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Not the Korean Politics of Our Motherland, but American Politics Matter for Us – Dongsuk Kim

   I attended, as an observer, an annual general meeting of AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) in March of 2005 for three days.  As a precedent, the participants meet with current federal Congressmen/women on the last day of the meeting. I sat with two Congressmen: Bob Websler of Florida and Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who now serves as the chief-of-the staff in Whitehouse.

   Mr. Emanuel worked for Mayor Richard M. Daley, before joining Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1991. In the campaign, Mr. Emanuel played a vital role in guiding and channeling Jewish community’s financial support for Bill Clinton and as Bill Clinton became the President, he was rewarded with a high-level staff post in the Clinton White House, where he gained wide respect for his political savvy.

   In 1999 he left the White House and returned to Chicago where he made millions as an investment banker before he returned to politics. Even before winning election in 2002, he strategized for the national party, met with the national media, and making himself prime candidate for Congress. After he became a congressman, his aggressiveness, political skills and fundraising prowess quickly made him a congressman to watch. He also showed skill in working across the aisle.

   Mr. Emanuel is basically a self-made man. He financed himself through his college graduation. When I shook his hand, I noticed that one of his right hand fingers was missing. I heard later that he accidentally cut his finger while he was working at the restaurant in his college days. Mr. Emanuel’s foundation of his political power comes from Jewish-American community. He reminded me that with support from his community he could be able to work in the Whitehouse and later became a member of Congress.


   As a Jewish American, he is a loyal Israel supporter; when the War broke out in the Middle East, he volunteered to be a military combatant and fought in Israel’s side. I still remember vividly what he said to me. He said, “… the Jewish-American community does not miss out any Jewish-Americans who show a talent in politics and by all means nurtures them to be a successful politician.”

   Due to Hurricane Gustav, Louisiana’s second district’s election delayed for one month. But, as a result of the election, a Vietnamese-American, Joseph Cao became the federal representative for the district. It was historic event for all Vietnamese-American as Mr. Cao is the first ever Vietnamese-American to be an elected representative to Congress.

   As a Republican candidate, Mr. Cao defeated the 9 time incumbent, a veteran politician, Democrat William Jefferson. Mr. Cao came to the United States 33 years ago from Vietnam with his mother and his younger siblings by a military transport airplane. He was only 8 years old then. He graduated from Fordham University with B.A. in literature and went on to study law at California’s Loyola law school. After the law school, he became a lawyer specializing in immigration law.

   When incumbent congressperson Jefferson was indicted by federal prosecutor for bribery, Mr. Cao saw his opportunity and brave enough to challenge the federal seat. It is important for us to understand how he was able to win the federal seat in the Capitol Hill. It is true that incumbent Jefferson was in trouble, but he was experienced enough to overcome a challenge from a unknown immigrant lawyer; moreover, when we consider conservative and traditional characteristics of Louisiana, it would be fair to say that an ethnic minority like Mr. Cao did not have much chance to win a federal election.

   Mr. Cao himself is a competent man who possesses sound talents and capability to compete against the veteran politician Jefferson. However, Mr. Cao has another resource that Jefferson did not have. Practically, by all means, Mr. Cao got support from Vietnamese-American community in not only in Louisiana, but all across the States. Just within two months period, Vietnamese-American communities throughout the country gathered approximately seven hundred thousand dollars and donated to Mr. Cao’s election campaign.

   Furthermore, Vietnamese-Americans whose population is concentrated in the state of Louisiana, put herculean efforts to make impacts on the local mass-media; one example of these efforts was a massive campaign to subscribe local newspapers within the Vietnamese community. Apparently, local mass-media was moved by this kind of campaign and wrote and broadcasted favorable to Mr. Cao.


   It is important for us to recognize that the Vietnamese-Americans conducted this kind of campaign without a representative or all encompassing organization like Korean-American Federation (
한인회) that we have in any major metropolitan city in the U.S.  It was more of mouth-to-mouth and spontaneous grass-root campaign, but all participants of the campaign had one common denominator; they are all Vietnamese Americans. It was very much like Indian-Americans’ unison effort to support Bobby Jindal to be elected as a governor of the state of Louisiana.

   Incidentally, Mr. Cao’s election success was one of the biggest surprises in 2008 federal election. As a matter of fact, when Mr. Cao was knocking on Republican’s door to show his intention of running, no one paid any attention, but as the Party saw the media’s and genuine grass-root support for Mr. Cao, it chose him to be the candidate.

   Currently, a Korean-American, Jun Choi is seeking his second term to serve the city of Edison as a mayor. Before he became a mayor, he put in hard-effort to elicit funds for campaign throughout the country for several years, just to meet basic election campaign requirement. Without a lot of outside help, he defeated the incumbent and overcame existing power structure. For past three years as a mayor, he successfully eliminated deeply ingrained corruptions related to city affairs.

   Moreover, as Mayor Choi supported Obama even before the Presidential election campaign began, he now becomes an important figure in Democratic Party. In the mainstream politics, Jun Choi is considered to be one of the ‘rising stars’, but the Korean-American community’s understanding and treatment of Mr. Choi has not changed a bit. Our community’s interest only lies in politics of our motherland, Korea.


   As we can see from the above and Mr. Cao’s case in particular, other communities like Vietnamese-American put all-out efforts to send their son/daughter to Capitol Hill in order to represent their interests and needs. What is there for us to have interest in politics of our motherland? We are living in America and politics on this very soil affect all of our lives every day. It is time for us to channel our attention, interest, and energy to our community and to our country, America by actively involving and participating local politics. The good place start is Edison City of Bergen County.


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