Seattle's Korean community: How immigration makes us all stronger

The vitality of Seattle's Korean American community shows how America can benefit from more intelligent immigration policies.
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The University of Washington helped foster extensive knowledge of Korean culture in Seattle. In 2011, a U.S. tour by Korean authors began at the UW and University Bookstore.

The vitality of Seattle's Korean American community shows how America can benefit from more intelligent immigration policies.

The current national debate on immigration and the policy decisions that will be made will have impacts ranging from Microsoft’s ability to recruit talent to the ability of apple farmers harvesting a crop; from uniting families to international student’s options for seeking a U.S. education. The Puget Sound region and Washington state are dependent on international business and the relationships that support our success. Our diverse communities not only provide the cultural and language skills to interact with the world but add to the richness of our community.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reported on Nov. 5 that King County’s multiracial growth was second in the United States over the past 12 months, exceeded only by Los Angeles. Bellevue is over 30 percent foreign born and Seattle 25 percent. Whether you are a newspaper, theater company, medical provider or retailer, to be successful, you must understand the changing demographics of the Puget Sound community. ACT’s development of Ramayana represents their understanding that there are also over 60,000 people of India heritage living in our area.

Exploring our neighborhoods provides a portrait of the human basis for our success, both economically and culturally.

A drive along Aurora Avenue in Shoreline would make you think you were visiting Seattle’s sister city with Daejeon, Korea. Regionally, our Korean American community is over 60,000 strong and owns more than 3,000 businesses.

The new Korean Free Trade Agreement, signed by the United States and Korea, will prompt even stronger business, maritime and air relations between our two countries. The Korean community is an example of our expanding diversity. As HistoryLink noted, “Korean Americans may be our least visible Asian American ethnic community. Yet this fast-growing population may also be one of the Puget Sound’s most resourceful, energetic, and culturally rich immigrant groups.”

Korean’s business is not just concentrated in a few neighborhoods. Magnolia, as an example, has a Korea-managed cleaning business and an excellent restaurant that serves Japanese and Chinese food. There is a Korean grocers association because of the significant number of small grocery stores. The region has numerous Korean churches. There is a wealth of organizations, including a Korean-American Chamber of Commerce led by Yun S. Hong and a Korean America Association, energetically run by Sandra Englund.

Korean Americans are a vital part of the Greater Seattle community. In the state House of Representatives, Cyndy Ryu, representing Shoreline and nearby parts of north King and south Snohomis County, is the assistant majority whip; Paul Shinn serves the Edmonds area in the Senate. The mayor of Tacoma was born in Seoul, Federal Way has had a Korean-American mayor and Martha Choe, now chief administration office for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was a Seattle City Council member. Microsoft has a Korean Employees Association.

The Republic of South Korea is one of our country’s major business partners. It represents our seventh largest trade partner and second biggest export customer for services, according to a presentation by the Korean Embassy's minister of the economy, Gheewhan Kim, who recently visited Seattle. Korean generates the third largest number of foreign students and is our eighth largest source of visitors. The trade balance is roughly equal. The new free trade agreement will strongly enhance this relationship as duty on U.S. farm products, including wine, decreases.

Kim noted our state is a net winner with Korea. Washington exported to Korea in 2011 $3.3 billion in goods and imported $1.9 billion. South Korea is our state’s fourth largest export market. Our ports are a major gateway for both Korean shipping lines and Sea-Tac International Airport is a gateway for both Asiana and Korean airlines. Our logistics industry is active with this market. Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau contracted with Seoul based Connect-Worldwide (CWW South Korea) to promote Seattle and Washington state as the destination’s first representative tourism office in South Korea. Investment is flowing into the United States at a much greater rate than we are investing in Korea.

Korea represents one of the major sources of international students for Washington. These students are extremely important for a number of reasons. They give our students an opportunity to meet people from other cultures, important to many careers. International students pay full tuition, supporting or higher educational system. Some stay in our area, feeding our talent pool and providing expertise in to how to do business in their country. Most return home, adding to the pool of those who feel fondly about our area. A study mission to Korea organized by the Trade Alliance of Greater Seattle and Seattle Chamber, had a reception in Seoul a few years ago with the University of Washington Alumni Association, and the importance of many attendees was impressive. A father and son who traveled more than 100 miles to the event said that, when they opened their firm's first American presence, they chose Bellevue since they were both Huskies.

The University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies has a Center of Korean Studies. One year ago it was one of six universities in the world to receive a $1 million grant from the Academy of Korean Studies. The library began a Korean collection as a result of World War II and the donation of the books to educate soldiers for Korean service. It is now the second largest in the United States. The Korean language program is part of one of the best Asian language programs in the U.S. The Asian Law Center at the UW Law School has a major program with Korea. UW students can study abroad in a number of Korean universities.          .

The Korean chamber and the Korean American Association are beginning to reach out to the broader community. Korean events such as the Harvest festival at Seattle Center and the music program at UW are exposing the culture and community to the broader community.

Important bridges need constant attention. Seattle has been blessed with a number of excellent counsels general. Current CG Young Wan Song is another active appointment and having a full time office here shows the importance South Korea places on the relationship.

The Puget Sound Korean Community is becoming better know and more visible and making a contribution to our economy and cultural richness. While this community is one of many in our area, it is an example of why an intelligent immigration policy for the country will add to success for all us. International relationships and understanding are critical in a global economy.


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