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Meet NAKASEC | Yongho Kim

By March 23, 2012No Comments

Do you ever wonder who the people at NAKASEC and our affiliate centers, KRC and KRCC, are? Not just the staff, but the community members, volunteers, interns and board members? Well they are the ones who keep us grounded, help drive our campaigns and keep us motivated. You may have seen our seniors on the State Capitol fighting against budget cuts, our young people dancing, singing and shouting out for youth rights or our children playing poongmul (Korean drums) at rallies and marches.

Well, in order for you to get to know us better, we are rolling out our #meetNAKASEC Fridays where we will profile one person within our network.

Today, we’re featuring Yongho Kim, the other half of KRC‘s dynamic civic participation duo! We hope you enjoy!


Q: What’s your name?
Yongho Kim

Q: Where are you from?
I was born in Busan, South Korea, and grew up in Temuco, Chile.

Q: How did you get involved with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
I met KRC while volunteering at the Bus Riders Union, a civil rights organization in LA. We were taking Korean American seniors to KRC’s office to do phone banking with KRC for the 2005 special elections. I was looking to work in activism and organizing in the area, and quickly connected with KRC.

Actually, I also got to hear of NAKASEC Affiliates in July 2003. I was interning with the Centro de Derechos Laborales/Resource Center of the Americas in Minnesota and saw this article about the DREAM Act in OhMyNews, an early crowdsourced online news site. I think…I referenced it for another article I was writing for our own newsletter about the DREAM Act, and exchanged some emails with the writer (I still have the email, and the corny words I wrote back then!), who was a YKASEC volunteer. He referred me to KRCC, but Illinois is a far stretch from Minnesota…and it was only years after I joined KRC that I made that connection in my head.

Q: What was one of the first actions or campaigns you remember being involved in?
I did that phone banking night in October of 2005.. and then it was rally after rally during 2006!

Q: Why do you do the work that you do with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
I believe KRC has the best assessment of where the Korean American community stands and has the best strategy to engage the community. Yes, we are the best. 🙂 Like many immigrant communities, the Korean American community is fraught with challenges.

There is the war and early years of dictatorship that suppressed a progressive momentum in Korea. Then, there is the challenge that race was an issue Koreans hadn’t given much forethought before coming to the U.S., and to date, fails at escaping a tribalist lens of analysis. And then there’s the red-baiting.

However, sometimes I think about the simple-hearted and steady work in working with community members and carefully articulating our analysis and outreach, and find that much has changed in our community. I haven’t lived through this, but something old timers often cite is the steady and overarching shift in reception to immigrant rights issues over the past few years. In the early 2000’s, someone came to KRC and said that because we were siding with “illegals”, he was so upset he wanted to burn our building. He left just yelling, and being angry. He didn’t come back armed with matches, though.

Today, we’ve come to a point where a pro-immigrant stance is a mainstream frame in Los Angeles Korean American media. It seems that in recent months, anti-immigrant sentiment is rearing it ugly head, but in the long term this goes on to show the power of our organizing work. In other words, we are winning. Everyone likes to win, and to keep pushing forth for justice. I like to win, too.

Q: Tell us of a memorable moment with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC 
The million people march in March 25, 2006, where millions of community members came out to oppose H.R. 4437, a harsh anti-immigrant legislation, and to propose instead a path to citizenship for all (which back then we by mistake called.. *cough* amnesty *cough* in Korean), DREAM Act, family unity, workers’ rights and all the good stuff. It was the highest moment in the series of street mobilizations that had started in late 2005. The earliest action I can summon from photos (involved) was a quick response action at Gary Miller’s office in Brea on December 22nd which was interesting because just two months earlier, we were holding up a press conference reporting on the One-Dollar-A-Person Washington Post CIR Ad Campaign.

Back to the march, taking all the political implications out of the march one thing that stood with me is that we thundered along Broadway Avenue for a good 5 hours with a million other community members. Whenever I walk or pass through this stretch by bus, I feel like I own a piece of that land with all the walking, jumping, and chanting we did there. The march took much longer than the usual antiwar marches because it was such a large crowd. I remember the late night meeting we had on March 24th.. some team members were finishing up nongi flags outside in the parking lot. Earlier that day, some group dropped the news bomb that 2 million people were expected in the streets. Our lead organizer was explaining the march logistics and how we would walk and coordinate our poongmul drumming troupe along with chanters and flag carriers with the 1,000 Korean American community members we were expecting the next day.. I think we still have the logistics diagram buried in our archives.. it was a war room.

You know how in movies, there is an intense scene, be it a big sports match, a modern warfare battle, or someone dies, and then when the scene moves to the next scene they use a sound doppler effect and let it echo a bit while the next, brighter, montage flashes in? That’s how I was feeling after we came back from the march. I was sitting in my desk in the main hall at KRC staring into the ceiling, exhausted.. and the office phone rang. On a Saturday around 6:00 pm.. I think it was a reporter from Yonhap News (Associated Press), from Seoul Korea, who had heard an hour or two ago that something huge in decades had just exploded in LA. I wasn’t supposed to interview since I wasn’t properly trained so I gave him a quote barely within the message.. something along the lines of “we are very angry, no to H.R. 4437 and yes to Legalization”. That moment, the silent afternoon and the reporters calling in hours after, was like that movie transition moment.

Q: What hope do you see for the Korean American community?
We should stay in command and be number one in everything. Just kidding. We can leave a few things for other people.

Q: If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be and why?
A: I am an avid Civilization V (a computer based grand strategy game) fan. Like most resource-focused games, in Civ5 early advantage, capacity building, and right decisions are everything. When I first started at KRC, maybe when I was an intern and had really, really huge amounts of free time (I transitioned our website to MediaWiki+WordPress on the weekends back then) I wish I could’ve re-aligned some of the organizational priorities I had back then, so that we could resolve some of the time-pressed puzzles we face today, such as *cough* our database *cough*. Yes, using today’s knowledge to solve past problems is like cheating but that’s the point of time travel, no?

Q: What is your comfort food and why?
I went to school at Macalester College which is in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota. Minnesota is very cold you know. Like, colder than Chicago. Now you get it. Back in college, I didn’t really know how to cook. The closest restaurant near campus that had *hot food* after regular meal hours was a fusion Thai restaurant. Forget the fusion part. On Winter Saturday evenings. I sprinted 50 feet to this place to get my $10.50 pad thai packaged in a deep plastic vase. Ahh… so after 3 winters withstanding Canada’s northern icy winds, I came to equate Pad Thai with Soup Belly. Ms Owner-of-Thai-TG-Express, if you are reading this please consider sponsoring us again this year! We truly appreciate your sponsorship in 2010!


Meet other folks at KRC, KRCC and NAKASEC!