Solidarity of Korean-Americans

A bill that requires that every textbook approved by the state of Virginia must use the term “East Sea” as well as “Sea of Japan” when referring to the East Sea was submitted to the Senate of Virginia in 2012. At the time, however, the power of Korean-Americans in Virginia was significantly insufficient for the bill to pass.

Things were different in 2014. Korean-Americans rallied strongly behind the bill, angered by improper remarks and actions of the Japanese prime minister, such as claiming Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo, visiting Yaskuni Shrine, and disparaging the “comfort women” victims.

It was through the united power of Korean-Americans that the dual designation bill for the East Sea passed by a great margin in the Virginia General Assembly. Korean-Americans showed their own political power in getting this bill passed.

Every state in the U.S. has its own bicameral legislative body in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. Any bill must pass in the upper house and the lower house of the assembly to take effect.

Thus, unlike Korea, the legislative process is somewhat complicated and takes a long time. Since the dual designation law is not a federal law, but a state law, the bill will apply only to Virginia. But it is important, since it will be a trigger to spread the recognition of the East Sea throughout the U.S.

The East Sea dual designation bill was passed in the Subcommittee on Public Education and the Committee on Education and Health in the Virginia Senate on Jan. 13.

On Jan. 30, the bill dramatically passed in the Subcommittee on Education in the Virginia House of Delegates by a margin 5 to 4. Then, the House’s Committee on Education passed it by an overwhelming margin of 18 to 3 on Feb. 3. Finally, the General Assembly of the House also passed it by another overwhelming margin (85 to 15).

Four hundred Korean-Americans celebrated the result of the vote with roaring cheers, hugging one another and even shedding tears of joy at the General Assembly of the House.

Without yielding to the strong lobbying from the Japanese government, Korean-Americans raised money to travel dozens of times to the State Assembly, located in the southern end of Virginia.

The strong organization and solidarity in this case showed a new possibility for Korean-Americans. As a Korean-American in Virginia, this effort makes me proud.

The best lobbying country in the U.S. is perhaps Israel. Meanwhile, Korea appears to be the worst country at lobbying in the U.S.

This might be because lobbying is prohibited and carries a very negative image in Korea. Lobbying usually involves money, and the amount of money spent on lobbying is enormous.

Jewish-Americans have great influence over American politics, spending tremendous amounts of money to retain that influence.

There is a Jewish political action committee (PAC) located in a large building just across the Capitol. The purpose of a PAC is to support specific candidates in elections. It has to be registered with the federal government, and the law allows a contributor to donate up to $5,000 to a PAC.

Korean-Americans had no political power in the early 1990s, the time when I was a sitting member of the House Representatives.

One has to be a U.S. citizen to vote in the U.S. But there were not many Koreans who had citizenship, they did not vote much, and they did not care much about political fundraising either.

However, political participation from the 1.5 generation or the 2nd generation Korean-Americans, as well as the 1st generation, stands out these days.

It makes me sad to think about how assured I would have felt if these folks had been there with me during my days in the House.

I am proud that the “Korea-U.S. Congressional Council,” which I founded to promote friendship and exchanges between the two countries, is active these days. I can certainly feel the change in Americans’ thoughts about Korea as Korea has become stronger.

In addition, since Korean-Americans have built strong relations with American politicians, they are able to display their political power now. I think that it will not be long before another Korean-American becomes a U.S. House Representative.

The victory in Virginia showed that we, Korean-Americans, can wield our own political power in the U.S.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.

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