I remember when I first moved to LA from Seoul, Korea. The schools I was placed in had fewer than thirty Koreans in total (out of over 2,000 students), not to mention what few Koreans I did come to know didn’t speak any Korean. While I appreciated the diversity I grew up around, I often struggled to find a strong cultural identity in myself, as all immigrant kids probably do. For some time, even indulging in American pop culture and entertainment became a chore for me due to the language barrier. When I slowly started to enjoy Hollywood films and TV shows, there I saw her: a strict Asian teacher that was Sandra Oh.
I still remember the shock I felt upon encountering her. No, not because she fulfilled the signature Asian stereotypes of being smart, strict and eccentric. No, I didn’t feel discriminated against or misunderstood; I think I was too young to even understand these types of social nuances. What I did feel was sheer excitement that there was someone like me on TV, and gosh, does she speak good English. I was thrilled; I was encouraged; she was relevant.
Well, time has evolved and we see more Asian Americans emerging everywhere. Sure, Oscars may be #sowhite, but we still have incredible Asian American talents like John Cho, Steven Yeun, Ki-hong Lee, Constance Wu, Far East Movement and many more to thank for broadening Asian American presence in the media. And with each person I find out to be Korean I find myself having a familiar reaction as I did when I was younger…screaming: “Wow! She’s Korean? Suddenly I’m so happy!”
There are so many talented Asian Americans like I already mentioned, whose work does not and should not go unnoticed–whether hidden or famous. So please, forgive me for focusing on Korean American entertainers today because it’s purely inside my comfort zone. But there are particular Korean American artists that I follow whom I’d like to share with you. Before we move on though, let’s make one distinction clear: Korean and Korean Americans are two different things, and while there are some native Koreans who were already successful in the motherland who are now growing their careers in Hollywood, there are Korean Americans who have grown up in the U.S. and jumped into the industry. I’ll be using them interchangeably for convenience’s sake (because even native Koreans will technically become Korean Americans anyway), but I think it’s important to understand that the two come from fundamentally different cultures.
Having said that, here are five Korean American talents I’d like to see more in the U.S. media:
1. JinJoo Lee
Everyone knows DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean.” But did you know about DNCE’s guitarist JinJoo Lee? Born in Incheon, South Korea in 1987, JinJoo taught herself how to play guitar when she was just 12 years old. When she moved to LA at age 19, she attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood and performed with JoJo, the Jonas Brothers and Jordin Sparks amongst many others before debuting with DNCE in 2015. But never mind that she’s Korean and her sister-in-law is a famous Korean gospel singer Sohyang. She’s an amazing guitarist and I’d love to see her play and featured more!
2. Soohyun aka Claudia Kim
Remember this Korean doctor from Avengers: Age of Ultron? This Seoul-based Korean actress also appears in the Netflix original Marco Polo as Princess Khutulun. I was super pleasantly surprised to see her on screen for Avengers, as she has taken on numerous supporting roles in Korean dramas. Hoping to see her more often!
3. Abraham Lim
Abraham Lim started out on YouTube as a singer and then received a lot of attention on the Glee Project. He is a hard-working artist who is constantly expanding his career, landing minor roles in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder and more recently, The Catch.
4. YunJin Kim
Can you believe it’s already been seven years since the last-ever episode of Lost aired? YunJin Kim who played Sun-Hwa Kwon was–and still is–a famous Korean actress known for her role in Shiri, and since her last appearance on Lost Kim remained active in Korean movies. I wonder what she’s been up to nowadays though, and if she’ll be making a comeback soon for the American audience.
5. Arden Cho
Both a musician and an actress, Arden Cho is a long-time YouTube star who is best known for her lead role as Kira Yukimura on the MTV series Teen Wolf.
By Hyeyoung Jung · Contributor