I spoke yesterday in front of 200 individuals at a Korean Catholic mass at St. Agnes Church. I spoke to the Spanish-speaking congregation as well, but I spoke to most of them on an individual level. Between the four volunteers, we managed to get about 200 signatures for a petition to Governor Brown to support AB131. Compared to the work I did in New York City for AALDEF (asking incredibly sensitive survey questions such as “What is your immigration status?” “How many people live in your house?”)
With the Korean congregation, I shared my story and called on them to alleviate the burden that the undocumented students have in California. Framing this as an education issue rather than an immigration or a political issue has been more effective at reaching out to the Korean congregation while showing that this is an immigration issue has been more effective at reaching out to the Latino congregation. Korean Catholics tend to be moderate as opposed to the liberal Buddhists and conservative Christians, and it is a challenge trying to engage them politically. Combining that with the Korean value on emphasis on education, I believe, has helped tremendously.
Working with the Korean American community, religion has come into spotlight often. On the issue of Proposition 8, the Korean Resource Center has had a split with the massive Korean American Protestant community because of its decision to publicly oppose Proposition 8, which halted same sex marriage in California. To this day, it is challenging to work with the Korean American Protestant community.
As KRC sets its eyes on Orange County, we are seeing that the churches are even more conservative. For example, Sa-rang Community Church, one of the largest Korean churches in Orange County, is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America denomination. Through my observation, most Korean American churches are affiliated with a denomination based in Korea, but in areas without much Korean presence, they tend to be affiliated with an American denomination. In this case, Sa-rang Community Church is affiliated with the Evangelical (as opposed to Mainline) Presbyterian denomination.
I firmly believe that this reflects back to the political attitude in Korea. About 20% of the Korean population adhere to some kind of Protestant faith (mostly Presbyterian and Methodist), and Protestants have been championing the conservative causes such as closer ties to the United States through a Free Trade Agreement and a hardline stance against North Korea. Since the transition into a civilian government in the late 80s, the two conservative presidents, Kim Young-Sam and the current president Lee Myung-Bak, both served as elders for their churches. This attitude has migrated over to the United States, and provides somewhat of a conservative bent for Korean Americans.
(Photo courtesy of Kevin Solis)