Korean Americans are Americans of Korean heritage or descent, mostly from South Korea (99%), and with a very small minority from North Korea, China, Japan, and the Post-Soviet states. The Korean American community comprises about 0.6% of the United States population, or about 1.8 million people, and is the fifth largest Asian American group. The two metropolitan areas with the highest Korean American populations as per the 2010 Census were the Greater Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area (334,329) and the Greater New York Combined Statistical Area (218,764). The Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area ranks third, with approximately 93,000 Korean Americans clustered in Howard and Montgomery Counties in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia. Southern California and the New York City metropolitan area have the largest population of Koreans outside of the Korean Peninsula. Among Korean Americans born in Korea, the Los Angeles metropolitan area had 226,000 as of 2012; New York (including Northern New Jersey) had 153,000 Korean-born Korean Americans, and Washington had 60,000. The percentage of Korean Americans in Bergen County, New Jersey,(my old home town) in the New York City Metropolitan Area, (increased to 6.9% according to the 2011 American Community Survey and is the highest of any county in the United States. Georgia was home to the fastest-growing Korean community in the U.S., with a significant Korean American population in the Atlanta metropolitan area, mainly in Gwinnett County (2.7% Korean), and Fulton County (1.0% Korean).
One of the first Korean Americans was Seo Jae-Pil, who came to America shortly after participating in an abortive coup with other progressives to institute political reform in 1884. He became a citizen in 1890 and earned a medical degree in 1892 from what is now George Washington University. Throughout his life, he strove to educate Koreans in the ideals of freedom and democracy and pressed the U.S. government for Korean independence. He died during the Korean War. His home is now a museum, cared for by a social services organization founded in his name in 1975.
A prominent figure among the Korean immigrant community is Ahn Chang Ho, pen name Dosan, a social activist. He came to the United States in 1902 for education. He founded the Friendship Society in 1903 and the Mutual Assistance Society. He was also a political activist during the Japanese occupation of Korea. There is a memorial built in his honor in downtown Riverside, California and his family home on 36th Place in Los Angeles has been restored by the University of Southern California. The City of Los Angeles has also declared the nearby intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Van Buren Place to be “Dosan Ahn Chang Ho Square” in his honor.
Another prominent figure among the Korean immigrant community was Syngman Rhee (이승만) He came to the United States in 1904 and earned a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in 1907, a master’s degree from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1910. In 1910, he returned to Korea and became a political activist. He later became the first president of the Republic of Korea.
In 1903, the first group of Korean laborers came to Hawaii on January 13, now known annually as Korean-American Day, to fill jobs as laborers. Between 1904 and 1907, about 1,000 Koreans entered the mainland from Hawaii through San Francisco. Many Koreans dispersed along the Pacific Coast as farm workers or as laborers in mining companies and as section hands on the railroads.
Between 1905 and 1910, political activities in Korean American communities surged in opposition towards Japanese aggression of Korea and they formed organizations throughout the US. In 1909, two of the largest Korean-American organizations would merge to form the Korean National Association, the largest Korean immigrant organization in North America. Leaders included An Changho, Syngman Rhee, and Park Yong-man. This organization along with others would play key roles in the Korean independence movement between 1910 and 1945. When the Korean War ended in 1953, small numbers of students and professionals entered the United States. A larger group of immigrants included women married to U.S. servicemen. With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Koreans became one of the fastest growing Asian groups in the United States, surpassed only by Filipinos. In the 1980s and 1990s Koreans became noted not only for starting small businesses such as dry cleaners or convenience stores, but also for building churches.
Korean American cuisine can be described as a fusion of traditional Korean cuisine with American culture and tastes. Dishes such as “Korean tacos” have emerged from the contacts between Korean bodega owners and their Mexican workers in the Los Angeles area, spreading from one food truck (Kogi Korean BBQ) in November 2008 to national prominence eighteen months later. Often, chefs borrow from Korean flavors and preparation techniques that they integrate into the cuisine they are most comfortable with (whether it be Tex-Mex, Chinese, or purely American). Even a classic staple of the American diet, the hamburger, is available with a Korean twist – bulgogi (Korean BBQ) burgers.
Korean cuisine has unique and bold flavors, colors, and styles; that include kimchi, a spicy dish made of salted and fermented vegetables (baechu-kimchi, kkaktugi), long-fermented pastes (gochujang, doenjang), rice cake, noodle dishes and stews (tteok-bokki, naengmyun), marinated and grilled meats (bulgogi, galbi), and many seafood dishes using fish cakes, octopus, squid, shellfish and fish.
Make some Korean style dishes at home. Here are a few recipes for you to try.
Red Pepper Potatoes
This is a traditional and uniquely-flavored Korean side dish. Serves 3-4.
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 medium red potatoes, about 1 lb, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large green onions, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, diced
Whisk the soy sauce and cayenne pepper in a small bowl until the cayenne pepper is dissolved; set aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook the potatoes in the hot oil until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the scallions and bell pepper; cook 2-3 minutes more. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the potatoes; cook and stir until the liquid is completely absorbed 1 to 2 minutes.
Korean Bulgogi-Style Grilled Steak
1/4 cup gochujang Korean chili paste
3 cloves garlic
1-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons of unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 large scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 ½ to 2-pound flank steak
In a large plastic ziplock bag combine the gochujang, garlic, ginger, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, oil, scallions, and cilantro. Close the bag and mix the ingredients together. Add the steak, close the bag and turn the bag over several times to coat the steak. Place the bag in a large dish and let the steak marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Turn the bag over several times during the marinating time.
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat. Grill the steak for 6 to 8 minutes per side, depending on thickness, until the steak is cooked medium-rare. It should reach an internal temperature of 130°F. in the thickest part of the steak. Remove the steak from the grill to a cutting board, tent it with foil, and let it rest for 3 to 4 minutes.
Slice the steak into thin pieces across the grain, place on a serving plate and serve with the reserved sauce.
Korean Cucumber Salad
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Half of a hothouse (English) cucumber or regular unwaxed cucumber, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/2 carrot, shredded
Make the dressing: In a serving bowl, stir together vinegar, black pepper, red pepper flakes, honey, oil, and sesame seeds.
Make the salad: Mix in the sliced cucumber, green onions, and shredded carrot. Cover, and refrigerate until serving time.