There is something beautiful when people take the initiative to create a passion project out of an idea so simple. This is the case with the collage website, I AM KOREAN AMERICAN, which was co-founded by Peter Kang and Sei-Wook Kim. It’s a nifty project that features stories of Korean Americans all over the country, young and old, full Korean or hapa. But to hear how it came to be, I asked Peter Kang himself as his own words eloquently tells all.
What made you want to start “I AM KOREAN AMERICAN?”
Sometime in the fall of 2009, I had this small idea to start up a very simple site that would feature a new Korean American person each day and just have some basic info about them — their name, age, location, occupation, and a few words that they would write themselves. The site would also require a photo submission because that would make things more visual and interesting. I ran this idea by my business partner Sei-Wook, who is also Korean American, and he thought it would be cool to do, so we just went for it. I mocked up a quick design and Sei-Wook coded it up, and by within a week, we had a working website.
I think what I initially wanted in starting this site was to see what sort of Korean American stories were out there. I wasn’t looking for anything profound or serious, but I was curious to see where people lived, what they did for a living, and what they wrote about in describing themselves. I was tired reading about the same Korean American entertainers and athletes that get most of the media coverage and was craving stories about Korean Americans who may not be as famous or widely known but may be interesting in their own ways. And in hoping that we could get a lot of people to do this, I looked forward to having a site that would showcase the diversity within the Korean American community.
Now that more than a year has passed since we started this project, I would say that the site also came to serve a function that we hadn’t really thought about — a prompt for reflecting on self identity. At one point, we started getting a large number of submissions from adoptees who really wrote some seriously reflective pieces on identity and what it was like to grow up in a non-Korean family/community. We also received submissions from bi- and multi-racial Korean Americans who were really passionate about their Korean heritage. And because of these submissions, our site began to change a bit in tone and content. The “own words” section became more of a way for people to express what it meant to them to be called Korean American, and I think these entries really made the site more compelling and interesting to read.
What do you hope to accomplish with this website in the long run? Where would you like it to go in the future?
We recently expanded the site and added an Entrepreneurs and Musicians section. We’re hoping that over time, these sections can be inspirational showcases for the wide range of talents within the Korean American community. Depending on how they play out, we may add more sections to make it easier for our readers to find relate-able stories. And for the Entrepreneurs site specifically, we really want it to become a resource for other budding entrepreneurs or young people who want to read about how others have started businesses, what sort of challenges they faced, and any lessons they’ve learned along the way.
We have grand plans for this site, but we’re not in any rush to implement them because it’s been good to get feedback as we grow. We hope to keep adding more profiles so we can build a really vast database that people can search and read, and we hope to add more content that Korean Americans will find helpful, whether it’s business-related or educational or even something like parenting or cooking. We’ll keep our focus on showcasing people, but I think the site may evolve into a platform that allows us to explore everything and anything that Korean Americans may find interesting, relevant, and/or useful. This is all just talk for now of course, and things may and will definitely change over time, but this is a project that’s been very exciting for us and we look forward to continuing our work on it.
Stories about one’s self identity is something that the world needs to hear because there is nothing more powerful than hearing an individual’s personal story of how they see themselves. From this, the individual’s story can provide the most effective counterpoint to stereotypes and misinformation that one would receive from the mainstream media.
For all you beautiful KoreAMs out there, this website is the place to have your story be heard. I AM KOREAN AMERICAN is also very interested in all the fine folks who are musicians and entrepreneurs, so if that’s you, share your story! It doesn’t matter if you’re famous or not..if you identify yourself as a Korean American, then the rest is all up to you for your individual story to shine. You can submit yourself by click right HERE.