Friday, May 30, 1997

Culture Night Celebrates Korean Community Campus

Culture Night Celebrates Korean Community Campus
The Chicago Maroon
By Pamela Appea

The Korean Undergraduates of the University of Chicago (KUUC) held their 15th annual Culture Night Saturday, May 24, at the International House Assembly Hall. Approximately two-hundred students and community residents attended the event.

“Culture Night is one big night for the community. Community Night [showcases] everything from Loose Roots [a traditional drum troupe] to MOIM [Korean] poetry,” said fourth-year student in the College Brian Kim, president of KUUC.

In the introduction to the Culture Night, Kim explained that KUUC, in working with other organizations for Culture Night, “[has] had problems and controversies this year,” he emphasized that in working together all of these organizations have also had success. “Culture Night brings all the U of C Korean groups together,” concluded Kim.

Other organizations participated in the Korean Culture Night, including MOIM, a journal which translates previously-published Korean poetry; Kilmok, which publishes student-written work with a Korean-American perspective; The Korean International Students Association (KISA), comprised of native Koreans; and Loose Roots.

The Executive Director of Korean American Community Services in Chicago In Chul Choi, A.B. ’92 gave the keynote speech for the event. Choi’s speech, entitled “Korean-American Values” discussed whether young Korean-Americans are obligated to assimilate fully into U.S. culture or maintain a separate Korean identity.

Choi began his speech by pondering the mass emigration of South Koreans in the United Sates in the late 1960s into the early 1980s. According to Choi, now that immigration has subsided somewhat in the late nineties, it is “the phase for enrichment and empowerment for Korean-Americans.”

Choi explored many issues, including mainstreaming or assimilation, class issues and identity during his approximately half-hour speech.

“We are in America, but not of America,” said Choi; he explained how as minorities, in the race-conscious society of the United States, Korean-American second-and third-generation youth are still feeling the same sense of otherness as that experienced by their immigrant ancestors. Choi urged Korean-Americans not to internalize negative images or stereotypes of Koreans that may persist in U.S. culture. At the same time, Choi urged Korean-Americans to maintain strong links to the positive aspects of this society.

Choi then challenged Koreans and Korean-Americans to examine their own behavior and ideals.

“Are we practicing stereotypes? [In the U.S.] are we treating African-Americans and Hispanics fairly in the stores [that we own?] In the factories [in Korea]are we treating Filipinos and other immigrants fairly? In every day life, how do we interact with people [in general?] asked Choi.

Choi concluded that it is possible for Korean-Americans to live successful productive lives here in the U.S.

“What I got out of the speech was : Don’t assimilate too much, but, [at the same time,] you must learn how to adapt to U.S. culture,” said a third-year student in the College, Phyllis Son, a member of MOIM and KUUC.

The Culture Show included many diverse artistic acts, incorporating both traditional Korean culture and modern Korean-American culture.

Towards the beginning of the program, students performed a fan dance. The costumes displayed in the fan dance were colorful and handmade; the dresses were made of flowing material, the vests were multicolored, and the headpieces were elaborate and ornate.

“The [performed] fan dance originated from the 15th –century during King Sejoung’s dynasty,” explained Son. Such dances, according to Son, attracted royalty and courtesans who traveled all the way to China to view the elegant dance style.

Son explained that Sejoung’s reign was not only a period of cultural enlightenment but also the establishment of a written Korean language.

A little later on in the program, six students performed a modern hip-hop dance. One performer explained how his group’s performance fused the experience and music of different cultures.

“Our performance was just to show people how hip hop [music and dance] is [also] part of a Korean-American music. We put a lot of effort and work into it,” said John Oh, a member of the six-person U of C “Deux + Woda—X” and a first-year student in the College.

At the conclusion of the event, Loose Roots performed two different numbers. Dressed in traditional white costume with a combination of red, blue, or yellow vests, the performers played drum music of South Asia and South-East Asia. The music of Loose Roots aims to produce awareness of Korean culture, according to group members.

Other acts during Korean Culture Night included Korean poetry reading, a fashion show, a Tae-Kwon Do demonstration, a Modern Dance numbers, and “Voices of Korea,” a musical presentation by Hoon-Sang Lee.

Many attendees enjoyed the variety of acts of Culture night, according to many members of the organizations involved with Korean Culture Night., however some personal politics were involved in the planning of Culture Night.

“There should be more of a community among the Korean [RSOs],” said fourth-year student in the College Steve Ko, a KUUC member. He explained that the lack of community made it somewhat difficult to work together for Culture Night.

“[Obviously,] with every community, there are different opinions, said Ed Kim, KUUC treasurer and a fourth-year student in the College. However, Kim explained that there is a problematic lack of unity among the Korean RSOs, but he concluded that in the years to come each organization should strive to work together in a more effective manner and put personal politics aside.

The cultural show cost between $3,500 -$4,000, according to Kim. KUUC received financial support from the East Asian Languages and Civilization department at the U of C, Student Government, and from KUUC ticket sales. The organization also did some fundraising for the event. The post-Culture Night party cost an additional $400.

A caterer from Koreatown provided the buffet-style dinner before the event. Gam poong gi (spicy chicken), kim chee (pickled radish), bul gol gi (a beef dish), and na mul (bean sprouts) were among the meat and vegetarian dishes.

After the show, KUUC hosted a dance party held at Ida Noyes.

Originally published May 30, 1997