Student Spotlight: Joyce, Rutgers

I believe that empowered people are equipped people, and we give ourselves the autonomy to defend and champion ourselves when we gain new knowledge. And this has brought me to truly appreciate the work that KAGC does.

I was always proud of my ability to fit in.

Having moved around over ten times in my childhood, attending three different middle schools, and constantly having to make new friends, my priority was never defining my identity, but aligning it with others’. I was proud that I could strike up a conversation with anyone, about the newest pop song or the most popular movie in theaters. I was proud that I could go to the local mall after school, arm in arm with my new friends.

I would then go home, proud of my ability to fit in, and dreading the slew of documents, emails, and phone calls that I knew awaited my translation. I helped my mother apply for citizenship, explained phone calls from the new middle school about registering for immunizations, and tried to understand IRS documents that seemed foreign to me in both English and Korean. As a child, I did not know what taxable income meant, nor why it was so important to my parents that I translated it for them then and there at the dinner table. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and go to school, where I could show off my flute skills or talk about the music video that Ariana Grande had just released. There was no pressure, no need to explain something I myself did not understand. I could simply be ten years old, looking up celebrities on the tiny window on my slide phone alongside my friends during homeroom.

As I entered high school, I became hyper aware of my identity as a Korean American immigrant and was confused at first. I was confused on why some of my friends didn’t have to translate important documents for their parents. Why I was the only Asian friend of my friend group, and why I was so self-conscious of this. As I began to work a part-time job for the first time, the confusion then bloomed into anger. Not at my parents, who were now far less dependent on my English skills, but at the American society that had forced a twelve-year-old to understand what legal permanent residency was. Why couldn’t the employer report taxes directly to the IRS? Why couldn’t the path to citizenship be easier? Why did my parents have to pay an additional fee or be on hold for an hour to wait for a translator? Why did the government not acknowledge my anger when thousands of other people were in my shoes? The lack of attention and thoughtfulness to first- and second- generation immigrant issues, especially those of the Korean American community, seemed careless, reckless, and malicious.

As I came to college, I realized that I wanted to study Political Science. In particular, I wanted to understand the role of individuals in society, and the role of the government to protect those individuals. This lead me to specific internships and experiences — championing the increasing of federal aid for students in need with the Rutgers Advocacy Corps, analyzing polls about American sentiment over political issues at the Eagleton Institute for Politics, teaching a course about East Asian affairs, designing my own course about political science, and finally interning for KAGC. While all of my experiences have been pivotal in shaping my identity, interests, and passions, this internship at KAGC has been a unique opportunity to practically impact the Korean American community.

I am now hyper aware of my identity but am proud of its depth and complexity. With the knowledge I have acquired thus far and the knowledge I will continue to garner, I am equipping myself and my community with the tools to tackle our unique challenges. I studied politics to analyze the role of individuals in society, and am now aware that progress does not come without long, grueling, difficult effort. As I studied various civil rights movements, impacted firsthand an increase in voter turnout, and observed the way my students navigated the world, I came to be not at a place of anger or confusion, but of preparedness. I believe that empowered people are equipped people, and we give ourselves the autonomy to defend and champion ourselves when we gain new knowledge. And this has brought me to truly appreciate the work that KAGC does.

In my role at KAGC, I have been translating and editing the Korean version of the KAGC Policy Priorities, which is necessary to inform the Korean American public about its rights, responsibilities, and privileges. Being informed is the first step to autonomy, and my specific role at KAGC has made me much more involved in this journey of informing and equipping than ever before. I may not be passing new legislation, standing outside Capitol Hill with signs, or incessantly calling my representatives about pressing issues, but I am equipping the Korean American community with a certain degree of self-sovereignty and autonomy. I believe that the empowerment of underrepresented or under-advocated communities is critical to the progress of American democracy and society, and I encourage young students to participate in this effort through whatever means they can. There are a plethora of ways to get involved in advocating on behalf of your identity and your community.

Joyce Ko is currently a sophomore at Rutgers University studying Sociology and Linguistics. Through her Korean-English translation course with Professor Young-Mee Yu Cho in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, Jungbin joined KAGC as a Spring 2023 Translation intern and helped build the Korean publication for our 2023 Korean American Policy Priorities report.

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.



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