In a weekly series of posts, we will present the Top 5 Most 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.
#3 Chicago, IL
Chicago, or Chi-town, though not immediately looked to as a Korean-American hub, experienced the rapid growth of a budding Koreatown because of emerging Korean-owned businesses and the steady influx of immigrants. As with most immigrant groups, Korean people learned to help one another, centering the community around religion and voluntary organizations. Now, the “Windy City” has a clearly visible Korean community flourishing with exciting talent and activism.
- 59,877 – Chicago metro area (population data compiled using the 2010 Census; excludes counties in IN and WI)
- Mike Kim is a Korean rights activist and the author of Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country—an inspiring book chronicling his time “trafficking North Korean refugees through a 6,000-mile modern-day underground railroad.” He appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in 2009 for his work with Crossing Borders, an organization based in Glenview, IL, dedicated to helping North Korean refugees by providing food, shelter and spiritual counseling. And while Crossing Borders is a faith-based organization, their mission statement notes that it is “not required for our refugees to believe what we believe.”
- Known as Chi-town’s “underground hip-hop hero,” Denizen Kane (a.k.a Dennis Kim), a Chicago-based poet and musician, founded the Asian American spoken word group, I Was Born With Two Tongues, which helped to create and promote an open forum to confront issues of race, identity and immigration nationwide. Kane has also performed on three seasons of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. Click here to watch him perform “Patriot Act” on Def Jam.
- John J. Kim, born in Busan, Korean, has been a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times since 2004. Earlier this year, Kim received the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, with a series of stories exposing Chicago’s ineffective gun control policies.
- The Chicago Korean American Art Association (CKAA) was founded by Korean artists who immigrated to the US and wanted to establish a space for artistic expression. CKAAA holds annual and semi-annual exhibits that showcase the talents of Korean artists from all specializations including painters, installation artists, photographers, and fashion designers. CKAA hopes to educate up-and-coming artists in order to combine traditional Korean art with American influences.
- Officially founded in 1990, Korean American Women in Need (KAN-WIN) seeks to empower women to stand up against domestic violence. The organization not only provides services to women and children who have suffered from domestic violence, but also educates them and surrounding communities about violence prevention.
- The Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC) creates much-needed local programs on behalf of the Korean American community of greater Chicago. Some of KRCC’s work includes providing English classes for working immigrants, hosting youth programs to promote leadership within the community, advocating for human rights, and raising cultural awareness. Follow them on Twitter.
- The Korean Women’s International Network (KOWIN) aims to establish a platform for Korean women by facilitating the discussion of issues that are relevant to Korean women of today and tomorrow. One of KOWIN’s projects is the Korean American Women’s History Project, which documents the lives of Korean women through oral tradition. Proceeds from the published stories will create scholarships for Korean female students from all over the world.
- Ruxbin, a Korean-French fusion restaurant, was founded by Chicago-native chef, Edward “Teddy” Kim. Ruxbin was recently listed as one of Bon Appetit’s 2011 Top 10 Restaurants in America. We also featured Ruxbin on our Korean Food USA series last week.
- Belly Shack, an Asian-Latino eatery, is the brainchild of husband-and-wife duo, Bill Kim and Yvonne Cadiz-Kim. The menu items are examples of fusion food at its finest, serving up dishes like, Boricua: marinated tofu, Hoisin BBQ sauce, and brown rice, all served on a crispy plantain.
- Del Seoul’s Korean dishes are a modern spin-off the street foods served in California and Korea. Del Seoul is Chicago’s alternative for food trucks, which are illegal in the city. Among their specialties are ‘Kimchi Fries,’ and ‘Seoul Street Style Dumplings.’
- WaBa, a Korean Karaoke bar and restaurant is the perfect combination of singing, eating and drinking. With large private rooms, and the prime soju-and-snack menu, Waba is definitely a great selection for celebrations and Friday night hang-outs.
- Chicago’s King Spa & Sauna, offers various massages and scrubs to maximize and enhance body de-stressing techniques, such as acupressure massages, and full-body scrubs. There are large private rooms with spa tubs and whirlpools infused with natural herbs. Visit King Spa & Sauna to relax your muscles after a long week at work.
- Iris K. Shim was an 18-year old student at the University of Illinois, Chicago when she met Andrew Suh, a young man who shot his sister’s fiancé on her behalf. Her documentary, The House of Suh, includes exclusive interviews with Andrew as it attempts to bring out his story to the public. To watch a trailer of her award-winning film, click here.
- Currently an Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago, Samuel Park released his debut novel This Burns My Heart just this past July. During a book reading in Redondo Beach, he shared that the novel situates itself during Korea’s transition from the end of the war to its period of modernization.
- Formerly the anchor and producer of Asian American Network News (the only English-speaking show in the Midwest that addresses issues relevant to the Asian community), Lily Kim is a huge media personality in Chicago. She is now the co-owner, producer, and host of Ascene Chicago, an online magazine that highlights the culture and lifestyle of Asians living in the Chicago area.
- Stints in Chi-town: Model, actress and musician Arden Cho, who notably won Miss Korea Chicago in 2004, and singer John Park, who auditioned for American Idol in Chicago and later placed second in Korea’s talent show Superstar K.
With two more to go, it’s pretty obvious which cities are next, but we hope you still check back next week! We have some awesome people, hotspots and programs lined up!
UPDATE: Check out our Top 5 Most Korean-American Cities Map!
Melissah Yang and Mink Choi contributed to this post.