Student Spotlight: Jungbin, Rutgers
“Listening to the stories of Black Americans who were purposely failed by their own education systems, Asian Americans who faced assaults on their subway commutes, gay couples who were refused entrance in a church that ‘welcomes all’ — other people’s stories became the fuel for my passion for change.”
Though I was born in Seongnam, South Korea, my family’s move to the Pennsylvanian suburbs concealed my Korean identity for the next ten years of my life. Although I spoke Korean at home and my favorite gourmet meal consisted of rice with a side of gim and kimchi, spending my formative years in a white neighborhood blinded me of my differences. Consequently, I believed politics had no effect in my life; naively, I thought the country’s laws and policies impacted me in the same way they benefited my white peers. It wasn’t until I began to recognize the inequality of treatment within my own community before I realized how this inequity was outsourced onto the global spectrum. If I wanted to protect my identity as both a Korean and an American, I realized social and political change were to be embedded in my life.
Even though I had always been an advocate for social activism, I had never focused on social change for my own Korean American community. With a passion for all those oppressed and marginalized around the world, I had lacked the ability to focus any attention on my own brothers and sisters. Growing up as the daughter of a pastor in a Korean church, I was taught to sacrifice my own needs for others and talk when spoken to from before I could even speak. Slowly, the outgoing, eccentric little girl passionate about changing the world in me transformed into a quiet listener. Because I could not actively participate in protests or rallies, I developed my own method of participation by listening. That was all I could do. Listening to the stories of Black Americans who were purposely failed by their own education systems, Asian Americans who faced assaults on their subway commutes, gay couples who were refused entrance in a church that “welcomes all” — other people’s stories became the fuel for my passion for change.
When I was first introduced to KAGC as an intern, I was a bit overwhelmed by the long thirty-something pages of Policy Priorities that they held near and dear to the organization–how was I supposed to familiarize myself with all of this information? However, as I began to read through each page of the KAGC Bible, each point truly hit home. Discovering policies that I didn’t even know were affecting me in the present, I eagerly shared this new information with my friends; to my surprise, they were in shock as well. It was at this moment that I realized the underlying importance of advocacy–what’s equally important in informing Congress about our struggles is informing ourselves about them.
It takes a strong heart and mounts of courage to take initiative for change. However, what people fail to realize is that this courage does not come from thin air… and that’s okay. In my own experience, I had believed that my introversion blocked potential for advocacy. Yet, people say, “Without followers, there are no leaders.” Joining initiatives, focusing on making them stronger, listening to the stories of other community members is advocacy in itself. In strengthening the Korean American community while simultaneously educating one another regarding policies that affect us in the present day, I believe Korean American communities can build a strong foundation in advocating for ourselves.
Jungbin Park 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.