라는 부정적인 이미지들을 일반적으로 양산해왔고, 사회적 관심이나 건강한 공동체를 건설하는데 기여한 점 보다 경제적 성공과 교육적 성취에 집중 했다.
나는 유학생이든 여행자든 또는 영주권자든 상관없이 1965년 이후 미국으로 온 재미 동포들 중 다수는 미국에 계속 머무르기를 희망하지 않았을 것이라 생각한다. 이들 대부분은 자녀의 더 높은 교육비를 대기 위해 한국에 가서 돈을 버는 것과 상대적으로 편한 한국의 은퇴 생활을 생각 했었을 것이다. 하지만 재정상의 안정성이나 자기 자녀의 학문적 성공을 보장하고자 하는 이러한 욕구 보다 재미 동포들은 고국의 정치적, 경제적 불안정 때문에 미국에 정착하여 영구 이민자로 살아가겠다는 결정을 했다(이런 결정에 대한 근본적인 이유는 한국근대사에 영향을 미친 일제 식민강점기(1905~1945), 남북 분단(1945), 한국 전쟁(1950~1953)을 포함하고, 남한의 경우 연속적인 군사 독재와 경찰국가를 포함한다.) 많은 재미 동포들은 해방 및 통일, 그리고/또는 남한의 민주화 이후에 귀국할 꿈을 간직하며 미국에서의 일시적인 망명이라 생각하고 살았다. 어린 시골 소녀가 노동하기 위해 강제로 도시로 이주하는 것과 동일한 방식으로 재미 동포들은 가난하고 나라를 떠나 부유한 선진국인 미국으로 이주 했다. 이들 재미 동포들은 가족 및 살던 고향을 떠나는 슬픔을 느끼며 색과 향기와 감촉이 다른 해외 세계에 들어섰다.
태평양 건너로의 이주를 결정 했던 원래의 주된 요인들과 상관없이 재미 동포들은 학업(유학)과 노동 때문에 해를 넘겨서 머무르는 자신을 발견했다. 재미 동포들은 결혼하고 가족을 부양하기 시작했으며, 해가 넘어감에 따라 귀국을 상상하는 것은 더욱 어려워지고 있었다. 동시에 언어 장벽, 사회적 접촉의 결여와 미국의 정치적 과정에 익숙하지 않은 것과 같은 장애물들은 많은 재미 동포들이 시민적 참여를 적극적으로, 또 역동적으로 행하는 것을 방해 했다. 많은 이민자들은 조용히 잊혀진 채 살기를 희망해왔을 수도 있다. 삶은 분리되어 몸은 미국에 있고 심장과 마음은 한국에 있었다.
두 주요 사건들이 재미 동포들의 시민적 참여를 형성하고 그것에 기여했는데, 이는 1992년 LA 사태와 1994년 반 이민 물결이었다. LA시에 대한 재정적, 정치적, 사회적 파괴를 넘어 전자의 사건은 한국과 한국적 디아스포라에서와 마찬가지로 전 미국 사회 및 재미 동포 지역 사회에 중요한 영향을 끼쳤다. LA 사태는 근대 재미 동포 역사에서 가장 의미심장한 사건으로, 대다수 재미 동포들이 정치적 힘이 없다는 점을 자각하게 되었다. 공격은 양 측면으로 번졌다. 재미 동포들은 지역사회에 공헌하지 않고, ‘자기 자신을 지킬’ 뿐 동화되고자 노력하지 않는 이민자로서 비추어 질 뿐만 아니라, 지역 사회 보호나 정치적 배려를 정당화 할 영향력이나 의미 또한 갖지 않았다. LA 사태는 미국 사회에서 재미 동포들이 처한 자신의 역할과 책임을 숙고하도록 하였다. 질문들이 재미 동포 공동체 내부에서 쏟아져 나왔다. 우리는 사랑하는 고국으로 돌아가거나 고국에서 은퇴할 수 있을 때를 계획하는, 아니면 우리가 살아가고 있는 이 사회에서 소외 된, 또는 일시적인 거주자로 인식되도록 남겨질 것인가? 또는 우리는 새로운 공동체를 건설하는데 참여 해야 하는가?
1992년은 고립된 채 남아 있는 것은 무책임하고 정치적으로 불안하며 위험하다는 점을 재미 동포들에게 깨우쳐 주었다. 기존의 조직 활동 변화 및 정책 변동과 함께 이러한 깨달음에 대한 구체적 모습은 시카고의 시카고한인교육문화마당집(KRCC)과 미주한인봉사교육단체협의회(NAKASEC)의 조직 창립으로 이어 진다. 단체들은 새로운 시민 참여 활동과 정치적 역량 개발, 인종 차별과 민권 문제 접목, 그리고 새로운 정체성 확립을 위해 활동을 시작하게 된다. 이런 조직적 변화들은 당시 우리들이 1994년부터 자주 불렀던 노래 제목, "이 땅에 살기 위하여," 에 가장 잘 설명되어 진다.
1994년 미연방 선거 직후 공화당이 이끄는 의회는 반 이민자 정책안이 전국을 뒤 흔들게 했다. 이민자들은 실업, 범죄, 복지에서부터 미국 사회 구조의 붕괴에까지 이르는, 많은 사회 문제의 이유, 그리고 비난 받는 희생양이 되었다. 대표적 반이민 정책안을 보면, 저소득층 생활 보조금(SSI)과 식료품 구매권에 비시민자 영주권 이민자의 자격 조건 박탈, 이들 대부분의 해당자는 저소득층 은퇴 이민 연장자 및 극빈 가정 이민 아동 이었다. 당시 미국 내 이민자 지역 사회 내에서는 불안정, 충격과 공포의 분위기가 압도하고 있었다. 재미 동포 연장자들은 특별히 지원과 해법을 찾고 있었다. 심지어 유일한 생활 수단에 없어진다고 생각한 연장자들은 자살까지 고려 했었다.
1990년 65세 이하 재미 동포의 1.1%가 공공 사회 보장 (아시아 태평양계 미국인 중 차하위)프로그램 수혜자였지만, 65세 이상 재미 동포의 44.2%가 공공 사회보장 지원에 의존했다. 1996년 기준 저소득층 생활 보조금 한인 연장자 수혜자는 24,000 여명이 넘었다.
제안된 법안의 통과는 합법 연장자 이민자의 기본 생활 수단을 없애는 것이고, 재미 동포들을 불안정한 경체 상태에 남겨 두는 것이었다. 이로 인해 다수의 연장자는 자녀들로부터 재정적 지원을 받게될 상황에 처해졌다. 그러나 이러한 반이민 법안으로 가장 영향을 받게 될 이민 연장자는 영어 문제 때문에 여러 다양한 법안 및 법안 심의 과정을 이해 하는 데 큰 한계가 있었다.
KRCC was officially founded in 1995, the year after the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) was formed in 1994. Both organizations shared a similar mission of presenting a progressive Korean American voice on critical civil rights issues. The purpose was grand. Given the political climate at the time, immigrant rights emerged organically as the centerpiece of our activity.
In comparison to the existing Korean American organizations in Chicago, KRCC was distinctive because of its composition-most of the original founders were young (in their teens and late twenties), recent immigrants, had limited English skills, and were non-professionals without higher education degrees. Moreover, women were part of the leadership structure. In other words, KRCC and its founding board, staff and volunteers wielded minimal (if any) economic, social and political influence within the microcosm of Chicago's Korean American community.
KRCC was also distinctive in its mission, philosophy and operating structure. We sought to link social services, education and culture with organizing and advocacy because we held that all components led to a holistic approach to improving the life of the individual and the community. Moreover, we believed and practiced a belief that social change must be global in its parameters.
Today, KRCC is recognized as a breeding ground for young Korean American activism. A significant force in this development has been Young Koreans United (YKU), a national political membership organization formed in 1983. At the height of the pro-democracy movement in South Korea, an unparalleled level of activism issued forth throughout the Korean diaspora. In the United States, South Korean political asylees & foreign students, recent immigrants, and longtime religious and political Korean American activists were drawn together to present a progressive voice of dissent.
5408796024_51d041cfb9_n.jpgYKU's mission is to promote human rights, democracy and justice in both the U.S. and Korea. Yet, its highly publicized campaigns against the successive military dictatorships in South Korea and expressed opposition to U.S. economic, political and military dominance in the region, led to redbaiting and the targeted harassment of YKU by the Korean CIA and the Korean consulate; essentially ostracizing the organization from the general Korean American community and rendering them ineffective in addressing domestic civil rights issues. 
As was the case throughout the nation prior to 1992, Korean American organizations in Chicago primarily provided social services and limited advocacy. Thus, when Korean Americans sought political leadership to address the anti-immigrant wave, existing Korean American organizations were not in a position to meet or failed to meet this level of need. Given community discomfort or skepticism about who was supporting or directing YKU, the organization decided to contribute significant resources, including the donation of volunteer full-time staff for the first few years, to support the formation of KRCC.
In addition, YKU contextualized its political perspective and knowledge within the Korean immigrant experience, and provided comprehensive training and study sessions to KRCC volunteers on organizing models & methods, sociopolitical ideas & philosophy, and a critical re-evaluation of Korean and international history. The notion that action (activism) and thought are integrated parts of everyday life became infused through study sessions and was emphasized through practice. As well, the importance of instilling a personal, political and cultural identity in order to gain a sense of being and direction as Korean immigrants living in the United States was promoted. In time, while both organizations sustained a strong alliance of mutual respect and a common vision, it has become convenient and tactically effective for KRCC to focus on domestic issues while YKU focused on international and homeland issues.
Immigrant Rights Organizing
The first major campaign in which Korean Americans in Chicago participated was the advertising campaign co-initiated by NAKASEC and KRCC, entitled "Justice for Immigrants", in the summer of 1995. The original goal was to raise $25,000 from individuals and organizations for a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post opposing anti-immigrant legislation. The campaign addressed the urgent need by Korean Americans to understand welfare and immigration policies; to create links with diverse sectors and communities such as women, labor, and African Americans; to mobilize a united voice in support of immigrant rights; and to advocate for legislative changes. In doing so, we also asserted our identity as immigrant Americans. The Washington Post was tactically selected because at $25,000, it was half the price of an advertisement in the New York Times. The Post was also favored by reasons of its readership, which includes members of Congress and national policymakers.
Within six weeks, we had surpassed our goal, raising over $55,000, from 300 organizations and thousands of individuals. With the exclusion of a handful of organizations that pledged $1,000 towards the campaign, the remaining $5 ,000 was raised from the grassroots, with each individual contributing an average of one dollar.
In the case of Chicago, beyond the success of raising $10,000 and securing endorsements from 96 local organizations, the campaign led to the coming together of diverse immigrant communities and fostered their collective foray into the legislative and policy arena. When the campaign proposal was first introduced, mainstream immigrant rights policy organizations in Chicago were discouraging, became territorial and expressed their skepticism on whether the campaign would lead to concrete policy changes. As a result, they did not participate or contribute resources until much later in the campaign.
Yet, local community-based immigrant organizations were not only curious about the novel approach; they saw the campaign as timely and relevant. They knew that an anti-immigrant mood was brewing across America. As in the Korean American community, seniors were fearful of losing benefits, young people were fearful of losing eligibility for student loans, pregnant women were fearful of being denied medical services, and all were fearful of becoming the targets of discrimination and hate crimes.
The press conference to launch the campaign was held at Erie Neighborhood House, and included representatives from the Polish American, Chinese American, Latino, Korean and women's communities. Presentations were made in five languages, and ethnic media generated broad media coverage. Subsequently, various activities were undertaken. ESL instructors in the La' 0 community held classes on the bills and took up collections from their s dents. The local Polish newspaper ran two full-page advertisements about the campaign, leading to checks of $5, $10 and $15 from Polish immigrants arriving at the doors of KRCC. Reporters from the Polish Daily News took up their own collection and made a donation. And in the Korean American community, young volunteers set up information tables in front of local supermarkets and visited local churches and temples, calling for Korean American community support, providing a sense of hope for a solution to the anti-immigrant attacks.
Funds raised went to the placement of two full-page advertisements, one in July and one in September of 1994. The ads were widely circulated during a national lobby day effort organized by the National Immigration Forum, as well as at a range of local legislative visits. The momentum created from the ad campaign led to a range of activities during a two-year period from the time these bills were first introduced until the actual signing of the welfare reform bill in 1996. It was a period when Korean Americans, including KRCC staff & volunteers, seniors and the media learned first-hand about the legislative process and began to build a unified political voice. Each time a bill was introduced, passed through a committee, passed a full floor vote or arrived at the President's desk, Korean Americans carried out a variety of actions, including petitions, letters, rallies, marches, protests, workshops, and community forums. Limited phone calls were also made.  Volunteers at KRCC can recount many late nights during the breezeless Chicago summer heat, and before the introduction of internet technology, when an assortment of fax machines were hooked up to separate telephone jacks in order to fax hundreds of letters which had been collected earlier that day.
We had gone through two successful vetoes, before President Clinton announced on July 1996 that he would sign the third and latest version of the bill that Congress had passed. Korean Americans and immigrant communities around the country felt a measure of disappointment and deflation. Yet, we had also come very far since 1994. The bill would become law, but we would remind the White House and Congress of our opposition to its contents and our resolve to continue the pressure. Given that it was now less than four months before the 1996 presidential elections, the Korean American community made the strategic decision to mount a campaign targeted at the political parties, most significantly the incumbent Democratic National Committee (DNC).
In late July, KRCC co-initiated a national letter writing drive with NAKASEC opposing the impending signing of the welfare reform bill.  Knowing that the bill would be signed in a few weeks, we set our goal at 10,000 letters in two weeks. Eventually, 17,000 letters were collected from the Korean American community including 200 from seniors in Alaska, and notably 5,000 from Chicago. These letters were hand-delivered to the Asian Pacific American Outreach offices of the DNC. Korean American media ensured national coverage for the Korean American community.
Separately, it was determined that the Republican National Committee (RNC), as the primary authors and instigators of the anti-immigrant wave, should be the subject of mass protests. Korean Americans joined thousands of others in rallies during the RNC Convention in San Diego. Simultaneously, KRCC held a protest in front of the RNC offices in Chicago and presented an open letter against the party's anti-immigrant position, endorsed by a broad array of local immigrant organizations.
On August 21, the day before President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill, the Chicago office of NAKASEC (housed within KRCC at the time) received a phone call from Donna Shalala, then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Shalala had heard about the 17,000 letters and she pledged to do whatever possible to address the bill's unfair immigrant provisions, after it was signed into law. She asked us to relay this message to the Korean American community. For the first time, through this unsolicited phone call, we knew that the Korean American community had been heard. The unexpected outcome affirmed that we had taken the right strategy.
Civic Participation and Electoral Organizing
In preparation for the 1996 federal elections, KRCC launched, for the first time, a multi-faceted campaign to promote voter registration, education and mobilization. This was the first campaign of its kind in Korean American history. In late September, KRCC supported the production, funding and distribution of the Korean language voter guide, titled A Guide to the 1996 Elections. This comprehensive guide provided a political context to the presidential elections, a directory of voter resources and services, hands on information on voter registration and the electoral process, and traced how voting rights had been achieved. Fifty thousand copies were distributed nationally, primarily through the support of the Korea Times, the largest Korean language daily. Ten thousand copies were distributed specifically in greater Chicago. KRCC volunteers conducted voter registration drives, held "How to Vote" seminars, and participated in phone banking. On Election Day, KRCC maintained a Korean language voter assistance hotline.
Through the years, KRCC has fine-tuned its specific activities to both increase voter participation and to ensure that the special needs of first-time voters, and of voters with limited English proficiency, are met. These activities are comprehensive and strategic, but are also part of a well-worn path that all emerging communities follow in order to access political power. Later activities include the production of Korean language voter guides for Illinois State and the city of Chicago. KRCC also produced English language templates towards the production of voter guides in Chinese and Spanish. Finally, KRCC initiated and coordinated the first ever voter exit poll for the Asian Pacific American community in 2000. 
The Restoration of SSI
Following the re-election of Bill Clinton to a second term as president in November 1996, the Korean American community was intent on reminding the Clinton administration of his campaign pledge to rescind the discriminatory and unfair immigrant provisions of the welfare reform law. The following month, KRCC joined NAKASEC and Korean American organizations around the nation in the National Telegram Campaign to Restore Immigrant Benefits. The campaign's goal was to send a minimum of 2,000 individual telegrams to President Clinton on inauguration day, urging him to honor his campaign promise to immigrant Americans. Telegrams were selected as the form of communication because they lent an air of urgency, the messages could be coordinated to be sent on the same day, and it was a different and new tactic. Yet, because it was the holiday season, time consuming to fill out the paperwork per telegram order, and the higher cost of sending individual telegrams, the goal was set at 2,000. To encourage national, multi-ethnic participation, campaign materials were produced for the first time in four languages (Korean, Chinese, Spanish and English.) Once again, KRCC went out to the community. On Inauguration Day, January 19, 1997, a total of 2,600 telegrams, including 330 from Chicago, were sent.
The subsequent restoration of SSI to certain groups of immigrants that same year truly reverberated the POWER of civic participation. It capped what was becoming a politically transformative experience. For what each member lacked in experience, language ability or economic influence; and what a community lacked in numbers or influence, it held more through the building of a unified political voice and voting bloc. And few wanted to stay quiet after this legislative victory.
Post-Welfare Reform Immigrant Rights Organizing
The seniors in particular were asking what other parts of welfare reform could be changed. I will merely highlight below subsequent campaigns to outline the increasing level and depth of civic participation within the Korean American community.
In January 1998, KRCC participated in the national campaign to restore food stamps with the objective of sending thousands of paper plates with the message: "Our plates are empty," to members of Congress. Although a lower percentage of Korean seniors would benefit from this effort personally, the seniors took the initiative to go out to their friends and family and gathered hundreds of signatures. Ministers urged their congregation to sign the paper plates at the end of their sermons and individual Korean Americans were noticeably more receptive and informed at the markets. Later that same summer, when food stamps were restored to certain groups of immigrants, NAKASEC was one of four immigrant rights advocacy groups invited by the White House to attend the bill signing ceremony at the Rose Garden.
When the national Fix '96 campaign was launched in 1999 by both national and regional immigrant rights coalitions, KRCC and its co-affiliates approached a new level of civic participation." More than 130 low-income Korean immigrant seniors were organized from six states for the national Fix '96 lobby day and rally.  The seniors made legislative visits to members of Congress and held a special meeting with the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Through interpreters, they spoke informatively and passionately about the harsh impact of welfare reform. And, they had the opportunity to develop fellowship and share stories with seniors from across the country. As a witness and participant to this event, I have been told, on many occasions, that the scene of hundreds of determined Korean seniors striding down the halls of Congress left an indelible and unforgettable imprint on Washington policyrnakers and elected officials. It was an event that many organizations have since sought to model and follow with their respective communities.
The year 2000 was a time of optimism and promise. It had been six years since the Korean American community first began to understand and respond to the anti-immigrant wave. We felt that the tide was turning and that we could begin to move from reacting and defending immigrant rights, towards proactively advancing an immigrant rights agenda. Moreover our strategy and tactics could reflect the depth of our experience and knowledge. It was a time that allowed for the launching of the Full Participation of Immigrants Campaign, a long-term campaign which presented far reaching, bold, yet attainable goals; legalization of undocumented immigrants, restoration of 245(i) and the repeal of employer sanctions. These goals were framed around the concept that immigrants contribute greatly to bettering American society, and they must become essential players in furthering representative democracy.
To launch the campaign and to demonstrate wide community support, we collected 30,000 letters (fifteen thousand each to the DNC and RNC), calling for the incorporation of the campaign's three goals in their party platforms. In May of that year, personal presentations and meetings were held with representatives from the RNC and Joe Andrews, chair of the DNC. While we continued to participate in other activities such as rallies and forums, this letter writing drive is an instructive example of the Korean American community's growing sophistication in seeking to shape the debate from the beginning, an not simply respond to party positions as they are presented. In the en , although there were few identifiable changes to the final RNC platform, Democratic presidential candidate AI Gore did publicly announce his support for the legalization of immigrants during his campaign.
It was an important moment in time. We were essentially neophytes, spurred by the sense of justice and fairness, and were held together by the community support behind us. We exuded freshness and failed to see the barriers or limits, choosing always to take the plunge. I describe this mood based on memory, but it cannot be replicated today. Much of what we do nor does not feel "new" or like "the first time" that these actions are being taken. Conversely, the Korean American community has benefited from its own evolution. As stated in the introduction, we have transitioned from an individual sensibility and a place of powerlessness to an understanding of "community responsibility" and toward embracing a broader role as agents of social change.
Through the activities of organizations such as KRCC and NAKASEC, we have also debunked the image of Korean Americans as complacent and conservative. Korean Americans hold diverse political viewpoints, including many who believe strongly in participatory democracy. And when there is case of injustice, the community, young and old, the first and second generations can all come together towards a common goal.
What are the defining elements of the Korean American activist movement today? I characterize it as intergenerational, predisposed to cross-cultural coaliition building, multi-lingual, media savvy, grassroots-based, national in scope, and most importantly, able to carry out sophisticated campaign tactics and actions that can sway political forces and capture the imagination of the community.
Just as important, however is that while this movement is new, it was immediately successful, and this success influenced the optimism of the movement. There were certainly obstacles facing us; the two most notable being, our lack of numbers and influence. We numbered less than 1 million dispersed through the United States, and few had social, economic or political power. Yet, we sought to mitigate these obstacles by forming a critical mass and cross-cultural coalitions. But more importantly, I believe that we were equipped with a unique political grounding, normally absent in community-based organizations or emerging communities, resulting from the transcontinental fusion of political thought and experiences from Korean activists, primarily from the pro-democracy movement (including the Kwangju People's Uprising of 1980), with Korean American activists and thinkers.
Organizational and Community Challenges
For community organizations, it is always a challenging task to meet the needs of a population as diverse as Korean Americans. So often, groups have focused on specific sectors such as older new immigrants, seniors, women or adoptees. During the formation of the KRCC, I was one of a handful that spoke English fluently and Korean poorly. In an effort to ensure greater and ongoing participation from second generation Korean Americans and adoptees, we pushed for an inclusive structure and process, both in the operations of the organization, as well as in the programs and issues being addressed. The first and most difficult step towards this goal was ensuring language accessibility for all volunteers through bilingualism
The current mixture of English speaking second generation Korean Americans and adoptees with Korean-speaking first generation and 1.5 generation Korean Americans emphasizes the need for a continuing discourse, in two languages, on a shared vision of community empowerment. Greater generational diversity has also meant that all of the organization's stakeholders must discard images that caricaturized "other" members of our community, from the typical first or second generation to the typical adoptee or Korean American woman. While the process has been painful and frustrating at times, it has enabled us to construct a more "accurate," and broader, definition of the Korean American community and the concept of "Koreanness."
Confronting race has also been a sensitive exercise for Korean Americans. On many fronts and throughout recent history, Korean Americans have been pitted against another ethnic minority. Incidents such as the destruction of Korean-owned stores during the Los Angeles civil unrest, or on-going disputes against Latino workers at Korean-owned businesses, feed into the view that Korean Americans are a different kind of minority; they are misunderstood as the exploitative minority.
As a child, I remember my father telling me that Koreans are the African Americans of East Asia. And I grew up reading and hearing stories of our community's sad and bitter history, as poor immigrants eking out an existence in America or as Koreans surviving decades of colonialism, poverty and political repression. I believed that Koreans and Africans were spiritual brethren, so as a high school student, it was only natural for me to first become involved in activism through the anti-apartheid movement. How did we come to be pitted against each other? And how can we achieve mutual respect and share in the task of building community?
It is this recognition that Korean Americans must begin to address race which propelled KRCC to ensure cross-cultural participation in immigrant rights organizing and advocacy. For example, we have worked with Latinos to draw out the common threads of identity and circumstance as recent or undocumented immigrant, limited English proficiency, low-income, and largely disenfranchised groups. From the summer of 1995/ KRCC also initiated an education series on African American history and the civil rights movement. Weekly study sessions focused on reading specific articles (a scarce few in Korean, and several in English), and viewing the Eyes On the Prize video series. Many young Korean immigrants expressed a closer affiliation with a community that they were alienated from. In most cases, the first African American they came into contact with were the American soldiers stationed in South Korea or their first exposure was through Hollywood movies.
Broadly, Korean Americans have also sought to contribute to the modern civil rights movement with our insights and experiences. We have argued for and worked to ensure that language rights and immigrant rights are incorporated into the civil rights agenda and that the debate on voting rights is also considered through an immigrant rights lens. Most importantly, Korean Americans must engage in a race analysis that addresses and is linked to economic poverty in the U.S.
Chicago is a city that has pioneered leading models on organizing. We have sought to build from that tradition and push for a rethinking of traditional models; one that is relevant to the changing political climate as well as the physical and structural changes in our neighborhoods. The achievements of diverse immigrant communities, including Korean Americans, in bringing forth political and social change, have reinforced this need.  Fundamental components include forming a multilingual and multi-pronged approach including the combining of strong grassroots activism with effective policy advocacy.
The Political Landscape Ahead
In the post 9-11 context, the political landscape has been altered with the scaling back of advances in the immigrant rights arena, and with an increasing backlash against immigrants, religious minorities, Arab Americans, and South Asians. Egregious human rights violations and abuses have been committed against both Americans and foreigners. Families have been separated and individual rights have been trampled on with the deportation and detentions of thousands. Hate crimes have increased at frightening levels of intensity and frequency. As in 1994, the reflex is to protect and defend existing immigrant rights. Yet to do so, would unravel the precious gains made in the past decade. As immigrants and Korean Americans, we must now begin to defend immigrant rights even as we continue to advance them.
More dangerous, however, is the militarization of American social values, culture and lifestyle. Individual Americans live in daily fear of a possible terrorist attack. And the Bush administration has manipulated sincere American concerns for peace and security to exercise an aggressive foreign policy that has led to heightened tension in the Asia Pacific region.  I believe that while Korean Americans hold differing views on American foreign policy, they are more reluctant to voice them for fear of being labeled anti-American. [Yet, the Bush Administration's own weaving together of domestic and foreign policy concerns through its "War on Terrorism" necessitates the placement of local issues within a global context. Correspondingly, organizations such as KRCC have all the more reason for expanding the scope of their political analysis and work.
Beyond the desire to change the environment in which immigrant and civil rights policies are formed, we have sought to cultivate individuals who form an informed constituency. The political awakening of certain sectors in our community such as the Korean American seniors is a marker of our success. The greater challenge now is to carve out a permanent niche for sustained community activism.
And in this, Korean Americans can draw from two parallel lines of monumental social change organizing. There is the often untold but rich history of the civil rights movement, and there is Korea's modem struggle for independence and democracy.  Both will guide, inspire and root us. These movements teach us that education and organizing begins with the concept of family and a love for the beloved community. Our work for social change cannot be separated from who we are as people. Our beliefs direct how we see the world; as we breathe, we work for change.
EunSook Lee is a founding board member of the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center of Chicago, former Associate Director and West Coast Director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (1996-2000), and the former Program Coordinator and later Executive Director of Korean American Women In Need (1994-1996, 2001-2003).
↑ Other related activities such as Census 2000 and redistricting were also introducted during this period.
↑ According to the 1990 Census, 24.1% of Korean American families in Chicago lived below the federal poverty line.
↑ While Korean immigrants may have been born in either the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) or the Republic of Korea (ROK), the overwhelming majority arrived to the United States as ROK citizens. For this reason, the paper will focus on impact of the ROK's political, economic and social situation on the Korean American community.
↑ A cash benefit program for low-income disabled or elderly Americans.
↑ According to the 1996 Current Population Survey, which was published by the U.S. Bureau of Census, the poverty rate of Korean Americans 65 years and older was 22.4%. This rate was the highest from among the following five Asian Pacific American populations: Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Filipino.
↑ In 1989, YKU Chicago member Tae Hoon Park was the first South Korean national arrested for violating the NSL through overseas activities.
↑ A community forum featuring representative from the Latino, Chinese American and Korean American communities drew 300 people to North Park College in 1995.
↑ Given that the Korean American adult population is predominantly limited English proficient, personal phone calls were a difficult advocacy action to undertake.
↑ Korean Americans also participated in protest activities including rallies and a one-week hunger strike in Los Angeles.
↑ The Asian American Institute coordinated this project with KRCC and the Chinese American Service League.
↑ Fix '96 refers to the restoring the wrongs of the 1996 welfare and immigration laws.
↑ The seniors funded their trip by holding fundraisers including a one-day coffee house.
↑ We have seen a replication of our organizing tactics and model such as the bringing together of Asian Pacific American immigrants for a national lobby day or a grassroots funded ad campaign to the very formation of the multi-ethnic coalition, the Coalition for African, Asian, European and Latino immigrants of Illinois (CAAELII).
↑ The newly formed Department of Homeland Security (a merger of 22 agencies, including the INS) has created the largest standing armed forces in the country with 70,000 armed agents for border and interior immigration enforcement.
↑ South Korea is one of the few nations in Asia that achieved democracy through popular struggle.