Festival keeps an eye on the future

The Baltimore Sun

Miyong Kim worries that many younger Korean-Americans aren't familiar with their parents' culture.

Yesterday, she brought her 16-year-old son downtown to celebrate Korean culture and its place in Maryland at the 30th annual Korean Festival.

"It's to teach the next generation and let them understand this is who you are," said Kim of the festival, which was held at War Memorial Plaza.

The younger generations of Korean-Americans stop attending Korean churches and many can't speak the language, she said.

"Language is a major issue," said Kim, an Ellicott City resident. "And parents are very, very busy with survival and working 16 hours a day to send their kids to the best education, that the quality of conversation between parents and their children is diminishing."

Some Korean parents have limited English skills and their children have limited Korean skills, and they cannot communicate with each other, she said.

It's a topic that frequently arises in immigrant communities. The older generation worries that their children will forget their parents' language and culture.

Kim has taken steps to make sure her son, Brian, hasn't forgotten, including speaking the language at home.

"In school, I talk in Korean a little bit with my friends," said Brian, a junior at Centennial High School. "It's something that connects us."

This year, the Korean Festival included events for younger audiences, such as a children's drawing contest and a "Korean-American Idol" singing competition.

"I want to bring the second generation in," said David Han, president of the Korean Society of Maryland. "My vision is to build a proud Korean community that all the parents - the older generations and the second generation - are proud of."

Seong Ok Baik, the Korean Festival chairwoman, estimated that more than 5,000 people attended the festival, which featured events such as a Miss Korean-American of Maryland pageant and a tae kwon do demonstration.

With their high-flying kicks, teenagers from U.S.A. Tae Kwon Do in Ellicott City snapped wooden boards. Jun Lee, owner of the martial arts studio, said tae kwon do is a way for him to share Korean culture with his diverse group of students.

"It teaches the values of respecting and obeying parents and elders," he said in Korean.

The Korean Festival began in 1977, when Korean immigrants began settling in Baltimore, seeking jobs.

"Many came and brought their families here," said Baik. "They worked at sewing factories or the Bethlehem Steel Co., or started a business for grocery or carryout."

The early festivals were smaller events at Hopkins Plaza, where a thousand Korean-Americans gathered to watch traditional Korean folk dancing and singing, Baik said.

The state's Korean-American population has grown to about 60,000, Han said.

In recent years, many Korean-Americans have moved out of the city and settled in Howard and Baltimore counties, said Han, who added that his organization is planning to relocate from Baltimore to Ellicott City.


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