UC Riverside Launches Center for Korean American Studies

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Col. Young-Oak Kim (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

RIVERSIDE — The University of California, Riverside and the Overseas Koreans Foundation signed an agreement on Monday to establish a research center for Korean American studies on the UCR campus.

The foundation will provide 3 billion won — approximately $2.7 million U.S. — in three annual installments to endow the Young-Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies. UC Riverside will match the grant with office space and a tenured faculty position. Recruitment of the faculty member will begin in the third year of funding.

UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White, Vice Chancellor of University Advancement Peter Hayashida and Edward T. Chang, professor of ethnic studies, visited the Overseas Koreans Foundation headquarters in Seoul for the signing of the agreement. Additional financial support to fund the center endowment and programs is expected from the Korean American business community.

The center will be only one of a few in the United States to focus its research on questions such as what it means to be a Korean American in the 21st century, the history of Korean Americans, the Korean diaspora in the United States and globally, and the role of Korean Americans in the reunification of South and North Korea, Chang said.

UCR and the Overseas Koreans Foundation began considering establishment of the center five years ago. A delegation of South Korean legislators, businessmen and diplomats visited the campus in January 2009, along with Korean-American business leaders from the Los Angeles area, to continue the discussion.

“The Young-Oak Kim Center for Korean American studies will benefit both American and Korean cultures and shrink the distance between the two,” Chancellor White said. “Establishing the center continues UCR’s commitment to research that enlightens and expands our understanding of how we live together in an increasingly diverse society. It is fitting that the center is named for a man known for his heroic actions in World War II and his humanitarian activities at home, a man who transcended ethnic divisions and worked for peace in his community.”

The Center will be housed in UCR’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), an academic unit that fosters conversation about culture and society, insight and expression, history and the future; about the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts. Through these different avenues of study, CHASS students become familiar with a broad spectrum of the world’s realities and the issues surrounding them. An education in CHASS at UC Riverside allows a student to be “at home in the world.”

“The support from the Overseas Koreans Foundation will allow us to do groundbreaking research in Korean American studies, a field to which Professor Chang has contributed much already,” said CHASS Dean Stephen Cullenberg. “Now, with the additional support and faculty position that the College will support, new research vistas will open.”

Chang said establishing the center has been a dream of his since the late 1990s. He said he looks forward to conducting research that will illuminate issues faced by Koreans in diaspora communities, the role of immigrant churches in the United States and relations between Korean and other ethnic minority communities in Los Angeles since the 1992 riots.

The Overseas Koreans Foundation, founded in 1997, is an affiliate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and aims to help Koreans living abroad to maintain a sense of identity in their country of residence.

Col. Young-Oak Kim, a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was the only Korean American officer in a mostly Japanese American unit in the Army, and was well-known in the Japanese American community, Chang said.

“He was a war hero who transcended ethnic rivalry and a humanitarian who worked for children, battered women and Korean Americans,” Chang said.

When Kim retired after 30 years in the Army he became active in Asian American community affairs, helping to found the Go For Broke Monument in Los Angeles that honors the U.S. military service of Japanese Americans during WWII, as well as the Japanese American National Museum, the Korean Health, Education, Information and Research Center and the Korean American Museum.

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