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Keam Urges K-Americans to Join Mainstream US Society

Posted November. 17, 2009 08:41,   


A small party was held at a Korean restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, Sunday evening, celebrating the victory of Democrat Mark Keam, 42. Keam is the first Korean-American delegate in the Virginia House of Delegates.

His election was unprecedented in the conservative state.

In an interview with The Dong-A Ilbo at the party, Keam said, “It is unfortunate that Korean-American society is aloof from what’s going on in mainstream American society. When Korean Americans encounter problems doing business, they only talk to each other. This won’t solve anything. Without communication with the mainstream white society, business can be hard. Therefore, Korean Americans should try hard to join the mainstream.”

He cited the failure of Korean Americans to appropriately respond to the federal government’s ban on the use of chemical substances in dry cleaning to prevent pollution. “Though many Korean Americans are in the dry cleaning business, they suffered huge losses due to the absence of networking with the mainstream society. It’s no use to discuss problems within just our community.”

Keam said many Korean Americans should follow him to enter mainstream American society. “I believe 1.5 and second-generation Korean Americans like me should expand opportunities for interacting with federal government officials and representatives, so that we can encourage more Korean Americans to join mainstream society. Instead of staying inside the wall we built for ourselves, Korean Americans should become more proactive about what goes on in the mainstream society,” he said.

He also talked about his meeting with President Barack Obama fifteen days ahead of last year’s presidential election. “The president asked how things were going in Virginia, so I asked for his help by saying the campaign was tough,” Keam said.

Born in Seoul, he moved abroad at age four and spent his childhood in Vietnam and Australia together with his father, a priest who was performing missionary work. Keam went to California in 1978.

When his mother became the family breadwinner by working at a factory, Keam began working part-time at a factory, construction sites and large discounters as a teen.

Keam was a lobbyist cum vice president of Verizon, a U.S. telecommunication company, before being elected.

Silvia Patton, co-chair of the Korean American Democratic National Committee who was at the party, said, “Keam’s victory shows that the political influence of Korean Americans is growing. Americans will not be able to look down on Korean Americans if they speak up for themselves.”