Gov. Larry Hogan holds 2-year-old granddaughter, Daniella Velez, as his wife Yumi waves to the crowd during a snowy inauguration day in Annapolis, Md. on Jan. 21. (Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)
by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee
When her Republican husband edged out his Democratic opponent last November by five percentage points in the closely watched Maryland gubernatorial race, Yumi Hogan was elated and admittedly in a state of disbelief.
“Still, I can’t believe [it],” she said of spouse Larry Hogan’s surprise victory, which placed a Republican into the Maryland governor’s office for the first time since 2006. And as the first Asian American first lady of Maryland, the Korean immigrant also recognizes her own momentous place in history as a result of her husband’s win.
“Not only first Asian, [I am the] first Korean first lady in the whole United States, in the 100 years of [Korean immigration to this country],” Yumi Hogan proudly stated, speaking with KoreAm by phone in early January. “I’m very proud of the whole Asian community. They are really looking forward to how I’m going to help them.”
For starters, Yumi Hogan appears poised and ready to embrace the role of playing a Korean cultural ambassador of sorts, as she and her husband settle into their new home, the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. Toward that end, the 55-year-old landscape artist, who is an adjunct professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, mentioned that she plans to bring to the historic Georgian-style mansion, home to Maryland’s governors for the last 125 years, a quintessential Korean item: a kimchi refrigerator.
“We’re going to ferment kimchi,” said Hogan, noting how she plans to teach the kitchen staff how to prepare Korean cuisine.
A Lunar New Year celebration at the governor’s residence in late February was to give Maryland’s first family a chance to introduce Korean dishes like japchae and bulgogi to the invited 200 guests. “I’m going to cook and show how good Korean food is,” said Hogan.
The 11-year-old marriage between Larry and Yumi Hogan was a notable footnote to the main election tale of last year, which, by most accounts, was a big political upset in a heavily blue state. Hogan, known for her winsome smile, friendly demeanor and bold jewel-toned attire, certainly proved an asset to her husband, who proudly told Asian groups that his wife is a first-generation Korean American immigrant.
As the Republican candidate hit the campaign trail last year on his quest to succeed Martin O’Malley, the former two-term Democratic governor who was ineligible to run for a consecutive third, Yumi canvassed the state to address mostly Korean and Chinese groups. “I’m not a politician, but I have to help my husband,” she said of the experience. “With my husband’s bus tour, we were like a parade. People were welcoming.”
Though a political novice, Hogan managed to drum up support and enthusiasm for her husband among Maryland’s Asian communities, which are proving to be a more active and influential voter bloc in a state of roughly 6 million residents that is 6 percent Asian American.
“Asian Americans in Maryland, particularly in Montgomery County, are really an important and growing demographic,” Sam Yoon, president and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Korean Americans, told KoreAm. “For the governor, when he thinks about appointing political leaders, to think about Asian Americans, is a real opportunity, and I think his perspective is definitely going to be different for having a spouse who is Asian American.”
Already, Gov. Hogan has appointed businessman Jimmy Rhee to his cabinet as special secretary of minority affairs, in another first for a Korean American.
Although Rhee did not previously know the Hogans on a personal level, he said of the first lady, “I have found her to be very focused. She feels that diversity is a tremendous asset we have in Maryland.”
In addition to her role as Korean cultural ambassador, Hogan told KoreAm that among her goals as first lady are fundraising on behalf of the local arts community, providing support to military families and working with organizations that assist single mothers. The latter is a cause close to her heart.
Born in Naju and raised in Seoul, the youngest child of eight immigrated to the U.S. after finishing high school in Korea. She lived in California, Texas and Hawaii before settling in Maryland’s Howard County because of its quality public schools for her three daughters from a previous marriage. The divorced mother, a devout Christian who is a deaconess at her Presbyterian church in Maryland, pushed her daughters to get straight A’s and to attend church, all the while raising them single-handedly during their formative years.
Hogan met Larry, a former real estate broker who founded the anti-tax hike grassroots organization Change Maryland prior to his candidacy for governor, at an art show in Maryland in 2001. As the governor recently told the Washington Post, “I was more interested in the artist than the art.” In 2004, when he was serving as a cabinet secretary in the then-Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Jr. administration, the couple wed, incorporating a traditional Korean ceremony into the celebration. It is her second marriage and his first.
It was only after she married Larry in 2004, and with his encouragement, that Hogan decided to return to school to pursue her passion—art—eventually graduating, with honors, from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008 and earning her Master of Fine Arts from American University in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
“I don’t think she ever lived life for herself; she lived for us,” Jaymi Sterling, Hogan’s middle daughter who is a Maryland state prosecutor, told KoreAm. “He basically told her, ‘It’s OK to live your life, it’s your turn to live your life now. It’s OK to live your dreams, the kids are going to be fine.’ He supported her in all those endeavors.”
The governor stands almost a head taller than his wife. In official photographs, she wears tailored garments in shades of royal blue or crimson red, her wavy shoulder-length hair worn loose or half-pinned, accessorized by small drop earrings.
“They’re comfortable in their own skin. They’re very respectful of each other,” Sterling said of her parents. “You can tell they really love each other.”
Larry also immediately embraced Sterling and her siblings, Kim Velez and Julie Kim, and they, him. They refer to him as their father, while he calls them his daughters.
Sterling even appeared in a 30-second TV spot last September for the campaign, defending her dad against Democratic opponent Anthony Brown’s claims that Larry was “anti-woman” for his policy positions on abortion and contraception early in his political career. As Sterling narrated that her dad favors over-the-counter birth control covered by insurance and is committed to not changing Maryland’s law on a woman’s right to choose, the ad flashed two family photos showing the Hogans together—Larry, Yumi and their three adult daughters.
In his inauguration speech outside the Maryland State House on a snowy January 21, one of the first things Gov. Hogan did was thank his family.
“To my wife, Yumi, my daughters and my entire family, please know that it is because of your incredible love and support that I am able to stand here today,” he said, during a ceremony that included a performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” sung by the Korean American bass baritone Kwang-kyu Lee.
Later that evening, Hogan, her three daughters and 2-year-old granddaughter, Daniella Velez, who is of Korean and Hispanic descent, took the stage beside the newly minted governor at the inaugural ball at the Baltimore Convention Center. As they smiled out into the crowd of onlookers, the multiracial first family made for a striking image, seemingly ushering in a new era for an increasingly diverse state.
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