The legend of Korea’s foundation by the god-king Tangun in 2333 B.C. embodies the self-sufficiency valued by the Korean people. In the legend a bear and tiger wished to become human. They prayed fervently to Hwanung, a king living in the heavens, to fulfill their wish. Giving each 20 cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort (a herb), he told them to take only that nourishment and to stay out of the sun for 100 days. They took the food and retired to a cave. The tiger became impatient and hungry and abandoned the cave. The bear, however, endured and was turned into a woman. She prayed to become a mother and Hwanung gladly obliged, and the bear-woman bore Tan’gun, the first human king of the people of the peninsula, Korea, establishing his capital at Wanggom (P’yongyang) in 2333 B.C. He called his kingdom Choson meaning morning calm or morning freshness.


North and South Korea Creation


Korea has experienced many invasions by its larger neighbors during its 2,000 years of recorded history. During the modern era, one key political/historical event is the division of Korea into the South and communist North. After WWII division at the 38th parallel marked the beginning of North and South Korea. On August 15, 1948 the Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) was established, with Syngman Rhee as the first President. On September 9, 1948 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) was established under Kim IL Sung. The history of invasions from its neighbors fosters a strong sense of nationalism in the Korean people, which is only further heightened by the division of the country.


Korean Immigration to the US


The first group of Korean laborers came to Hawaii in January 1903. Between 1904 and 1907 about 1,000 Koreans entered the mainland from Hawaii through San Francisco. Later a larger group of immigrants included the wives of U.S. servicemen, and as many as 150,000 adoptees. With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Koreans became one of the fastest growing Asian groups in the United States, surpassed only by Filipinos. In the 1980s and 1990s, Koreans were largely self-employed as small business owners such as dry cleaners and convenience stores. Their children, along with those of other Asian Americans would also be noted in headlines and magazine covers in the 1980s for their numbers in prestigious universities. A number of U.S. states have declared January 13 as Korean American Day in order to recognize Korean Americans’ impact and contributions. This has lead to the painting of Asian groups such as the Koreans as a “model minority.”