For the Korean-American community, 2023 is a major year.
It is the 70th anniversary of the United States and the Republic of Korea — often referred to as South Korea — signing the Mutual Defense Treaty following the end of the Korean War, which is still strong today.
“I’m so, so proud that our community has been developed,” said Eun-ji Seo, the Consul-General to the Republic of Korea in Seattle. “Korea came to be transformed into the 10th largest economy and is the [U.S.’s] greatest spread of democracy.”
2023 is also the 120th anniversary of the first Korean immigrants coming to live in the U.S. It is also the 140th anniversary of the very first incidence of U.S.-Korean relations, when the first American diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea in 1883, paving the way for more than 85,000 Korean-Americans residing in King County, and South Korea becoming Washington state’s fourth largest trading partner.
For Seo, who became the South Korean Consul-General in Seattle in 2022, these anniversaries are major milestones that she said inspire her to push U.S.-Korean relations even further.
“Koreans searched for the ‘American Dream,’” Seo said. “There are four [Korean-Americans] in the U.S. House of Representatives. Twenty years ago, when I was in San Francisco, we had one and now we have four.”
Seo said that before she came to Seattle, she had heard about the rising number of hate crimes against Asian-Americans and that it is a major concern for her. In September 2022, the creation of a new hotline called “Stop Hate Hotline” was approved by the King County Council to combat a rise in reported hate crimes.
“I am very serious about safety,” Seo said.
She also wants to emphasize political rights and economics in cities like Federal Way, which has a large Korean community, and to inspire cultural pride and “pride of our nation of Korea.”
And recently, Korean culture and language is having a major rise in popularity in the U.S.
BTS is one of the most popular music groups of the last five years, while Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” — a 2019 South Korean film — won an Academy Award for Best Picture. The majority of Netflix’s worldwide viewers watched a Korean movie or TV show in the last year, with “Squid Game” and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” being among the most-watched shows on the platform.
“When I see BTS on TV, I’m very surprised,” said Seo.
As for language, writingtips.org analyzed Google search data and found that the three languages that Washingtonians want to learn the most are Spanish, Korean and Japanese, with Korean coming in second.
Seo is working hard to make sure that during her tenure as Consul-General, the Korean culture is celebrated.
Last month, the Consulate General held a special fashion performance that incorporated hanbok — traditional Korean clothing — and hip hop music. On Jan. 6, Korean pianist Sung-jin Cho performed in Seattle for a special anniversary collaboration with the Seattle Symphony. A week later, Governor Jay Inslee proclaimed Jan. 13 as as Washington State Korean Day.
As for the rest of 2023, Seo promises more events that will not only celebrate South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. and Washington state, but also the Korean culture.
“There is a gap between younger generation and the older generation — for older people, they think of Korean War and for younger people, they only know BTS and BLACKPINK,” Seo said. “Most people know Kim Jong-un more than BTS. I want to focus on our public image and I want to reduce the gap.”
The next event will be the Asian Pacific Cultural Center Lunar New Year Celebration on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall.