Korean immigration to Hawaii came in two distinct waves in the 20th century. The first cohort arrived in Hawaii between 1903 and 1924; the second wave began in 1965. On January 13, 2003, President George W. Bush recognized the contributions of Korean Americans to the nation in a special proclamation honoring the Centennial of Korean Immigration to the United States.
Koreans' voyage just completed for their immigration to Hawaii at the dawn on January 13, 1903. The Korean Empire had issued its first English-language passports to these migrants the previous year. When RMS Gaelic steamed into Honolulu Harbor from Korea, the group was diverse in age and background and included fifty-six men recruited as laborers for sugar plantations located on various island in the Territory of Hawaii, as well as twenty-one women and twenty-five children. Within two years of their arrival the number of Koreans who had migrated to Hawaii grew to more than 7,000.
The beginnings of Koreans in America
The first large immigration of Koreans with passports to live in America occurred between 1901 and 1905. There were 7,226 immigrants disembarking from 65 ship arrivals: 6,048 were men, 637 were women, and 541 were children. Many of the early immigrants have had some contract with American missionaries in Korea. For some Western-oriented Korean intellectuals, immigrating to the United States was considered useful in part to help them in the modernization of their homeland. Consequently, the recruiter for laborers for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association (HSPA), David Deshler, had no trouble finding Koreans from a wide range of social classes willing to sail to Hawai'i.
Decades of new hope, hardships and barriers
Within a century the Korean population in America exploded from seven thousands to about two million.
King Gojong (1852–1919) reigned in Korea at the time of the first migration to America and played a crucial part in the lives of Koreans abroad. Christian missionaries had found their way to Korea during King Gojong's reign. By the 1890s, American missionaries were the most influential in the Christianizing of Korea. Dr. Horace Allen, missionary-turned-diplomat, was embroiled in Korean politics and in effect was the representative for American trade. The missionaries brought not only Christianity, but also capitalism, Western learning, and Western culture. Many of the immigrants had converted to Christianity.
Protestant evangelism in Korea was predominantly Methodist and Presbyterian. The two Protestant groups decided not to overlap their evangelizing activities; it was agreed among the Protestants that the Methodist mission in Hawai'i would minister to the Korean immigrants.
Korea's first formal treaty with America was in May 1882, the decade when most of the early Korean immigrants to Hawai'i were born. The treaty was preceded by America's forgotten "little war" of bloody exchanges between the two countries. The little-known episode in American history involved a heavily armed American ship, the Colorado, entering Korean waters and landing its soldiers on Ganghwa Island. A battle ensued in which more than three hundred Koreans and three American soldiers were killed.
The Americans later returned pursuing a treaty, resulting in the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1882. Among other things, the treaty contained a provision allowing Korean immigration to America. The first group of immigrants came from Rev. George Heber Jones' Methodist parish in Jemulpo (Inchon).
- Immigrants prior to 1903: Historical statistics of Hawai'i indicate there were sixteen Koreans in the Territory of Hawai'i in 1902. Some are said to have been ginseng merchants in disguise who came using Chinese passports. One of these ginseng merchants was Choo Eun Yang, who came to Hawai'i and transmigrated to San Francisco around 1898. He became active in the Korean community there, became prosperous, and lived to the age of 102. Among other immigrants, Sung Pong Chang worked for the Circuit Court of Hawai'i and for the Honolulu Police Department as an interpreter until he died in 1949.
List of notable Korean Americans in Hawaii
- Dr. Philip Jaisohn (1866–1951)
- Dr. Syngman Rhee (1875–1965)
- Dosan Ahn Chang Ho (1878–1938)
- Young Man Pak (1877–1928)
- Herbert Young Cho Choy (born 1916-01-06, Makaweli, Hawaii–2004-03-10) was the first Asian American federal judge in the history of the United States, as well as the first person of Korean ancestry to be admitted to practice law in the United States.
- Daniel Dae Kim (born 1968-08-04) is a Korean American actor, best known for playing Jin-Soo Kwon on the television series Lost and currently as Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-0.
- Harry Kim is the mayor of Hawaii County, Hawaii, United States
- Ronald Moon (Korean name: 문대양 born 1940-09-04) is the Chief Justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court in Honolulu, Hawaii
- Michelle Sung Wie (pronounced /ˈwiː/; Korean Wie Seong-mi; hangul: 위성미 hanja: 魏聖美; born 1989-10-11) is a Korean-American professional golfer. In 2006, she was named in a Time magazine article, "one of 100 people who shape our world."
- Jay Dee "B.J." Penn (born December 13, 1978 in Kailua, Hawaii) is a Korean American professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion.
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