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Korean Americans Reflective After Election Upset in NJ

Posted November. 13, 2009 08:01,   


Korean Americans in New Jersey are reflecting on their relations (or lack thereof) with other ethnicities in the wake of a shocking election defeat.

Democrat Kevin Kim, who ran for the New York City Council, lost Nov. 3 in the District 19 City Council long controlled by his party. He lost because he failed to get support from Caucasians.

In the wake of Kim’s defeat, Korean Americans agree that they must reflect on their behavior.

Along with Los Angeles, New Jersey is a hotbed of Korean Americans, especially Flushing (19th electoral district). A gigantic Koreatown is located in the district.

Kim was expected to become the first Korean American to be elected to the city council. Yet he lost with 12,830 votes (47 percent), 1,300 less than the winner, Republican Dan Halloran.

Kim’s family immigrated to the United States when he was five. Because he graduated from law school at Columbia University, Korean Americans had high expectations for him. In his or her own electoral district, a New York City councilor has substantial influence, comparable to that of the New York mayor.

Korean Americans have to visit Chinese-American councilors whenever they have complaints because of the lack of Korean Americans on the council. Korean Americans for months had believed that Kim would be the first ethnic Korean to serve on the council, and were shocked by his election defeat.

The loss has made Korean Americans reflect on their past behavior. Kim enjoyed several advantages since he was a Democratic candidate in a district long dominated by his party. Many experts, however, say he failed because Korean Americans are not recognized by other ethnic groups and other problems.

The head of the Korean-American Voter Center, Kim Dong-seok, said, “Since Korean Americans are not good at English, they don’t try to communicate with other ethnicities. Also, they dine out only at Korean restaurants and mingle with only ethnic Koreans even at church. They have to try to break down barriers set between Korean Americans and others, including Caucasians.”

Korean Americans are also known not to try to clear up the notions that they run illegal bars, drink excessively, and make a lot of noise.

Min Byeong-gap, a professor at Queens College of the City University of New York, said, “Ethnic Koreans hardly communicate with other races. Only few other Asian races take the same course. Among Asians groups in the U.S., ethnic Koreans rank only fifth in population following Chinese, Filipinos, Indians and Vietnamese. To strengthen their influence, they have to communicate with other ethnicities and get more support.”

Others say the voter turnout of Korean Americans was lower than expected in Kim’s district and he had difficulty in fundraising. One suggestion is for Korean Americans to strengthen their unity as Jews have done.