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Meet NAKASEC – Cliff Lee

By September 16, 2011No 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 Cliff Lee, NAKASEC Board Member! We hope you enjoy!


Q: What’s your name?
A: My name is Clifford (Cliff) Lee, and my Korean name (which is my middle name, and which also clarifies that I am NOT the ace pitcher for the Phillies!) is Suk-Jae (이석재).

Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in Oakland, CA, but my family moved around a lot (due to my father changing jobs), so before I graduated from high school, we lived in Chicago, New York, Pennsylvania (Reading), and New Jersey.

Q: How did you first get involved with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
A: I actually first became involved with NAKASEC through its then Philadelphia affiliate, Korean American Community Center (KACC), or 필라청년마당집, and also through the activist organization, Young Koreans United [YKU] (its Philadelphia chapter).  I had followed but not consistently the activities of NAKASEC and YKU since college (I graduated in 1993), but it was not until 1999 when I actively sought out KACC in Philadelphia because I was looking for a group of people to practice Korean drumming.  [By coincidence my spouse, who was studying for her doctorate in dance at Temple at that time, was also looking for a drumming practice group, and we met officially for the first time at KACC.  We met “unofficially” earlier, but that is another story!]

Q: What is one of the first actions or campaigns you remember being involved in?
A: I remember our involvement in the larger “Fix ’96” campaign in 1999/2000.   We headed down to D.C. for a day of rallying and lobbying to fight back against the measures implemented in 1996 that increased the categories for immigrant deportation and at the same time cut the programs that immigrants in need could access (remember the “Contract with America”? – more like “Contract ON America”).

Q: Tell us of a memorable moment with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC
A: Back in 2000 when we in KACC / YKU participated in the Quest for Justice art tour (featuring the artwork of Korean former WWII “comfort women” [conscripted by the then Japanese Imperial Army]), we had a chance to “hang out” at the end of the day with the visitors from Korea, especially the now deceased grandmother Soon-Duk Kim [김순덕] (one of the former “comfort women” who was the only artist accompanying the tour).  The “grandmother” was very tired, especially in her legs, so one of us spent some time massaging them to make them feel better.  She talked about how she felt about the day, and about what she heard about campaign developments back in Korea, and she again profusely thanked us for helping out.  It is sad that she passed away before she saw any resolution to this campaign, but she also mentioned that she was not just in it for the end but in it for the struggle.  You can see information about the 2000 tour at the following link:

Q: What hope do you see for the Korean American community?
A: The Korean American community is very diverse.  There is a generation that comes from Korea when it was more a “Third World” country, and then there is a recent generation that comes from more of a “Second World,” even bordering on a “First World,” more affluent Korea.  Their children and grandchildren who make up the second and even third generation Korean Americans often reflect those differences.  Then there are those who are just coming from the North (through whatever method), who have their own socio-economic and cultural situation.  With a mixture of all these different Koreans in the U.S. — documented and undocumented, U.S. citizen and non-citizen, rich and poor, highly and minimally educated, 2nd/3rd and 1st generations — we have a stratified Korean American society.  If we can somehow learn from this diversity, we can apply those lessons to our own progressive social justice movement and create a more equitable Korean American community, and by extension, a more equitable society not just in the U.S. but worldwide as well.  Learning from our community’s own unique situation, I think we can become at least a strong ally in the worldwide progressive social justice movement.

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: There are many people with whom I would love to trade places, even if for a short time, just to see what it is like.  However, at this time, the one person I would choose is my 4 year old son, as he is perhaps going through a lot right now that is hard to communicate, and if I could trade places with him for just a little while, I can better understand him and therefore better be able to help him in his growth, learning, and development.

Q: What is your comfort food and why?
A: Comfort food used to be for me the food that would remind me of what my mother or grandmother would make for us when I was a child (for example, ginseng chicken soup [삼계탕] or spicy stewed beltfish [갈치조림] or even squash porridge [호박죽]).  These days “comfort food” is any food (and drink!) that is shared with others in a positive and vibrant atmosphere (분위기), be it with my loving family or with good friends. Smile


Meet other folks at KRC, KRCC and NAKASEC!