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 Hee Joo Yoon, Program Director at KRC! We hope you enjoy!
Q: What’s your name?
A: Hee Joo Yoon. When I was born, my father’s family gave me another name but my mom didn’t want to register the name because the pronunciation of the name is similar to ‘goat’ in Korean. Thankfully, my mom chose the name her family proposed, ‘Hee Joo’
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born and grew up in Korea until I was 21 years old when my family moved to America.
Q: How did you get involved with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
A: I came to KRC in October, 1991 because I was interested in learning Poongmool. After about one year, “HanNuri” (KRC’s cultural troupe) was established and I was one of the founding members. At the time, I also became an active member of Young Koreans United (YKU) and Korean Americans for Peace and Justice. I came to KRC shortly after immigrating to the United States and as a result benefited from the support it provided me. Honestly, if I had not met the KRC family, I may have gone back to Korea.
Q: What was one of the first actions or campaigns you remember being involved in?
A: While I had been active in Korea peace and justice issues as a member of YKU, the first significant action related to immigrant rights that I want to highlight is the protests against Proposition 187. Prop 187 proposed to deny undocumented immigrants access to health care, public education, and other social services. It was passed in 1994 but was challenged in a legal suit and found unconstitutional by a federal court. At that time, Korean Americans were less aware about immigrant rights issues and KRC helped guide the community to identify and organize against the anti-immigrant wave. Prop 187 opened the flood gates to hundreds of anti-immigrant bills that followed in Congress and our community began to realize that all immigrants were being attacked and that we had to empower ourselves.
Q: Why do you do the work that you do with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC?
A: Because I believe in organized people power and KRC has always been going in the right direction.
Q: Tell us of a memorable moment with KRC, KRCC and/or NAKASEC
A: There are many actions and campaigns in the past 20 years but a memorable moment for me was when KRC purchased our own building after several years of grassroots fundraising. We had organized many fundraising events including a one day tea house and bazaar in which every person made special donations. Through these efforts from the community, we were able to purchase the current building we are housed in and moved in 1997. It was a time when we didn’t have fundraising consultants or any paid staff and instead were operated by volunteers and individual donations. I always show the frame of the capital campaign donors list posted on our wall to visitors because I’m so proud of how we were able to purchase own our building.
Q: What hope do you see for the Korean American community?
A: Victories, big or small, all begin because an individual was first saddened and angered by injustice. But instead of standing still, these ordinary people channel those feelings of injustice towards a passion for organizing and fighting back. It is those people that can feel the pain of others and are willing to make sacrifices that continue to inspire me.
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 never thought about this before. Hmmm… I would want to trade places with Maria in the “Sound of Music.” First of all, Maria can sing really well. Second, she gave hope to the young children and brought joy back to the family. She was also positive and brave and had a warm heart.
Q: What is your comfort food and why?
A: I really love to eat all kinds of delicious food. But, if I have to choose only one, I’ll choose coffee over anything else. I usually drink coffee more than water and sometimes coffee is the only food I consume until dinner time. I can live several days without eating but I can’t live even one day without coffee.
Meet other folks at KRC, KRCC and NAKASEC!