SPOTLIGHT: A proud heritage: Korean Americans to celebrate Chuseok

By Emily Laermer Staff Writer
    Chuseok, which directly translates to “autumn harvest,” is a holiday where Koreans celebrate and thank their ancestors for their contributions to society.
    “It’s very traditional for Asians to honor their elders,” said Wan- Mo Kang, the chair of the Korean Community Center of Princeton.
    The KCCP is celebrating the holiday with its second annual Korean Thanksgiving Celebration and Fundraising Banquet on Sunday at Rider University. The event is helping sponsor KCCP’s future community center, which Mr. Kang expects will be built by 2011. The organization, which has already raised $600,000 since its inception in January 2007, aims to raise $2 million for the project.
    “We want to celebrate the holiday and share our culture with our neighbors,” Mr. Kang said. “The Korean Thanksgiving is the largest and most cultural holiday in Korea.”
    The KCCP expects 400 people to attend the multi-cultural event; about a quarter will not be Korean.
    The celebration will consist of a Korean dinner, dance performances by children and teenagers and a traditional Korean song that all the attendees can sing together.
    “There will be interesting and exciting cultural performances,” Mr. Kang said. “All the dancers are from local groups that have long histories.”
    There will also be a keynote speech by Sam Yoon, at-large member of the Boston City Council, the first Asian American to run for and receive an elected office in Boston.
    “He’s like Barack Obama,” Mr. Kang said. “He is committed to organizing the community. He is a young, promising person who is an inspiration to younger generations.”
    Local leaders, including Montgomery Mayor Cecilia Xie Birge, West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and many Princeton University, Rutgers University and Rider University professors, have been invited to the event, as well.
    Mr. Kang said that the point of both the celebration and the community center is to teach younger generations about Korean culture.
    “They need to know their roots, and if they don’t know about their parents’ culture, that would be unfortunate,” he said. “We need to pass our culture on to the next generation.”
    This community center, which is based on the model of the many local Jewish community centers around the country, is the first grassroots organization in North America that is dedicated to creating a community center where Korean Americans can meet and celebrate their culture. Mr. Kang said that the KCCP has already received inquiries from people in other areas, asking for advice how to start similar organizations.
    “We are saving all of our documentation so we can share those and our experience with others who want to start their own,” he said. “We want to start a campaign.”
    Mr. Kang attributes the startup of the organization to the diverse area.
    “Princeton is the reason,” Mr. Kang said. “The Korean Americans who live here have lived here for a long time — they are not recent immigrants. They understand fully what we need for the next generation. They have an understanding for community activities and why we need them for the next generation.”
    Korean Americans will be able to learn why their ancestors have moved to the country and about their contributions to the United States.
    “We have been coming here for the past 100 years,” Mr. Kang said. “It’s time for the Korean-American community to think about building a community center before it is too late and we begin to see a disconnected generation.”
    Tickets for the Korean Thanksgiving Celebration and Fundraising Banquet are $150 per person. To purchase tickets, call 609-895-6638 or 609-775-7328. For more information about the celebration and the KCCP, visit