Sharing aspects of a rich culture

Event: Howard County's growing Korean-American community works to increase its visibility.

April 28, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Korean-American community showed its face - along with its dances, music and customs - yesterday in one of its biggest public displays.

The event, dubbed the "Korean Cultural Day," drew about 800 people, organizers estimate.

Some viewed the event as a milestone: Although more than 6,000 people of Korean descent live in Howard County, according to U.S. Census data - making it the third-largest minority group after African-Americans and Latinos - Korean community leaders acknowledge that they have not been very visible.

Instead of trying to organize politically or work with other groups, the community has spent more of its time registering Koreans to vote and providing services for its population, say Korean-American leaders.

"We've been isolated - there has been no type of activity to introduce us to mainstream America," said Myun K. Kim, a member of the Korean American Community Association of Howard County, the volunteer group that organized the event. "We need to change that."

The association, which has about 80 members, was formed during the past year but had held no public events. Because more Korean-Americans are entering the school system and workplace, they say they needed to show their best face to the community. The group spent the past month planning the day and recruiting volunteers to dance and work at the food booths.

"It seemed like the perfect time," said Sue Song, who served as emcee.

Presentations at the event, held at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, ranged from giveaways of Korean-style dumplings, noodles and ginseng sodas to dancing and drumming by Korean-American youths, who could be seen scurrying to bathrooms to change from their jeans to their hanboks, or brightly colored Korean-style gowns.

While some of the information was basic - "Korea is a peninsula off of the coast of China," one presenter told the audience - many in the audience said they were unfamiliar with Korean culture.

"I don't know enough Korean-Americans in Howard County," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat.

That's why such events are needed to increase Korean-Americans' visibility in the United States, said Hyun Joo Lee, an official with the South Korean Embassy in Washington.

"This really is a role model for Korean-Americans in Maryland and Virginia," he said.

The Korean American Community Association met with County Executive James N. Robey several times during the past year to discuss issues affecting the Korean-American population. Robey and County Council members will declare next month "Asian-American Month" at their meeting scheduled for May 6.

"[Koreans] are becoming much more active in the last year," Robey said at yesterday's event. "They understand that you get a lot more attention if you speak as a group than if you speak as an individual."

Korean community leaders were pleased by the apparent success of the program and said they will continue to make an effort to reach out.

"I hoped you enjoyed that," Song told the audience after a dance. "That is only the warm-up."

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