KoreAm Editor Roundtable: Part 2

To honor KoreAm’s 25th anniversary, we invited former editors who steered the magazine between 1991 and 2014 to reflect on the milestones over the years. Their recollections touched on the humorous to the heartfelt. We divided the transcript of the conversation into two parts for online publication. If you have not read Part One, you can find the post by clicking here. Below are some highlights in the second half of the editors’ dialogue.

You can also watch the second of the discussion here:

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How They Came Up with Certain Sections Such as “My Name Is”

Jimmy: We were introduced to all these guys with weird names that were usually based off of their Korean immigrant parents not being able to spell the original intended name right. So the first one was “Charse.” It was supposed to be “Charles.” We had a “Bibian.” It was supposed to be “Vivian,” but it was with a “b.” I liked to think we would see something that would be kind of interesting, kind of unique to Korean Americans, and we just kind of ran with it.

Michelle: I just remember, “Folkwinds” [the page dedicated to describing an ancient Korean folktale].

Ken: You know what, I think that was a leftover from my tenure.

Jimmy: No, but the thing is people loved it. People loved it.

Michelle: It was kind of nice. You’ll read about these celebrities in other magazines and newspapers but where else are you gonna read a Korean fable?

IMG_0616A Korean fable published in KoreAm‘s June 2008 issue

On Memorable Reader Feedback

Jimmy: We started a section on Korean Americans going to jail. That sort of started this debate of people asking, ‘Why are you highlighting these people going to jail? Why are you deliberately trying to subvert the model minority by pointing out that there’s bad people?’

Julie: I felt like that always came up, even with our website [comments]. Every time there was a Korean American who committed a crime, people were like, why are you writing these types of stories? It’s almost like they felt, as ethnic press, we shouldn’t talk about the negative, that we exist only to talk about the positive stories in our community and we’ve always felt that wasn’t true. It’s because we want holistic, balanced representation in our full human context, not just the positive stories.

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On the Growth of KoreAm’s Digital Presence Over the Years:

Ken: I was there when we launched our first website. I think we just had subscription information, who we are and our phone number. We had a 56K dial-up modem. But yeah, I don’t recall we ever put stories up [on the site] … that was too advanced for us at the time (laughs).

Jimmy: When I came on, it was just the print edition going up online a month after [publication], so we weren’t any sort of innovators when it came to online publishing. I have to admit, it was nice not having to think about that, and just focus on getting stories done for the magazine. I wouldn’t really call it an afterthought; it was an after-afterthought.

Michelle: I was here when we launched our first blog so web-only content … was something new. I think in the early days of 2008, 2009, there were a lot of bugs and too much traffic would crash the site, but we also tried a lot of new things. We would have live webcasts right here, like where we’re sitting, where we’d invite musicians like Bobby Choy or Priscilla Ahn to come in and just give live concerts. And it was really neat. The acoustics here are really awesome.

Jimmy: So we better sound good right now (laughs).

CS-25th-AM15-QueerIssueThe Queer Issue from Aug. 1993

On What They Learned Most About the American Community

Jimmy: Growing up, I always thought of Korean Americans as being sort of monolithic, just a very stereotypical [view of] Korean immigrant parents being strict. Once I started working in Koreatown and became involved with the Korean American community, I just came to realize that it’s incredibly diverse and fractious and just all sort of a jumbled mess, and I think that’s sort of the beauty of the community.

Ken: About myself, I learned that I was able to work long hours (laughs), but with a purpose, and so, therefore, it truly was a labor of love. And I don’t think I’ve ever really worked with that sort of feeling of conviction ever since. And in terms of what I learned about the community, I think just one thing that’s always fascinating to me is that it feels like there isn’t any industry or any profession that Koreans haven’t pushed through and are breaking down barriers in, or excelling in, so that’s always exciting to see.

Julie: When I first became editor of KoreAm, I remember I would go around and tell my friends, ‘Oh my god, I love my job.’ And it was such a privilege to be able to say that [when] other people are complaining about their jobs. Having Korean America as a beat is really fascinating to me. I feel like this has been my Korean American studies class and it’s really educated me a great deal.

For me, KoreAm has been this long therapy session (laughs) because we grew up in that era where we didn’t have Korean Americans or Asian Americans on TV or movie screens, or there weren’t these big famous chefs and influential people in American society and Korean culture. Korean popular culture was not embraced at all at the time.

A friend of mine, he once called KoreAm the first drafters of Korean American history, and I totally love that description. I think it’s totally true. A lot of the issues these guys have edited, and a lot of the other editors who couldn’t be here. I mean, LGBT issues, or North Korea in-depth, or problems with gambling, the incarcerated population: all these issues nobody was really focusing on. KoreAm did.

CS-Image4-AM15-5GambleThe Gambling issue from Aug. 2008

John: KoreAm is an outlet to write for as well as a publication to read. Korean American writers don’t really have a lot of places where they actually have an audience that’s interested in the issues that they may be writing about. KoreAm has a longstanding tradition of being a place where you can publish.

I think that as a writer, what we’re all kind of looking for is some kind of connection to these subjects that we write about—and the people who read what we’ve written might have some kind of feeling about it. So, I think that for how difficult that’s been, over 25 years, KoreAm has persisted until today because of that reason.

There is something that you will write for KoreAm that is really for the space of KoreAm. As a writer I know, if not for KoreAm, there might not be a place for some of these things that we think about and care about and would like to describe or experience through writing.


On the Need for KoreAm Still Today

Ken: I feel what’s great about KoreAm is that it’s just sort of a unifying place where everyone can keep track of what the latest generation is up to. I feel every new generation is becoming, at least from what I can see, less constrained about the conservatism of the previous generations, so it’s a lot more exciting to see what people are up to.

Jimmy: That Korean America could be a place for a misfit like someone like myself, I think, is what KoreAm can be—sort of a shining light.

Julie: I think it’s like John said, it’s a way of connecting. I think KoreAm is one of those things I would miss in my life if it weren’t around anymore. I also think in this day and age where we’re seeing fewer examples of print journalism, where there’s obviously this explosion of different websites and blogs, alternative media is still needed. I think we always need more of that for thoughtful writing, reflective writing and just that space for people to write about different subjects.

John: If there’s something with Koreans or Korean Americans that’s happening, something good, then KoreAm will usually be on it before anyone else. So, getting the first read or the first draft of history from KoreAm, I personally feel more comfortable with, than getting it from somebody who’s just doing it because it’s their job.

I think of KoreAm in a lot of ways as a fanzine. They’re really into Korean American culture and things, so you always want to get the first take from a fan, not from, like, a hater. Yeah, I think people are interested in KoreAm’s opinion on Korean American culture. It’s just like, what does KoreAm think about it?

In Part 1 of the roundtable discussion, former KoreAm editors share how each first came across KoreAm and discuss their most memorable cover stories and moments during their tenures.

<- Go to Part One


This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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