Hello all, this is Oranckay writing you from Oakland, California, USA. One of the more interesting things I’m up to lately while in the United States is (barely) working on a (slow) long term project on early turn-of-the-last-century Korean history in California. I myself don’t know the history much at all, but me and a certain fiftysomething Korean-American gentleman by the name of John Cha (brother of novelist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha) have been following leads from historical documents and finding, among other things, sites that played a role in the history of Koreans in the state mostly between 1900 and the end of World War II.
Of course the biggest figure in that period of history would be “Dosan” Ahn Chang ho, after whom is named a park, post office, and I believe other places mostly in Los Angeles. For the past few days we have been hosting a tour of these sites for scholars and others who are members of the Dosan Scholarly Society (도산학회) and the Dosan Memorial Foundation (도산기념사업회), most notable the historian Lee Man-yeol and former National Assembly member and Lee Hoi-chang campaign official extraordinaire Suh Sang-mok. Needless to say I have been on my best behavior as John Cha and I drive everyone around San Francisco and Oakland in two 12 person vans. Starting on Sunday we will go to Sacramento and then the tiny farm towns of Reedly and Dinuba, near Fresno, and then on to Los Angeles to see the many relevant sites there as well. There are two scholarly seminars scheduled that are open to the public, one for Saturday at the Oakland Museum of California and another in Los Angeles. (Please see the relevant public information on these two events here.)
I am very hesitant about posting here, at least right now, but Marmot says I shouldn’t wait until the tour’s over. Please understand that I don’t know much about the history yet. I’m still learning, and so with exception to a very few sites and historical figures, I’m usually just shooting (pictures) and asking questions later. I might try to make sense of all this later here, but for the time being I would hope if there are people more knowledgeable than I about the history involved, please go ahead and tell the story or correct me where I’m wrong. (Let me also invite admins to make corrections, add the appropriate tags and categories, rearrange pictures, edit, and so on.) From now on I’m going to try to pretty much liveblog the rest of the tour, so please bear with me, it will be “live” quality at best.
For now, an attempt at a survey of Korean organizations in San Francisco.
한인친목회 Korea Friendship Society. Founded by Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and others in 1903 as a format for Koreans in the mainland (ie, mostly San Francisco) to help each other. To quote John Cha, “Dosan organizes KFS to help urban Koreans, mostly merchants, and give them a sense of structure.”
공립협회 Kong Lip Association. Founded by Dosan in 1905, in response to the Eulsa Treaty.
대한인국민회 Korean National Association (KNA). Founded in February 1909 to unite the Kong Lip Assn and the 하와이 한인협성협회 (“Hawaii Collaborative Association”?), registered with California state government in April 1914. Moved to Los Angeles (from Hewes bldg on SF’s Market Street?) in 1937(?). The KNA still had property and only disbanded in LA in I think the eighties. At any rate many of its activists are still with us alive and well today. Among other legends I am still learning about, the KNA may have raised money that was sent to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai. The name of the organization deserves some discussion. Apparently, by 1909 Japanese diplomatic missions in the US were already asserting that they represented Koreans in America. Today, in 2008, I myself would translate the Korean name of the Korean National Association as the “Association of Korean Nationals.” One of the reasons they chose to have the word ‘국민’ in the name was to assert their independence, that they were “nationals” of a Korean state, and indeed they apparently did eventually receive some recognition as such by the US government, especially after WW II began.
흥사단 Hung Sa Dan/Young Korean Academy (YKA). Founded in 1913 by Dosan as sort of a spiritual YMCA to “cultivate” the Korean youth here. Currently its headquarters are in Daehangno in Seoul, and some provincial Korean branches are very active, especially in the way of youth programs.
The most exciting site we have been at so far is 2123 Bush Street (see picture at top), where the first Korean church in the mainland United States, the San Francisco Korean Methodist Church, began meeting here in October 1907. They were at this address until 1914. I guess it’s exciting because the original building is still there. John Cha and I had researched this site before and were pretty sure, but this time we met the owner of the building and he was able to confirm that it is indeed 19th century and therefore the same structure. It withstood the San Fransisco earthquake of 1906, but the records were all downtown and burned in the subsequent fire. The owner thinks it was built in 1884.
For anyone who is interested the local 한국일보 is running a story about 2123 Bush Street today.