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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Let’s unite to build the Korean American National Museum

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Christopher HK Lee

By Christopher HK Lee
The author is an architect and documentary filmmaker.


A public hearing was held on March 21 for residents who want the Korean American National Museum to be built as soon as possible. The hearing was attended by first-generation Korean Americans, as well as 1.5 and second-generation Korean Americans, experts, and other community leaders.

The public hearing was organized to demand communication with the current board of directors and transparency in the museum project; however, it was disappointing to see the indifference of the museum project steering board, with no one from the board attending.

Recently, the board unveiled a fourth design, claiming that it was unrelated to the project that began in 1991. However, IRS (Internal Revenue Service) data reveal that the current museum project board still uses the same identification number (EIN). This claim suggests that the project steering board is trying to erase history rather than preserve it. It is completely unacceptable to erase our precious history.

The Korean-American community has a right to know the financial status of the museum project and the board of directors. This is because the museum is supposed to preserve the history and culture of the Korean-American community, as well as educate future generations and develop the community.

On April 4, 2013, the City of Los Angeles donated the land at Vermont and 6th streets in Koreatown, marking a new milestone in the construction of the museum, but construction has been delayed for more than a decade. Moreover, there are issues to be coordinated with the LA City Council and the LA City Attorney’s Office. It’s hard to believe. The artist’s rendition of the museum has changed three times, and it looks like a balloon about to burst.

The fourth design of the Korean American National Museum proposed on March 19, 2024
The first design of a standalone museum building in 2013


And yet, the voices of organizations representing the Korean-American community have not been heard at all. For some reason, they are keeping their mouths shut and looking the other way. Perhaps they are hoping to receive VIP treatment when the museum is built. I think this selfish attitude is the reason why the project to build the Korean American National Museum has been stalled for 33 years.

The museum project started in 1991 and was officially registered as a non-profit organization in 1995. It is important to build a museum, but it is also important to define its role. Korean Americans will take a walk through the museum’s collection and use it as an opportunity to reflect on their own social and cultural values. I would like to ask the current board of directors of the museum project if they have ever thought about what criteria they use to decide on exhibits and what values they want to convey. The museum should be run and communicated with the community and provide a variety of experiences. As a museum that documents the history of Korean immigration, it belongs to all Korean Americans.

How much longer will we have to wait for the museum to be built? At the moment, we don’t know when it will be built. To move forward, the Korean-American community needs to unite as one. I think our voices need to come together so that the project of building the Korean American National Museum can move forward.

“To serve, you must serve selflessly. If you want to gain something, you must stop serving.” These were the last words of the late Dr. Mike Myung Ki Hong, known as the “King of Donations” during his lifetime, spoken after he stepped down as chairman of the Korean-American museum project.

The purpose of our public hearing is to unite. We want to listen to and express our opinions, communicate with each other, and find and share solutions to problems. To achieve this, we must open our minds and engage in constructive discussions. We are planning to hold a second public hearing in April. We sincerely invite the active participation of the directors of the Korean American Museum project steering board and other interested parties.