Overcame the challenges of being an immigrant,
Refused to be typical,
Wanted to break out of his own shell,
The first Korean American elected to the United States Congress,
Chang-jun “Jay” Kim.
” My generation did not allow people to have dreams.
It was very hard for people to achieve their dreams.”
In 1961, a 21 year-old man set sail for his dream in America. He studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California and the California State University.
” I finished my degree with good grades, studying during the day and working at night for a newspaper agent. Civil engineering, an avenue I had not considered pursuing in Korea, was the right major for me; most students I knew gravitated towards law. I learned a great deal about the American educational system while pursuing my degree.
I worked during the daytime; I taught during the nighttime. Despite my tough circumstances, I received my Master’s degree in 1969, eight years after arriving in the States. I was asked to pursue my doctorate degree, but wanted to apply my knowledge into the real world. I didn’t want to be a dishwasher or a paperboy; I wanted to be a successful businessman as a part of the American society.
‘Employees are my family!’ This is not a surprising concept for me, but a fundamental attitude. I always took care of my employees as my brothers and sisters. There was no hierarchy between all members. We shared everything.”
” I was elected to the city council of Diamond Bar in 1990 and to the House of Representative in 1992, making me the first Korean American elected to the United States Congress. When I became a major, the 13th President Roh Tae-woo gave me an invitation to Korea.
In the United States, I faced a turning point in my life. I started to put energy into planning my life and executed the plans I prepared. I was in control. I would have to work hard, but I did not give up. Every time I felt like it was too much for me, I reminded myself that I could do it. The only one I trust was myself.”
In 1993, Chang-jun “Jay” Kim fulfilled another dream: being elected to the House of Representatives in the United States. He was the first Korean American Federal Congressman, as well as the first Asian Republican. He proved his outstanding ability at the center of American politics.
“January 4th 1993. I stood right in front of the Capitol. Winter’s cold wind could not cool down the passion from deep inside of my heart. 31 years ago, I flew over the Pacific with 200 dollars in my pocket. I, who had washed dishes in many kitchens, had become a part of the American system of government. It was my first day attending the Capitol as a federal Representative.
Travelling back and forth between Washington D.C. and LA, he showed a very impressive career as a politician. Newspapers and television were talking about him all the time. Many people flew to meet him from Korea.”
“I was not involved with any illegal activities. I do not have an ounce of guilty conscience. I did my best for my people. I was the only newly-elected lawmaker who never missed a vote; therefore, I would be successful in my re-election.”
I endured those lonely times by encouraging myself and reciting a mantra. Although fundraising did not work out well and the media did not pay attention to me, I had to stand up for myself. I maintained a dominant position in the election. I had a greater support base in my second term than in my first. Two years later, I was successful in re-election to a third term.I was the only Asian among Caucasian Republicans. Republican leaders set my seat at the very front because the Republican Party wanted to break the prejudice that ‘minorities are Democrats.’
I became the symbol of a Republican Party that worked for the rights of minorities.
As a successful businessman, I could not agree with a Democrat which supported the claim that the poor could be supported by a tax break. That was the reason I chose the Republican Party.”
Chang-jun “Jay” Kim was bestowed with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, presented to immigrants who have made an outstanding contribution to the United States. In addition, he was described as a symbol of the American dream in an American high school textbook. In 1999, he became a well-respected third-term Representative.
“Any congressmen are allowed to have 22 aides; I hired only 15. That was the minimum number of people who could support my congressional office duties. I could hire more, but I did not want to waste the government’s money.
During my three successive terms, I did my work better than anyone else. I attended all committee meetings and recorded the maximum remarks at the meetings.
The last day at the Capitol, I made a goodbye speech in front of my fellow Republicans.
In order to perform as a congressman, I did the absolute best that I could. As a congressman, I have nothing shameful on my record. I am proud of myself for having been elected to a third term, and I greatly appreciated those who continuously showed support.
“The key role in the United States government belongs to the Congress, not to the President of the United States. And at the center of that role, there are congressmen. It was an honor to work for the United States. I washed dishes and delivered newspapers, and from those humble beginnings became a Representative of the United States Congress. And that’s why I want to ask you, ‘Why can’t you?’”