KAGC Student Spotlight: Sung Jung (John), Yale
This reminds us that the U.S. is a single unified nation formed by many states, and as an extension, we are a country formed by people of different backgrounds. We seek unity in diversity.
In 1999, my parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea. The following year, I was born, and two years later, my younger sister was born. With the four of us, my parents planted a church in the suburbs of Virginia. They followed God’s calling to dedicate their lives to ministry — to serve others and to share the Gospel with those around them.
For many immigrant families, our Korean American church provided a home away from home. As we celebrated the New Year’s, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas together, we shared the joys of each season. We rejoiced in the birth and resurrection of Christ, celebrated the New Year’s — both solar and lunar — and commemorated the many national holidays here in the United States.
On Lunar New Year’s, we ate traditional rice cake soup tteokguk, observed the traditional bow to our parents and elders sebae, and played the traditional game yutnori. On the Fourth of July, we gathered for a cookout and watched the fireworks illuminate the sky, as we remembered the founding of this country that extended us the possibility of a new future, the American dream.
Perhaps, Thanksgiving dinner was the most visible display of our Korean-American identity — the stuffed roast turkey, mashed potato and gravy, green bean casserole and corn shared the dining table with a large bowl of rice, kimchi, stir-fried glass noodles japchae, and Korean beef barbeque bulgogi.
The “American” and “Korean” food complemented each other wonderfully, bringing us together around one big table. Far from being seen as a culinary peculiarity, we embraced this uniqueness as part of our Korean American identity.
After we gave grace, the thunderous utterance of jal meokgetseumnida immediately filled the air. This statement marked the implicit agreement to start eating. Excitedly, we stuffed ourselves with a spoonful of rice, mashed potato and gravy, and turkey. The cranberry sauce sweetened the bulgogi and the green bean casserole stuck to the japchae. Kimchi reddened the corn. The empty plates were the vestiges of an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner devoured.
The fusion of “American” and “Korean” food displayed on Thanksgiving night perhaps serves as a metaphor of the Korean-American identity. It is a reminder that this identity is not an “either-or,” but rather a “both” and “this-and-that” situation. We learn to cherish the memories of our past, beautiful and maybe even challenging, while appreciating the present and hoping for a better future. We choose to bond together in commemoration of our common history. We encourage and uplift one another, and as “iron sharpens iron,” we refine each other. We fight for one another and sacrifice for the greater good.
I strongly believe that we, as Korean Americans, have the opportunity to bring about positive changes in our society through active civic engagement, politics, and public policy. We are a diverse, extremely talented, and immeasurably important part of the U.S. Our leadership and work in this field will bring new talents, skills, and perspectives.
As a Political Science major, I have always been interested in politics and public policy, international relations, and political philosophy. In high school, I was an active member of the Model United Nations and a member of the student government, which culminated into my role as the senior class President. At Yale, I have taken a variety of courses tailored to my interests, including constitutional law, international cooperation, and political theory. I am involved with the Yale Political Union, a political debate society on campus that challenges students to think critically and seriously about their political views.
This past summer, as a KAGC Congressional Fellow, I had the unique opportunity to take my knowledge and apply it on the Hill. I interned at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bi-partisan commission under the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose mission is to promote, defend, and advocate for international human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. From May to August, I saw Congress in action, witnessing and being part of the great American experiment. E pluribus unum, which is Latin for “out of many, one,” is the motto stamped on the Great Seal. This reminds us that the U.S. is a single unified nation formed by many states, and as an extension, we are a country formed by people of different backgrounds. We seek unity in diversity.
This past July, Korean Americans across the U.S. came to the nation’s capital for the annual 2022 KAGC National Conference. Attendees learned about Korean American policy priorities and had the opportunity to advocate for these policies through meetings with legislators and their staff. It was a unique experience to walk the halls of Congress and to voice our opinions on issues that matter to us. In the three-day conference, we spoke up for the Korean American community.
We had incredible speakers, including Rep. Cindy Ryu, Rep. Francesca Hong, Rep. Daniel Pae, Council Peter Kwon, Joy Alessi, and Patrick Armstrong speak to us on their leadership in the Korean American community. Through these discussions, many were inspired that they, too, can step into politics and serve this country to make it better than they found it.
We, Korean Americans, have a voice, and we must use it for the greater good.
Sung Jung (John) Kim is a senior at Yale University, studying Political Science. He plans on attending law school after graduation. He was a 2022 KAGC Fellow interning with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. At the 2022 National Conference, John volunteered and shared about the importance of serving the community following three days of education and action in Washington, D.C.
Click here to learn more about KAGC, the largest nationwide network of Korean American voters for opportunities to share the Korean American identity, discuss the key issues of our community, and get our voices heard, counted, and reflected in public policy.