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Second generation leads political empowerment in Korean-American community

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Good morning! It’s Monday, January 8, 2024.
Welcome to Katchup Briefing, the Korea Daily’s weekly English newsletter, where I’ll keep you informed with the latest news updates and perspectives from the Korean-American community. If you want to explore more articles and columns from previous weeks, please visit koreadailyus.com.

Korean-American political staffers and community leaders, both past and present, gathered at a networking event at the Korean Consulate General Residence in Los Angeles on December 11. Pictured in the front row are Evette Kim, second from left, and YeRim Choi-Hong, third from left. [Courtesy of Evette Kim]

It’s an election year, a time when we can gauge the growth of the Korean-American community’s political power. This period marks a transition as the community’s center shifts from the first to the second generation of immigrants. A notable new phenomenon is young second-generation Korean-American politicians running for office.

The most significant races involve the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. U.S. Representative Andy Kim, vying for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey, leads the Democratic Party’s internal primary polls, enhancing his winning prospects.

Four Californians are contesting for Congress. Both Michelle Park Steel (45th Congressional District) and Young Kim (40th Congressional District) aim for a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives for California. Steel and Kim are first-generation immigrants.

The other two candidates are second-generation Korean immigrants. Californian State Senator Dave Min is running for the 47th Congressional District, and David Kim is running a third time for the 34th Congressional District.

At other political levels, encouraging developments are emerging. In L.A.’s primary elections, four young Korean-American candidates in their 30s and 40s are running a joint campaign, a first for Korean-American candidates. These candidates are David Kim (34th Congressional District), Grace Yoo (10th LA City Council District), John Yi (54th Assembly District), and Ed Han (44th Assembly District). As Democrats not competing against each other, they unite for a joint campaign, showcasing a novel empowerment strategy in the Korean-American community.

David Kim, Grace Yoo, John Yi, and Ed Han (From left)


In another development, former and current Korean-American legislative staffers are initiating the Korean-American Legislative Staff Association this month. This networking organization aims to connect aspiring Korean-American legislative staffers with politicians. Founders Evette Kim, chief of staff to Irvine Councilmember Tammy Kim, and YeRim Choi-Hong, constituent services representative to U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, conceived the idea.

Evette Kim notes, “There was an Asian Pacific American Legislative Staff association, but it lacked activity and specificity to Korean-Americans. We saw a need for a group dedicated to the next generation of Korean-Americans in the U.S. political arena, where connections are crucial.”

The association will officially launch later this month. An advisory council has already been formed. It includes Ben Park, President of the Korean-American Public Safety Association, who served as an aide to former State Senator Kevin de León; Steve Kang, Director of External Affairs of the Koreatown Youth and Community Center; and Alexander Kim, who served as an aide to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and most recently as District Director for Congresswoman Cottie Petrie-Norris.

The board of directors consists of six members; Robert Park (Director of Government Relations at the American Cancer Society, former staffer to Mayor Eric Garcetti), Daniel Park (Constituent Engagement Deputy to LA Supervisor Holly Mitchell), Kenneth Ahn (Deputy Director of International Events Legacy to LA Mayor Karen Bass), Evette Kim (Chief of Staff to Irvine Councilmember Tammy Kim), Jieun Kim (Deputy Director of Korean Language Communications in LA Mayor’s Office), Su In Lee (Small Business Policy Manager to LA Mayor Karen Bass), YeRim Choi-Hong (Constituent Services Representative to U. S. Senator Alex Padilla).

Starting with about 20 members, the association aims to bolster the Korean-American community by encouraging more young Korean-Americans to become legislative staffers. “More Korean-American aides can bridge the gap between mainstream and Korean-American communities,” says Evette Kim. “We hope to foster leadership among Korean-Americans through these aide positions, ultimately benefiting the United States.”

Post-launch, the association will focus on member recruitment. The inaugural event, a career panel in April for college seniors, will offer internship opportunities and professional workshops led by advisory council members and board directors. Additionally, they plan a Mentor-Mentee Program and exchange programs with staffers in the U.S. and Korea.

The Korean-American community holds high expectations for these aspiring second-generation politicians.

By Mooyoung Lee   lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com