Korean American community praises professor's new textbook

SF State Professor of Asian American Studies Grace Yoo has released a book on Korean American history and culture that leaders in the community are praising as the new standard for Korean American Studies courses nationwide.

A photo of Grace Yoo, professor of Asian American studiesProfessor of Asian American Studies Grace Yoo has taught the Koreans in America course at SF State for 15 years.

"I've been teaching the ‘Koreans in America' class at SF State for the last 15 years. It's one of the few Korean American courses in the country," said Yoo. "But I knew there really wasn't an ideal textbook for it."

Yoo, noting the lack of resources available to teach her students, decided to create her own textbook a year ago. She called upon former graduate students, Korean American studies scholars and community activists -- all experts in various areas of Korean American life -- and asked them to contribute. Their essays and research make up "Koreans in America," a wide-ranging collection of historical accounts, demographic information and personal anecdotes that was released in February by Cognella Academic Publishing.

"This is the first substantive, authoritative book on Korean Americans that I've been able to hold in my hands," said Doug Kim, who has advised the Smithsonian Institute on Korean American culture and who wrote an essay for the book about the responsibility current Korean American generations have to preserve their ancestors' memory and culture.

The book details the early Korean immigrant community in San Francisco and waves of immigration as a result of the Korean War and later changes in immigration policy. It also explores the diverse aspects of what it means to be Korean American today.

Gail Whang, an alumna whose father was the first Korean American graduate of SF State, wrote about growing up in San Francisco's Sunset District in the 1950s, where her family was one of the only Asian households in the mostly white neighborhood. She described how she was "embarrassed and ashamed of looking the way I did," until she began to examine her grandparents' journey to America in 1913 to avoid the Japanese occupation of Korea. 

A photo of the cover of the book “Koreans in America”"Koreans in America" was released in February by Cognella Academic Publishing.

Whang wrote about her many conversations with her grandfather, saying she realized "if Korean Americans were going to find out about our history, we were going to have to do it ourselves."

Other sections focus on family life, love and marriage, depictions of Koreans in popular culture, community issues and current events and politics. Cartoons, sidebars, and study questions help illuminate the book, which covers roughly the past century of Korean American life.

Also contributing to the book was K.W. Lee, an award winning investigative journalist whose work freed a wrongly-convicted Korean immigrant prisoner from San Quentin's death row in 1983.

"K.W. is seen as an icon in the Korean American community," said Yoo.

Lee called SF State "a sacred institution in the new America," and praised the University's emphasis on ethnic studies in an increasingly multiracial country.

"It's no accident that SF State has produced the first Korean American studies book," he said.

-- Philip Riley