March 24, 2003

Korean Americans Hold Annual Event

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While many Cornell students left Ithaca early to begin their spring breaks, a group of Cornell students remained on campus to host the 17th annual Korean American Students Conference (KASCON), held March 13-15.

This year’s KASCON theme was “Inspiring Progress for the Next 100 Years,” in reference to the 2003 centennial tribute to the first wave of Korean immigration to the United States.

The weekend’s activities included many speakers and panel discussions, as well as a fundraising banquet and performance artists.

Students from around the country and around the world attended the weekend conference.

The conference was a result of several months of planning and fundraising by 11 students and an advisory board.

KASCON began at an opening ceremony on March 14. Jason Choi ’03, executive director for KASCON, was the first speaker.

According to Choi, “we have labored for nearly a year to create a forum for undergraduate students from all around the country.”

Choi urged students to take advantage of the opportunities available to them at KASCON. “You will embark on a journey that will expose you to new ideas and perspectives. We wish that through the duration of this conference, perhaps you will be enraged, perhaps compassioned.”

Choi also stressed the universality of the issues being presented, and challenged students to “look deeper” to see the common issues that all people face.

Choi spoke on the 100-year anniversary of the first Korean immigration to the United States.

“We seek to commemorate our arrival in America and celebrate 100 years of achievement. However, we also recognize the

challenges along the way,” he said.

Susan Murphy, vice president of student and academic services, addressed the audience about Cornell’s history as a institution devoted to student diversity.

“So much of what you have prepared for your fellow students resonates so well with this institution,” she said.

Murphy also discussed the demographics of Asian and Asian American students at Cornell.

“Our doors opened in 1868, and by 1870 our first Asian student had enrolled,” Murphy said. “Today there are 1700 Asian students, over 300 from Korea itself, and 2,800 Asian American students.”

According to Murphy, one of the important ideas that Cornell was founded on is the “role of the student in his or her own education.” Murphy added, “what you are choosing to do this weekend is exactly that … you are coming here to educate yourself about your history, about contemporary political and cultural issues.”

Alan Cohen ’81, mayor of Ithaca was the next speaker in the ceremonies. Cohen addressed the opportunities presented to KASCON attendees.

“I think that you have a wonderful opportunity at this conference to learn from one another, to share, and to grow. I think you also have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to go back to your own communities and share what you have learned. You have a responsibility to take back within yourself and to set an example for others,” he said.

According to Cohen, one of the benefits of KASCON is “the opportunities to develop the leaders of tomorrow. I am looking at the leaders of tomorrow.”

The last speaker of the opening ceremonies was Dr. Paul Jhin, the director of planning, policy, and analysis for the Peace Corps. Jhin urged students to take advantage of the opportunities that the Peace Corps can offer. Jhin said, ” I am deeply honored to come to you as a Korean American who has seen Peace Corps volunteers work in Korea.”

Jhin discussed the ways in which Peace Corps volunteers work in other countries, and presented a slide show of volunteers who have made a contribution to countries around the world.

After the opening ceremonies, attendees were invited to several different lectures. One of the lectures open to the Cornell community was entitled “The Political State of Asian America,” held on March 14. The discussion was opened by Daphne Kwok, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS).

APAICS was founded in 1995, and according to Kwok, “a lot of the work that we’re focused on right now is trying to really educate people about why it’s important to run for office, why it’s important to be involved, and how you can make a difference, working with Asian-American elected officials as well, doing training. So its very exciting work.”

Kwok discussed the numbers of Asian American elected officials in the United States at different levels, and said that across the country, there are about 300 Asian American elected officials.

Kwok said that while involvement in government among Asian Americans is increasing, there is still much room for improvement.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

Another speaker at the lecture was John Liu, New York City Councilman. Liu is the first and only Asian American on the New York City Council, and represents the area of Flushing, N.Y.

On his status as the first Asian American to serve on the council, Liu said, “I’m the first, but that means that there are many more to follow and I’m hoping that some of them will be right in this room right now.”

Liu added that it was disappointing that there were no Asian Americans who had been elected in past years.

“Many other people should have been elected before me,” he said.

Liu stressed the importance of the democratic system in America. Liu said that by not having a voice, Asian Americans can encounter the “glass ceiling phenomenon” or can be at a disadvantage in minority quotas.

“No matter how much your kids study or how well they do in school, at some point by being silent as Asian Americans we get into the whole issue of quotas where people are highly qualified to get into academic institutions but for some reason are locked out,” he said.

Liu added, “It’s not a system that we live in where you do simply the best that you can, there’s no limit to what you can do. There sure is a limit, and its limited partly because we don’t have a voice.”

According to Liu, “there’s a scarcity of resources and top positions, and in order to get our fair share of those resources, we have to be involved in the democratic system.”

Liu discussed the importance of more representation in the City Council and other legislative bodies. According to Liu, ten percent of the population of New York City is Asian American.

“If all things were equal, you’d expect about five members of the council to be Asian American,” he said.

One issue that Liu discussed was the effect September 11 had on the Chinatown community, which according to Liu, was hardest hit by the disaster. Federal programs were established to help the areas affected by the terrorist attacks. These areas included Battery Park, the Wall Street financial area, and Chinatown.

According to Liu, “the federal government started assisting [Chinatown] much, much later in the process.”

“I know that a lot of the problem is that they are a community who has very little voice, no seat at the table,” he added.

Archived article by Kate Cooper