New generation takes reins for Korean Festival in Howard

Times have changed for the state's Korean-Americans since the immigration boom of the 1970s brought their ancestors to the Baltimore area.

Today, the up-and-coming second generation is making its mark, and nowhere will their new identity be more evident than at the 37th annual Korean Festival on Saturday at Centennial Park, organizers say.

Two of Korea's most popular musical entertainers are slated to perform at the day-long event, which is sponsored by the Korean Society of Maryland.

Headlining the festival will be DJ Shine, a rapper and producer who has played a large role in popularizing hip-hop music in Korea; and J, a pop artist who has regularly topped Korean song charts.

The celebration is expected to draw thousands from across the state, and has spawned two sites for overflow parking to manage the anticipated crowd.

"We are very excited about this year's festival with its different caliber and level of performance," said Peter Hwang, a Columbia attorney and Ellicott City resident who was elected vice president of the Korean Society of Maryland on April 30.

"Most Koreans will know who they are," Hwang said of this year's new acts. "They are representative of how we've changed."

Traditional entertainment is also scheduled. Taekwondo, Korean fan dancing and Korean trot singing, three of the festival's longstanding and most venerated performance styles, will still take center stage.

Korean foods like ddukbohkee (rice cakes in spicy chili sauce) and kimbab (vegetable and meat rolls) aren't being displaced either, Hwang said, just augmented by vendors such as Honey Pig, a popular Route 40 restaurant that serves Korean barbecue.

But since the Society's 15-member board of directors is mostly comprised of second-generation Korean-Americans for the first time, "there's been a fundamental shift in thinking," said Hwang, who ran on a ballot with Lawrence Chang, the Society's current president.

"We want to respect our past, traditions and history in addition to coming together and saying, 'Look, we're here,' " he said. "We want to make our presence felt by the general public."

Hwang says the festival presents an important opportunity.

"This festival will be truly reflective of our population and provide a complete picture of who we are," Hwang said. "We aren't ignoring the past, but we want to change with the times.

"Back in the '70s it was largely about survival," Hwang said about life choices made by Koreans. "Now it's about succeeding."

Reflective board

The Korean Society of Maryland was founded as the Korean Society of Greater Baltimore in the 1970s, Hwang said. The group, which is focused on serving all Koreans in the state, moved its offices to Columbia in 2008 since a large segment of the state's Korean-American population resides in Howard County.

According to the 2010 Census, 13,000 of the county's 287,000 residents are Korean-American, comprising more than 25 percent of the 55,000 who live among the state's population of 5.8 million.

"The changes that are taking place in the Korean community in Maryland between the first and second generations show the complexity of an intergenerational community," said Jimmy Kwak, a Korean-American who is the state's director of ethnic commissions.

"While it's important to note that the second-generation community is assimilating and taking part in the broader mainstream society, that should not diminish the needs of the first generation Korean-Americans that continue to immigrate to Maryland," he said.

Jong Hwa Lee, the founder and first president of the Sejong Scholarship Foundation of America, which provides college scholarships to Korean-American high school students, said he is excited to see what the new board of directors can accomplish.

"As a first-generation Korean who founded an organization dedicated to helping second-generation Koreans, it gives me great pride to see a passing-of-the-baton within the Korean Society of Maryland," Lee, who is 67, said through a translator.

"This new board not only represents a coming-of-age for its second-generation members, but it also reflects the needs of the Korean community for an organization with new ideas and perspectives," he said.

Four decades ago, non-English-speaking Korean immigrants faced a dearth of employment choices because of cultural and language barriers. Many became owners of corner groceries and liquor stores by default, even though they had college degrees, Hwang said.

"They were largely middle class, with dreams of making their move into professional areas," he explained.

"They kept to themselves because they looked, acted and talked differently," he said. "But they had to make a buck so their families could eat."

Second-generation Korean-Americans today are likely to have professional careers or own small business chains, said Hwang, who is 34 and married to Janice Hwang, an auditor.

"A lot of us went the professional route or became entrepreneurs with more than a one-shop business," he said. "We have learned to think on a larger scale."

Hwang said his father came to America in 1980 on a scholarship to earn his doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin. The family also lived in Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

A job offer in 1989 lured his dad back to Korea, yet his mother stayed in the U.S. for 13 more years so the couple's sons could be educated in America. She only returned to Korea to join her husband after Hwang's younger brother began college in 2002.

"By 2000 many [of the children of Koreans] were educated primarily in the U.S.," Hwang said, drawing a connection to his family's personal experience.

While the composition of the current board reflects changes in the Korean population, its goals are also focused on addressing the changing needs of that population.

"In large part, there may be less of a need for the services that the organization originally provided when it was founded," Hwang said.

"With the boom of the Korean population statewide, however, there is now a greater need for social services and programming that addresses issues many people face regardless of their ethnicity, but in way that takes into account the distinct culture of the Korean population," he said.

To that end, there will also be information booths, such as one on the importance of having a mammogram, at this year's Korean Festival.

Daniel Ji, who also is an attorney residing in Ellicott City, said the festival is a good place for Koreans and Korean-Americans to congregate and to come together. Ji, who is 30, came to Howard County from Korea with his family in eighth grade.

"Koreans, like all minority communities, are a pretty close-knit group," he said. "I think people are excited about this year's performers and there's been a resurgence of the festival."

DJ Shine and J were at the pinnacle of their popularity when the millennial generation was in high school, he said.

"But we're not in high school anymore," he said. "We're productive members of society and we're creating a forum for ourselves with this event."

If you go

The Korean Festival, sponsored by the Korean Society of Maryland, is Saturday, Sept. 20 from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Centennial Park, 10000 Route 108.

Traditional Korean dances, using Korean drums, will be performed by the Han Pan Korean American Cultural Center. Kang Soo Choi will also take the stage for a traditional Korean trot singing performance. Martial arts demonstrations will be performed by students from Nam's Taekwondo, U.S. Taekwondo and Victory Martial Arts. Other traditional performances are scheduled and there will be 10 vendors serving Korean food.

Overflow parking will be available at Columbia Presbyterian Church, across from the park's main entrance, and at the Applications and Research Lab, 10900 Route 108. Those parking at ARL can take a shuttle to the festival.

For information, email info@koreanmd.org.

Copyright © 2018, Howard County Times, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
72°