Korean American Day on January 13 commemorates the arrival of the first Korean immigrants to the United States in 1903. The day also honors the Korean American’s immense contributions to every aspect of society.

In 1882, the United States and Korea signed a treaty establishing a peaceful relationship, friendship, and commerce. While this led to Korean diplomats, students, politicians, and businessmen visiting the United States, few felt compelled to stay.

It wasn’t until December of 1902 on the SS Gaelic that 102 Korean immigrants set sail for Honolulu, Hawaii. These families initiated the first wave of Korean immigration, resulting in over 7,500 immigrants over the next two years.

They served their communities and their country during World Wars I and II and the Korean War. During these times, more Koreans decided to emigrate from their homeland; some, as wives to U.S. servicemen, others were adopted as children.

Honoring a Few

Ahn Chang Ho – also known as Dosan, one of the earlier immigrants, Ho is credited with establishing the Willows Korean Aviation Corps in the United States, which later helped establish the Korean Airforce.

Sammy Lee – Olympic two-time gold medalist in diving (1948 – London) and (1952 – Helsinki).

Wendy Gramm – Served as U.S Commodity Futures Trading Commission chair under Presidents Reagan and Bush I.

Judge Herbert Y.C. Choy – First Asian American appointed to U.S. Federal Court (Court of Appeals Ninth District) in 1974.

David Hyun – Architect charged with revitalizing Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

Sang Hyun Lee – First tenured Asian American professor at Princeton Theological Seminary

Hines Ward, Jr.  – Professional football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers

HOW TO OBSERVE #KoreanAmericanDay

Learn more about Korean Americans then and now. Read books about their experiences or watch documentaries. We’ve provided two books:

  • Korean American Pioneer Aviators: The Willows Airmen by Edward T. Chang and Woo Sung Han
  • Korean-Americans: Past, Present, and Future by Ilpyong J. Kim
  • Memoir of a Cashier: Korean Americans, Racism, and Riots by Carol Park

You can also visit Korean American Story to hear their stories or document your own. Find out more or share your experience by using #KoreanAmericanDay on social media.

KOREAN AMERICAN DAY HISTORY

In 2003, President George W. Bush proclaimed a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Korean immigrants. In 2005, the U.S. House and Senate passed simple resolutions in support of Korean American Day. Since then, states across the country have passed bills declaring January 13th as an annual celebration of Korean American Day.