In a bi-monthly series of posts, we will spotlight different Korean-American cities, selected not only for their numbers, but also for their visibility in mainstream America. Our research was guided by the following criteria: population, famous and/or influential locals, programs, and hotspots.
Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN.
The Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—are known for many things, such as its many lakes and thriving art and music scene, but it’s also home to a flourishing Korean American community.
We asked Minnesotan Kevin Ost-Vollmers, founder of and blogger behind Land of Gazillion Adoptees, about what makes the oft overlooked city “Korean American.” Here’s what he told us:
Minneapolis is home to a thriving Korean American community. Difficult to believe? For evidence, go to the University of Minnesota’s Dinky Town area during the lunch hour and walk into any of the numerous restaurants and coffee shops, and chances are you’ll see a lot of Koreans. Go to the Korean Presbyterian Church, which serves the sizable Korean population in Brooklyn Center and Columbia Heights, on Sundays and view a sea of black hair.
Some of the most recognizable Korean adoptee names within the broader adoption community reside in Minnesota as well – Ami Nafzger, executive director of AdoptSource, social worker JaeRan Kim, and writer Sun Yung Shin, to name a few.
The booming population of Koreans in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and in Minnesota in general, is due not only to a vast number of immigrants, but also to adoptees from the Motherland—the latter of which is estimated to comprise 50% of the state’s rich Korean population (Korean Quarterly, 2008). As a result, many of the people and organizations we are about to highlight have ties to the KA adoptee community.
- 16,813 (Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area – 2010 Census)
- Award-winning writer and activist Jane Jeong Trenka is most notable for her books The Language of Blood and Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea. Her highly personal accounts illustrate her struggles of growing up in rural Minnesota, her birth family reunion in 1995, and the assimilation challenges she faced when she moved back to Seoul in 2004. She continues to add to the adoption discourse through her blog, Bitter Angry Ajumma.
- What better way for children to connect with their heritage than through song and dance? The Chang-mi Korean Dance and Drum group was created in 1984 with that purpose in mind, and since then has provided a creative outlet and community for Korean adoptees to explore their cultural roots. Brooke Jee-in Newmaster is the founding member of the group and is now the artistic director and owner of Korean Heritage House. She is currently leading a Kickstarter project that aims to help fund her group’s travels to perform at the ChoongHyun Babies’ Home Memorial at the end of March.
- A passionate social worker and writer, JaeRan Kim explores the history and current issues of her fields on her personal blog and Harlow’s Monkey. The latter blog humanizes the ‘monkey love experiments’ of Harry Harlow by exploring the ideas of biological attachment in international and transracial adoptions. Through her blogs, Kim gives voice to adoptees who are often forgotten in the gatekeeping discussions about the ethics and politics of adoption.
- There are many adoption-related blogs, but no other centralizes and supports the visibility of the adoption community as Land of a Gazillion Adoptees (LGA), run by Kevin Ost-Vollmers and Shelise Gieseke. Himself an adoptee, Ost-Vollmers devotes his creative energy to the LGA blog which highlights, raises questions, and celebrates the accomplishments of Korean American adoptees in Minnesota, the U.S., and beyond.
- One of the oldest cultural camps in the U.S., the Korean Culture Camp of Minnesota is a nonprofit summer day camp program that aims to help Korean American children embrace being Korean without emphasizing the adoption factor. Typical camp activities include Korean language lessons, Taekwondo instruction, and learning the history and culture of the Motherland.
- “Giving Voice to the Korean American Community,” Korean Quarterly is a nonprofit publication serving ethnic communities of the Twin Cities and and northern Midwest. The publication’s entire staff consists of Korean American immigrants, adoptees, and adoptive parents. Features include profiles of notable Korean American organizations and leaders, and coverage of events deemed relevant to the KA community.
- AdopSource is a nonprofit organization that helps Korean American adoptees and the greater adoptee community in Minnesota have “a sense of belonging through their shared experiences.” Services offered by AdopSource include Korean culture and language classes and birth family reunion support.
- The Korean Heritage House provides the meeting grounds for a previously mentioned organization: the Chang-mi Korean Dance and Drum group. In addition to dance and music classes, members can participate in Korean cooking classes or a number of clubs including the Asian Adoptee Youth Club, Chingu Kids & Parent Play Club, and K-Pop Dance Club.
- AK (Adopted Korean) Connection is a nonprofit run for and by Korean American adoptees in MN. The site’s mission is to foster a community for adult adoptees, and each month, a social event allows members to gather and have fun. February’s event will be an exciting afternoon of rollerblading at the Metrodome!
- Green Spoon is a cross between a sooljib and cafe, offering a full espresso bar omelets in the morning, and soju and delicious odangtang (declared a “super soup” by the Star Tribune) at night. On Wednesdays, Green Spoon serves unlimited wings and fries and unlimited beer for only $20!
- Having undergone a remodeling makeover, Hoban Restaurant exceeds all expectations in serving authentic Korean food. We recommend sticking to the classics; get the pajun, soondubu, or dolsot bibimbap.
- Escape from the cold with a hot meal at Sole Cafe. Voted “Best Korean Restaurant in 2011,” Sole Cafe is vegan-friendly and prides itself on using fresh produce from the local farmer’s market.
- With a menu that boasts Korean-inspired pizzas, Pizzeria Lola has quickly grown to become the go-to place for a tasty pie in the Twin Cities. Co-owner Ann Kim is one of 90 certified pizzaiolos in the U.S., and LGA’s Kevin proudly endorses the pizza joint, saying: “Nobody combines kimchi, banchan, and pizza dough like Ann Kim, one of the new superstars in the restaurant community.”
- Open until 2AM (4AM on Fridays and Saturdays), Do Re Mi Karaoke is a great place to feel like a rockstar among your friends. Do Re Mi’s menu is provided by Hoban, and the karaoke offers a Happy Hour Sunday-Thursday from 6-9pm.
- Deborah Johnson is the CEO of Kindred Journeys International, columnist for Adoptive Families magazine, and the ex-director of the Ties Program, an organization that helps adoptive families travel to their children’s birth countries.
- Kim Jackson established the HERE Project, the first portrait book of Korean adoptees living in Minnesota. She also works with the Korean Quarterly as a Graphic Designer.
- After earning his MFA from Brown University, Ed Bok Lee went on to write a national bestseller in poetry titled Real Karaoke People. His latest book Whorled has been named one of the 2011 Minnesota Book Awards finalists.
- Sun Yung Shin received the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry in 2008 for her first book of poems titled Skirt Full of Black. She is also the co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption with Jane Jeong Trenka and Julia Chinyere Oparah. Her next book of poems, Rough, and Savage, is set to be released in the Fall of 2012.
- Other notable locals include playwright Katie Hae Leo, soulful pop singer Mayda Miller, Hak Cheol Shin, who was a speaker at the first TEDxHanRiver and is 3M Company’s Executive VP of Industrial Business , and comedian Amy Anderson, who is currently based in LA but was raised in the city of lakes.
Have a city you’d like to see featured? Get in touch and give us some inside tips.
Melissah Yang contributed to this post.