Go to contents

Korean-American Women Growing in Stature in US

Posted February. 02, 2009 09:54,   


“Let’s be part of it. To do so, we must be part of the management that leads the United States.”

A 33-year-old Korean-American woman addressed a symposium in the northwestern Pennsylvania city of Blue Bell in August 2002.

Grace Chung Becker encouraged young America-born Koreans to study hard to advance to Washington. She was special adviser to the assistant secretary of the army on the Nogun-ri incident at that time and is now deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

Korean-American women are increasingly making their presence felt in mainstream U.S. society. With the number of ethnic Korean residents in the United States reaching more than two million, that of Korean Americans with wealth, reputation and socially recognized professions has also grown.

In the past, most of them worked for Korea or ethnic Koreans. This is no longer the case. A host of second-generation Koreans is joining key organizations with great influence over American society such as the government and academia, particularly women in their 30s.

Harvard law professor Seok Ji-yeong, 35, is one such Korean American. After earning her Ph.D. from Oxford University, she entered Harvard Law School. After graduation in 2003, she served as a secretary at the Supreme Court and worked at the New York prosecutor’s office. As a law professor at her alma mater, she has been chosen the second most respected professor by students.

What successful Korean-American women have in common is that they were born into families immigrating to the United States in the 1960s and 70s; were given an elite education; and carved out careers that value “social fulfillment” and “rewarding work.”

Michelle Rhee, 39, the chancellor of the Washington D.C.`s public schools, has become a symbol of public education reform. She accumulated experience in public education while working for the public education in poor districts.

Rhee earned a bachelor’s from Cornell University and a master’s from Harvard’s School of Government.

Audrey Choi, who led the economic council of the White House for U.S. President Barack Obama’s transition team, has a wealth of experience. After serving as the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in Germany, she applied to the White House Fellows program in 1996 and served as an adviser to then Vice President Al Gore, chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers in the White House, and deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department.

She also has an MBA from Harvard.

A slew of Korean-American women are also working for the Obama administration. Betsy Kim, a lawyer who led the way in organizing Asian Americans in the last U.S. presidential election as deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Asian Americans, is working as White House liaison officer to the Defense Department.

Helen Hong, a 31-year-old attorney for the Justice Department, has been transferred to the White House Counsel’s Office.

Soo Terry, 37, is working as deputy adviser for Korea and Japan at the National Security Council. Born in Korea and raised in the United States, she also worked at the White House under the Bush administration.

Despite their American nationality, they seem to be fond of their Korean roots. Becker recently told a seminar hosted by the Korea Economic Institute, an organization to promote dialogue and understanding between the United States and Korea, “Had it not been for Korean values such as strong familial bonds, community support and a strict work ethic, I wouldn’t have become who I am now.”