Remembering the Korean War

By Kimberly Kim

A cloud of discontent among a group of Korean Americans hints at an impending storm, releasing unresolved tensions of the forgotten Korean War. As it seems, the war remains as a painful account to multiple generations of Korean Americans from both the young and old who still struggle with memories, as well as present realities of the war. Bolder in its efforts than ever before, a tightly knit community of Korean Americans today is airing their dissatisfaction to an unhearing administration in Washington.

“Diplomacy, dialogue and engagement are important,” said Jae Jung Suh, Professor at Johns Hopkins University. “We need to take the fight out of DC into our work places. There needs to be a fundamental shift that mounts a challenge to institutions that are all about making war plans.”

A conference held on April 22 and 23, 2011 at NYU highlighted this idea ofunfinished business in one of Asia’s most developed nations—at least the southern counterpart we know as South Korea. About 150 guests attended both days and seats were taken up by a colorful range of students,

Group of panelists at The (Unending) Korean War Conference.

professors, war veterans, and the usual hecklers. Such an event dedicated to examining the past, present and future implications of the Korean War was NYU’s first, according to Professor Henry Em at the East Asian Studies Department.

“It’s almost 60 years since the beginning of the war, 60 years represents in East Asian culture a lifetime,” said Mr. Em, adding, “Scholars, artists, and community activists thought it important to remember and to rethink the continuing legacy of the Korean War.”

The Korean War was inextricably linked to U.S.’s larger goal in destabilizing the Soviet Union. To fulfill its Cold War narrative against communist ideology and to prevent it from gaining a foothold on Asia, the U.S. intervened, instilling its own principles of democracy and providing military assistance to South Korea as it fought against its Soviet Union-backed counterpart North Korea. The U.S. may or may not have foreseen that its involvement would cause and perpetuate the establishment of the 38th parallel, chilling relations between North and South Korea to this day. The Korean War ended merely with an armistice in 1953 and a formal peace treaty has yet to be made.

Organized by NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and Department of East Asian Studies and Third World Newsreel, The (Unending) Korean War Conference made intentional use of public space, engaging in academic discussions, screening independent films, and presenting artworks, all of which captured the essence of the Korean American struggle in relation to the war. For participants and guests alike, it was indeed a time to finally remember the Korean War.

Panelist Monica Kim from University of Michigan said that by involving itself in such a deep and direct way, the U.S. had become a “hegemonic system of power.” As it saw the incentive to “control life and change lifestyle” of the South Korean, the U.S. had eventually assumed the role of “aid-giver, benefactor, superintendent, protector, and guarantor of free will and self determination.”

It is an idea which certainly holds weight within the Korean American society today. Their lives, through one way or another, have been touched by this unsuspected and distant historical entity. For some, the Korean War embodies the dichotomy between the part of them who is artificially bred American by nurture and the other that is at the most basic level racially Korean by nature.

According to U.S. Census report in 2000, there is a population of 1,228,427 Korean Americans, including mixed race. As a result of U.S. intervention in the Korean War, between the years 1951 and 1964, there was a heavy migration of war brides, war-orphans, and students seeking foreign education to the U.S.

“Around 1952, U.S. immigration law changes that allows South Korean women who married American G.I.s to immigrate to the U.S. Prior to that, it was unlikely,” said Mr. Em. Studies have shown that up to about 50% of Korean Americans living in the U.S. can trace their origins back to events directly related to the Korean War.

Deann Borshay is one of them. Her film In the Matter of Cha Chung Hee, a story about her life as a Korean War adoptee and the journey back to her origin, struck a deep chord with the Korean American audience at the conference.

“I felt like a colonized subject relative to the U.S.,” shared Borshay in an interview. “There were tens of thousands of adoptees who had been brought into the U.S. during and after the war. We’ve all been educated within the U.S. system, primarily by white families.”

As it stands in its present state of incompletion, the Korean War is highly problematic. Peace and hopes for reconciliation between North and South Korea stop short as they meet the presence of U.S. troops in the homeland and the stubborn refusal of the North Korean government to give up its developing nuclear weapons program.

Nodutdol members raise silent protest on streets.

“The end goal is the withdrawal of U.S. troops and denuclearization of North Korea, which will allow peaceful reunification for Koreans to self determine what kind of society they want,” said Hyun Lee, member of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development and the National Campaign to End the Korean War. “Peace to me means disarmament, meaning no more spending so much money on creating new weapon systems and funding the military, for all parties involved—North, South and the U.S.”

From February 28 through April 30, 2011, the U.S. and South Korean militaries conducted the annual Key Resolve Foal Eagle, an exercise which mobilized 13,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 South Korean troops in Korea’s West Sea. Some find these joint military measures to be provocative, targeting the collapse of the North Korean regime as well as stirring fear of a full-blown war on the Korean peninsula. As the U.S. government continues to execute these war plans, the discontent of the Korean American community on the lack of dialogue related to these issues continues to grow.

Since 2001, U.S. military expenditure has been on the rise and currently stands at about 800 billion dollars a year, out of which roughly 20 billion dollars is utilized to maintain its military forces in Korea and neighboring regions in Asia. Many Americans feel 20 billion dollars could be spent not on war efforts overseas, but as a means to create more jobs and build a more sustainable economy within the U.S.

For others, especially Korean Americans, 20 billion dollars is a chance for the U.S. to lift the curtailment of humanitarian aid that was placed on North Korea since early March, 2010. The wages of what officials continue to claim as the war on terror seem to outweigh the costs of promoting internal economic development and alleviating poverty abroad.

“The Obama administration should not sit back,” firmly said Jae Jung Suh, a panelist at the conference. “Why is it so difficult to give humanitarian aid to those in need? Provide it now.”

UNICEF currently reports that about 6 million North Koreans suffer from lack of food. As a result of severe chronic malnutrition, children experience stunted growth. Out of 20.4 million dollars of funds UNICEF has requested on April 15, 2011 to “prevent a full scale nutrition crisis from emerging” in North Korea, U.S. has granted $500,000—10 per cent of that which was asked.

The (Unending) Korean War Conference served not only as a public forum to discuss and raise awareness about such issues, but also a reminder, more so for younger Korean Americans than not, that the Korean War not only once happened, but is still ongoing, and it has become something they cannot compromise. As a result of the war, they cannot escape the duality that inherently exists with being Korean Americans. And many times, being a Korean American means having to question what that really means.

“It’s to be caught between both worlds and also having the privilege to identify with both worlds,” said Kevin Em, Senior at NYU. “Going to Korea, not really fitting in because you look the same, but you’re different. Being in America, you know everyone looks different, but they don’t know you’re Korean. People can mistake you as Chinese, Japanese, so on.”

“I’m lucky and proud of it. Being Korean American means being born in a place where you are comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time.”

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Korean Americans Revisit the Korean War

A multi-generation of Korean American artists and scholars today continues to grow and voice their concern on the issue of the “unending” Korean War. This idea of unfinished business in one of Asia’s most developed nations (at least, the southern counterpart) was formally recognized and elevated in a series of discussion at an academic conference April 22 and 23, 2011 at New York University.

It was a lecture hall occupied to the fullest capacity. A total of about 150 guests were in attendance for both days. Such an event dedicated to examining the present implications of a past Korean War, which ended merely with an armistice in 1953 to end the fighting between North and South Korea, was NYU’s first, according to Henry Em, Associate Professor of 3 years at the institution’s East Asian Studies Department.

“It’s the 60th year since the beginning of the war. 60 years represents in East Asian culture a lifetime. In that sense, it’s timely that we have this now.” said Mr. Em. “Another reason why is because scholars, artists and community activists thought it important to remember and to rethink the continuing legacy of the Korean War.”

Avenge of the “Super Senior”

By K

Andy Chang, Class of 2011 in the College of Nursing at New York University proudly wears his nursing scrubs and stethoscope.

It’s an ordinary day in the life of Andy Chang as he sits with legs spread freely across the carpeted floors in his apartment in Gramercy. For a moment, his eyes escape the world and turn inward to a place only he may know within the confines of his soul. A deep, sinking sigh and a crooked smile hanging by the corners of this mouth begin to tell a story on their own, revealing one student’s or better yet, one twenty-three year old man’s battle to own a passion worth an extra year in college.

It was May of 2010, the date Chang had expected to graduate donning NYU’s traditional purple gown but instead watched his friends receive their diplomas and walk valiantly out into the real world. He was left behind to lightly tread upon the hems of their departing shadow s. Having went through three internal transfers within the university and switching majors three times from sports management to psychology and to nursing, it became simply impossible for Chang to graduate on time.

“I saw all of them and it was really sad. It really hit me. I remember thinking—they’re graduating wearing that purple gown and I’m not with them,” he said. “I felt lost.”

It is never easy to answer when people ask him what his age is or which year he’s currently in because it’s an answer that’s unappealing to most—age 23 and a 5th year. “Super Senior” is a term which labels any student who has exceeded the usual 4 years in undergraduate school, and frankly, no one wants to be called that. Given the unalterable circumstances, Chang had no other option but to embrace it as his reality.

“I’m always referred to as the 5th year by my friends now who knew me as a senior last year,” he said. Chang shared that it was difficult integrating himself into this year’s senior class because they are all younger than him.

The latest studies conducted by HigherEdInfo in 2008 show that students who manage to obtain their Bachelor’s degree within 6 years of postsecondary education fall under about 52%. Similarly, 56% of students in the U.S. as a whole earn their degree. This means only about half the number of students who enroll at a traditional 4-year institution successfully graduate, and it takes them not 4 but 6 years, which raises the question—why does it take those extra years to graduate? While there are no precise statistics at present indicating clear reasons why, one thing is for sure—graduating college in 4 years no longer seems to be the norm as most people would think, but students themselves still feel the pressure to do so.

“With the recession, I wanted to work,” said Chang. “My parents were never supportive of nursing in general. There were concerns with loans. And no parent wants their child to stay a fifth year. They wanted me to finish, hurry up, move on, and get married to my girlfriend.”

Chang’s parents declined to comment.

Chang has been dating Michelle Ryu since the start of their sophomore year when he first decided to reconsider majors. Ryu graduated last year from the Stern School of Business when Chang was supposed to graduate as well, and is now working as an accountant at Deloitte in New York City while living at home in New Jersey. Ryu shared that one of the greatest challenges after she graduated was that she and Chang had to adjust to these new circumstances.

“When I started working, I knew that it was going to be a big change. We had to communicate differently,” said Ryu. “I’m living from home, Andy needs to study and the times we see each other are limited.”

As they were dating in college, Ryu was able to see firsthand the uncertainties Chang had about his major.

“There’s a huge difference now,” said Ryu. “He had a lot of doubts in the beginning. He was so unsure about himself when he was leaning toward a certain major.”

From sports management in the School of Continuing Professional Studies in his freshmen year, then to psychology in the College of Arts and Science his sophomore year, nursing was Chang’s last stop.

“I loved sports growing up and I thought Sports Managing was a good idea,” said Chang. “But I didn’t like it. I was on the Pre-Med track after that and I realized that wasn’t for me. I would have to go to grad school and that would take even longer and more money.”

Given the time it took for him to decide upon his final major, it was an added struggle in terms of being admitted into the nursing program at all. Chang was a junior when he applied to the College of Nursing at NYU and it would require him to take summer classes and extra credits throughout the fall and spring semesters to complete the program’s requirements.

“I don’t know why they accepted me. But I was persistent, and I showed that I cared” said Chang.

Other than the demanding work load and the possibility of getting rejected by the school, one other thing created a hurdle for Chang.

“I was hesitant with going into nursing because of my pride. My masculinity was at stake. The pressure was there from my family, but they would never directly ask—you’re going to be a nurse? But it feels good knowing what I want to do when I graduate,” said Chang.

According to Patti Davis, an Associate Director in the College Advising Center at NYU’s College of Arts and Science, delays in graduation are rare at NYU and reasons vary depending on each individual and the student’s unique circumstances.

“Cases like that are rare. Usually it’s a health issue, or students find a job opportunity. And some decide to join military service,” said Davis. “Students who don’t know what they want to do just continue on until they find out.”

Without a doubt, this May’s graduating procession will be a significant event in Chang’s life. Literally, it’s the moment he, and those special to him, have been waiting for.

“Fireworks will be popping out my chest like the ones from Katy Perry’s music video. It will be my birth into the real world finally. It’s time to move on and get away from NYU,” said Andy.

“It’s too damn expensive.”

Buildings in Mount Morris Park Historic District Tell a Story of Transformation

by K

Something has been brewing in the cauldron of Mount Morris Park Historic District—change. The distinct charm of this neighborhood is best displayed by the furbished brownstone buildings which dominate the residential areas. But one will also notice an expansive stretch between 125th and 126th Streets along Lenox Avenue that includes a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Marshalls, Staples, and other modern-day chain stores one would normally come across in downtown New York. The co-inhabitance of both the traditionally old and the strikingly new structures captures the transitional stage in which Harlem finds itself at present.

What has also taken place over the years is an influx of new residents who are attracted to the peace and quiet Mount Morris offers, as well as an exodus of old residents who can longer afford their homes. As this exchange has created a noticeable shift in demographics in the region, some are troubled as to how to interpret it.

“I see the change as a positive thing, but it’s also causing the displacement of long-time residents. Unless you can afford it, you can’t live here anymore,” said Syderia Chresfield, President of Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, which is an organization dedicated to preserving the historical and cultural significance of the neighborhood.

“It was primarily a black neighborhood and is still viewed in that way. But now you have people from all nationalities,” said Shirly Reid, a resident since 1986 and the former President of the 123rd Street’s block association that is dedicated to the beautification and building of a relational community within the block.

It seems as if this is a place where the memory of old Harlem lives in the new. Though change is a necessary ingredient to progress, there are always those who are complacent with the status quo. Some would see Harlem’s “gentrification” as an outright intrusion, especially those who leave disgruntled because they feel forced out of what used to be their humble abodes.

“I think that the African American population that have lived here for most of their lives are feeling as if you have new people who are pushing them out, said Chresfield. “Change is not always better for everyone.”

Some of those who have newly arrived at Mount Morris understand better than others that they are joining an already established community. For them, it is not a matter of altering anything, but bringing something fresh to contribute to reviving Harlem.

“It’s not change, but enhancement—an addition,” said Jackie Albano, who has recently moved into a new apartment building on 123rd Street and taken up the role of President for the block association. “I’m looking forward to getting to know my neighbors better.”

Change is happening and none can deny the occurrence. It is stealthy, yet tangible. For the residents in Mount Morris, it all comes down to dealing with it in such a way that does not compromise the value of old Harlem.

“It’s a different feeling when you see a building that’s beautiful, pristine and old like the churches here. And then you see big, modern buildings at random and it gives you a pause,” said Chresfield.

“How did that happen?”

The Heart of the Matter in North Korea

Photographs and Interviews by K

Human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea, are one of the hardest to tackle by the global community as it is also one of the most egregious yet to exist. But this is a fact that has lost all its urgency. People don’t know quite exactly where to even begin resolving the problems. Everything about the nation, starting from a deceptive totalitarian government to a starving population of adults and children alike, cries for justice.

Individuals today who have the financial means, democratic upbringing, and sense of humane responsibility find themselves stopped just outside the line of demarcation which secludes North Korea from the rest of the breathing world. Many who have heard of, studied, and seen the atrocities which threaten the livelihood of North Korean citizens desire to uncover the regime’s blatant lies and acts of violence against its people. Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, projects an image of prosperity, happiness, and independence to foreigners. Clearly, however, these do not truthfully portray the harrowing reality of life for the average North Korean person.

Rice trucks from China cross the Tumen River Bridge into North Korea.

Findings in Nothing to Envy, an investigative reporting by Barbara Demick, show that “[b]y 1998, an estimated 600,000 to 2 million North Koreans had died as a result of the famine, as much as 10 percent of the population.” This statistic stands highly problematic on its own, but additionally raises serious doubts as to whether the North Korean government properly and rightfully uses the flood of aid it receives from neighboring nations to actually alleviate the deathly hunger of its people.

“If that help goes to the people who really need it, that’s great, but just pouring foreign aid into North Korea is not going to work,” said Harry Lee, a Junior at NYU involved in Freedoms 4 North Korea, a club on campus which raises basic awareness of human rights abuses. “It’s hard for any external source to dramatically change what’s going on. It needs to happen from inside.”

So what is the solution? The question has been asked relentlessly to no avail. The knowledge, or at least that which we have access to, about North Korea’s situation should suffice to invoke a strong reaction, and to a considerable extent, it has. But the heart of the matter still resides in North Korea, and has grown roots which have become deeply historical and ever so political that it takes more than the surface level of conviction spawned by human rights issues to penetrate.

Raising a fist to symbolize the fight for freedom over Hamgyong Province, North Korea. (June 2010)

Talks about Kim Jong Il’s imminent death, speculation about his son Kim Jong Un as the successor, as well as the apparent economical instability triggered by last year’s currency devaluation hints at the collapse of the regime altogether. There are so many factors at play, but even so, what then?

“I think reunification is practical. For both countries, reunification is unquestionably the ultimate goal. It’s just that there’s too much difference in the way to go about it. And it’s not just about the North and South. It involves East Asian politics,” said Darline Kim, a Senior at NYU.

“But I have this vague feeling that someday, something will happen.”

In the Midst of Recession, Beauty Still Goes On

Manager Sony Ham (far right) and employees of Dashing Diva nail salon in Gramercy, New York smile behind neatly arranged nail lacquer, the warm pink hue of the store creating a feminine aura of comfort and relaxation.

By K

In a city where its inhabitants are all about maintaining fashion and beauty, it may no longer be the case that paying for a manicure or pedicure is a luxury in New York. If anything, the investment of both time and money on such endeavors has become a necessity and a common lifestyle for many city dwellers. However, current businesses seem to suffer because the number of salons has grown in proportion to the number of people who frequent them.

According to the most recent economic census report conducted in 2007, there are a total of 8,082 established nail salons across the nation. New York accounts for about 19%, having the second largest number of nail salons in the country. Due to the recession, there has been a drop in the number of establishments by approximately 16% in New York, compared to 2002. IBIS World shows that combined revenue for the nail and hair industry has annually decreased by -1.8% between 2005 and 2010 in the country at large. These numbers add another layer of worry and stress for business owners who already have been feeling the disquieting effects of the recession.

“Because the economy is bad, of course business is not so good,” said Julie Song, owner of Iris Nail, located in the East Village. “Regular customers who usually came once a week now come every two weeks. The customer who usually spent $50 a visit now spends half that. Even tourists who used to spend money generously now are saying prices are too high.”

As most are in the habit of doing, it is easy to blame everything that is out of line and favor on the failing economy, but the heart of the matter seems to lay somewhere deeper than that—there are just way too many nail salons in the city.

“Ten years ago, it was so busy that people used to wait long periods of time,” said Song, “but customers don’t need to anymore because they can easily go to another one close by.”
But despite this gloomy predicament that many of them face, some nail salon owners in the city still have reason to hope for better days, and prefer to think of ways to fight it with optimism. It seems that the suffering economy will not be an excuse for long. This profession to enhance beauty will not be easily weighed down by the nation’s economical shortcomings, as well as the inherent competition within the industry.

“I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel the competition with other shops in the area. But I don’t want to dwell on that too much because then it prevents us from doing the best job we can provide,” said Sony Ham, manager at Dashing Diva nail salon located in Gramercy.

“People value quality work, and wherever that’s present, that’s where customers are also.”

Is God at NYU?

Students of Korea Campus Crusade for Christ gather for Large Group on a Tuesday evening for a time of worship and praise. The song speaks of surrender to a God the average person at NYU may question.

By K

New York University is appealing for a variety of reasons. It offers both an invaluable education and an unequaled experience of city life to its students. But apart from its academic prestige and privileged location, NYU has a reputation of being a secular institution, where religious lifestyles fall behind the shades of a grand façade.

Given that faith is an unpopular topic of discussion amongst college students, it may come as a surprise that out of 430 clubs on campus, there are 41 religious groups, out of which 18 are Christian. Because of the thriving religious Christian community, in 2006 NYU formally recognized the chaplains who had previously worked with the clubs on a volunteer basis.

“There’s been a steady growth of Christian clubs each year,” said Stephen Polniaszek, currently the Program Administrator for Ethics and Spiritual Initiatives at the Office of Student Activities of NYU.

According to Mr. Polniaszek, students no longer identify as Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, or any other mainstream denomination as was the case in the 70’s. They are looking to express themselves beyond these concrete labels. Despite this trend, students attending NYU still face struggles as a result of their Christian faith.

“In a campus like this, where intellectualism is highly regarded, and where atheism is endorsed, it’s hard to stand firm in who I am,” said Tracy Moore flatly, an NYU sophomore part of a multi ethnic group called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

NYU boasts itself as a place where young minds are enabled the freedom to feed their various passions and propensities. But the Christian community here voices their passion for God behind walls of reservation, only amongst other Christians who can understand them, in fear of silent persecution by the rest of their peers.

“It’s not normal to share my faith with others,” said sophomore Barney Gan, involved in Korea Campus Crusade for Christ. “It becomes uncomfortable when the topic is brought up in conversations. It doesn’t feel right to bring this discomfort to my friends.”

“They avoid the subject of God and become uneasy,” said Jacobi Hollingshed, a sophomore at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. “Maybe it’s because they feel something beyond themselves that they can’t control.”

But the way people perceive them because of their faith is the least of the worries of the Christians on campus today. What these young believers desire to achieve is beyond the ordinary purposes and goals of the average NYU student.

“The way I live as a Christian will hopefully send out a message of love,” said Moore with a smile directed toward the world, it seemed. “Christianity has a stigma attached to it—that it’s full of judgment towards others. I don’t want to draw lines of separation, but erase them. We’re all human.”