The first Korean person to immigrate to the United States was Seo Jae-pil, or Philip Jaisohn, who became a citizen in 1890 and earned a medical degree in 1892 from what is now George Washington University. Seo dedicated his life to educating other Koreans in the ideals of freedom and democracy, and later pressed the American government to support Korean independence from Japan. Seo also founded The Independent, or Tongnip Sinmun (독립신문), the first privately managed modern daily newspaper in Korea.
Another notable Korean immigrant was Ahn Chang Ho (also known as Ahn Dosan), a Protestant social activist who came to the United States in 1902 for education. A year later, Ahn founded the Friendship Society, or Chinmoke Hoe (친목회) in 1903. This was the first group that was organized exclusively for Koreans in the United States. In 1905, he changed the Friendship Society name to the Mutual Assistance Society, or Kongrip Hyophoe (공립협회). This was the first Korean political organization in the United States. Today, there is a memorial built in his honor in downtown Riverside, California; and his family home on 36th Place in Los Angeles has been restored by University of Southern California. The City of Los Angeles also declared the nearby intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Van Buren Place to be "Dosan Ahn Chang Ho Square" to commemorate the contributions he made during his life.
We at KORE were also inspired by Ahn Changho's memory; and in 2016 decided to honor him alongside mural artist Joseph Lee with a wall mural in Koreatown as a reminder of his accomplishments that still affect Koreans today.
The year after Ahn arrived in the United States, the first group of Korean laborers arrived in Hawaii on January 13, 1903. Between 1904 and 1907, about 1,000 Koreans entered the mainland through San Francisco. These people later moved to different cities along the Pacific Coast as farm workers, wage laborers in mining companies, and as section hands on the railroads.
One of the most well-known Korean immigrants was Rhee Syngman (이승만). After arriving in the United States in 1904, he proceeded to earn a bachelor's degree at George Washington University, a master's degree at Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. After completing his education, he became a political activist, eventually becoming the first president of the Republic of Korea.
The contributions of Korean-Americans were officially recognized on a national level in 2005, when the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution (S. Res. 283). The resolution honors many achievements made by Korean-Americans, including: the invention of the first beating-heart operation for coronary artery heart disease, the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the USA, as well as other achievements in engineering, architecture, medicine, acting, singing, sculpture, and writing.
In the resolution, the Senate also encouraged the people of the United States to share in such commemoration in order to more greatly appreciate the valuable contributions Korean-Americans had made to the United States.
Since Korean-American Day was officially recognized, individual states and cities have also moved to pass resolutions to officially recognize the day as Korean-American Day in their respective levels, including New York City, whose city council voted to officially recognize the holiday in 2014.
To celebrate Korean-American Day this year, we’ve decided to bring back our KR-AM Flag design in hoodies and tees. The design brings together the trigrams present in the Korean flag with the colors and composition of the American flag.
How are you celebrating Korean-American Day this year? Let us know in the comments below.