KAGC Student Spotlight: Kyunghyun (Kate), Wellesley College
“Being in that space allowed me to realize that my voice had value and power, and that the only way to bring on the change that I wanted to see in my community was to raise my voice.”
As someone who often felt distanced from politics and the Korean-American community, my experiences of KAGC has taught me the importance of stepping out of my bubble and using my voice as a force for change and justice.
As I continue to reflect on my experiences as a Korean-American, I often circle back to a simple question that really resonates with me in relation to my journey in navigating the intersection between my Asian-American identity and politics. “What will the next generation of Asian-Americans look like? What experiences will they have and how will I contribute to that”? For me, this question became even more pertinent during my time as a Congressional intern and my experiences at the 2022 KAGC National Conference.
Growing up, my first introduction to politics and the government was my grandfather, who worked as a US diplomat to South Korea. Eventually, he moved my mother and the rest of his family to the United States, where she grew up and eventually went to college and worked. Even though I hadn’t seen him since I had moved to the United States at the age of 2 with my mother and sister, he came alive through the stories my mother told me, who explained what he did and the importance of the government. Even so, I never felt a strong connection to politics. Whether it was on the news, the radio, or even local campaign rallies in my town, there was never a candidate or figure that looked like me or represented any of my values.
While I was fortunate enough to grow up in a large, thriving Korean-American community, I also felt very torn between my Korean and American identity. Although I became well versed in the art of code switching, I often felt alienated from both communities and was never able to identify with either. As a result, I developed an apathy towards politics and government, stemming from my observations of the Korean-American community and my personal experiences of being a perpetual outsider. After years of not seeing representation and positive examples of community engagement, I became resigned to the fact that Asian-Americans were always going to be relegated to the sidelines, lost amongst the masses of voices and opinions.
Upon coming to college, I was excited to be in a new environment, but I was anxious about not being able to connect with any Asian-Americans. In spite of my worries, I soon learned that at Wellesley, the Asian-American community was a thriving, far-reaching network of dedicated students from all walks of life who were all dedicated towards fostering a strong sense of community. From the first Korean Student’s Association open house to the game nights and parties held by the Wellesley Asian Alliance, I felt welcomed and was encouraged to become more involved in the community.
My opportunity came later that year, when my sister forwarded me an email from her school’s KSA, encouraging people to apply to become a KAGC Congressional Fellow. Initially, I was apprehensive about applying, because I didn’t even know who my county representative was, much less anything else about government and politics. Despite my initial reservations, I applied and was accepted to the program, getting my summer placement in the District Office of Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Throughout the course of my internship, I really got to see the inner workings of local politics and how our work and actions can impact communities and individuals and create positive change throughout communities. Although I saw this daily through the hard work, endless organizing of events, and the non stop phone calls going out to constituents on the staff’s end, this message specifically came into focus for me when our boss gathered us together to tell us that a constituent had sent a letter to express her thanks for our help in solving her case. Through interactions like these, I was able to see the faces of real people that our work had helped and was able to put everything in perspective.
During the KAGC National Conference, I found that I was not alone in my desire to bring positive change to the Korean-American community. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by other like-minded Asian-American college students and to hear about everyone’s journey into politics and their relationships with their identity.
Being in that space allowed me to realize that my voice had value and power, and that the only way to bring on the change that I wanted to see in my community was to raise my voice. It wasn’t just enough to speak up for myself, but I knew that I had to speak up for those who couldn’t, for those who were too scared to speak out. I was done being complicit and watching our community suffer from injustice and hatred, and I knew that this event had changed the trajectory of my life in a major way.
From visiting the Capitol and getting to talk with the staff of my district representative to seeing politicians that looked like me for the first time and listening to their stories , the National Conference was an unforgettable experience and was instrumental in solidifying my identity as an Korean-American and sparking my interest in politics.
After the conference, I knew that I wanted to take what I had learned and put it into action. Whether it be spreading the word about KAGC on campus, starting a political engagement initiative, or becoming a mentor, I want to give back to my community and show others that we all matter and there will always be a seat at the table for us.
Looking back on my experiences, I now realize that I had a clear answer to my question of what mark I would leave on the next generation of Asian-Americans. I am hopeful that I will be able to use my skills and the fond memories I gained from the KAGC Conference to inspire and raise up the next generation of leaders and activists, and unite us across political, generational, and cultural lines.
Kate is a current sophomore at Wellesley College studying Psychology. Her interest in public service and government began with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes between 2020–2021, and served as a catalyst to becoming actively engaged with researching and confronting social inequities. Kate served in the district office of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D, NJ-5) as a part of the 2022 Congressional Fellowship cohort.
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.