The Korean American community faced tremendous challenges and difficulties in the early 1990s. They included the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992, Proposition 187 in 1994, and in 1996, the repeal of affirmative action as well as the signing of the welfare and immigration reform laws. These new laws and policies had a profound impact on Korean Americans, immigrants and ethnic minorities. It led to the unprecedented efforts to educate and mobilize Korean Americans towards the goal of defending and advancing immigrant rights. Some of our successes include the restoration of SSI in 1997 to certain groups of immigrants and the restoration of food stamps to certain groups of immigrants in 1998.
In 2003, our attention and efforts have been focused on the DREAM Act (federal legislation enabling certain undocumented students to legalize their immigration status) and on addressing protection of civil rights and liberties post 911. Last year, KRC organized a youth contingent for the Immigrant Youth Speak Out Day event in Washington DC as well as sending more than a thousand folded stars with messages in support of the DREAM Act to Senator Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. KRC, as a member of the Los Angeles DREAM Team was also a key organizer of the National Week of Action for the DREAM Act (November 17-21). Activities included a simultaneous rally and legislative visit to Senator Feinstein, a legislative visit to Senator Boxer, and a workshop & press conference at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy.
On the state level, KRC has been sending a delegation to Sacramento each year since 1998 for the annual Immigrant Day activities. Community members have advocated on key issues such as drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, the creation and continuation of the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), on-going funding for food stamps & Healthy Families, and higher education for undocumented students. Most recently, KRC has been working with immigrant and health advocacy organizations around the state to counter the new governor’s proposed mid-year budget cuts.
Since the 1996 presidential elections, KRC has maintained the Korean American Voter Education Project (KAVEP) in order to maximize Korean American voter participation. This comprehensive project includes voter registration drives, publications of voter guidebooks, Korean language voter hotline, poll monitoring, provision of bilingual pollworkers, Get Out the Vote and exit polls.
During the most recent October 7, 2003 elections, KRC initiated the formation of a coalition of Korean American organizations opposed to Proposition 54. Education and outreach activities on the proposition included the creation of a database of 10,000 Korean American voters in Los Angeles City. KRC utilized this database to mail out educational materials on the proposition and conducted a phone bank initiative as well. KRC also distributed educational materials at religious centers, seniors housing complexes and festivals. Other activities included an educational forum that was broadcasted live on Radio Korea one evening during primetime. Moreover, KRC was able to assist 4,200 voters from September 29 to October 7 either in person or on the telephone. Finally, KRC polled 300 Korean American voters on election day. The results from the exit poll demonstrates the success of our efforts --- 94 % Korean American voted stated that they voted against Proposition 54.
According to the Commonwealth Fund’s report of 2001, Korean Americans have the highest uninsured rate at 52 % among all ethnicities. A survey conducted by the New California Media in 2003 found that 60% of Korean Americans reported to speak English not well or not at all. Contributing factors to this low rate is that most government-funded heath care programs require immigration status, and it is estimated that about 18% of Korean Americans are undocumented immigrants. Moreover, a high percentage of Korean Americans are self-employed and therefore less likely to receive health insurance coverage through their place of work.
To address these issues, KRC launched the Health Access Project (HAP) to improve the health status of Korean Americans, and ensure Korean American representation in health policy, funding and education. This planning for this project was funded through the California Endowment. HAP has five defined goals; 1) To expand eligibility for public health benefits, 2)To increase the number of affordable private health insurance options, 3) To increase Korean American enrollment in public and private health insurance, 4) To improve language access to public health coverage and private health insurance and 5) To provide medical services through the establishment of a local free clinic.
KRC holds on-going community forums to address the social and political issues that impact Korean Americans. Moreover, KRC partners with the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) to publish educational materials on critical issues such as hate crimes, census 2000, and immigrant-related legislation & policies.
KRC’s Saturday Roots Program, is now in its fifth year and offers young grade school students the opportunity to learn more about their Korean cultural heritage and develop their English language skills. Tailored for the youth of Koreatown, this program seeks to strengthen their sense of identity as Korean Americans.
KRC is also one of the community partner organizations to implement the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative project, supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Health Services. This project seeks to address the human health risks caused by the consumption of contaminated fish.
KRC has been providing free consultation and application assistance to low income families on a range of health and human service programs. From January to July 2003, KRC assisted about 4,370 Korean Americans with Healthy Families Programs, Medi-Cal and other health related programs. KRC assisted Korean Americans file for low-income housing, senior housing and utility tax exemptions. Finally, for the past twelve years, KRC has maintained a free Low Income Tax Clinic. In past years, more than 1,000 taxpaying families received assistance in filing their personal income tax returns. KRC also conducted educational efforts to Korean American families about the Earned Income Tax Credit.
HanNuRi, a traditional Korean cultural troupe is housed within KRC. HanNuRi promotes an appreciation of Korean cultural traditions, participates in cross-cultural exchanges and supports the social justice movement through street performances at rallies and marches. On-going events include the annual new year celebration at Griffith Park, Jishin Balpgi (Lunar New Year Street Festival), performances during immigrant rights and worker rights related events such as Immigrant Day in Sacramento, Drivers Licenses for undocumented immigrants, UFCW supermarket workers strike, and the Justice for Janitors week of activities in 2000.