Korean American Women’s Story Project


And as part of a “Think Globally and Act Locally” mantra, KOWIN Chicago Chapter has embarked on the Korean American Women’s Story Project (“KAWSP”) to document the lives of Korean American women in Illinois by conducting an oral history project, ultimately publishing a book to be distributed not only in the Illinois and United States, but internationally via the KOWIN network.



From the stories arising out of KAWSP, we intend to produced an ethnographic video of Korean American’s immigrant lives in Illinois, publish oral stories of selected Korean American women, and use the proceeds of the profit to provide scholarships to deserving indigent Korean female students in the developing countries via our the KOWIN International network.

In November 2009, KAFEC received a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council as the seed fund for the Korean American Women’s Story Project. In May of 2010, KAWSP produced a DVD profiling four prominent Korean American Women who passed away much too quickly before their stories were told: “Trailblazers- Korean American Women Ahead of Their Time.”

To request a copy of the DVD, please contact kowinchicago@gmail.com.

THE BOOK PROJECT: Korean American Women’s Story Project ( “KAWSP”).

The renowned visual anthropologist of the University of Southern California, Barbara Myerhoff stated: “ Everyone has a story and told to oneself and others can transform the world.” Korean American women have stories to tell and their stories matter, and when they tell their stories to themselves and to future generations, the storytelling and its legacies can be enriching and compelling information to the community.

The first Koreans as a group to immigrate to the United States arrived in Hawaii on January 13, 1903 by a ship called The Gaelic. The U.S. Census in 1920 records about 30 Koreans living in the Chicago area. Currently, the community members widely believe that there are over 100,000 members. Yet, over 80 years later, only two books document the history of Korean Americans in Illinois: Images of America Korean Americans in Chicago, a book of photographs of the community, edited by Dr. Kyu Young Park of Northeastern University of Illinois, and published in 2003, and Koreans in the Hood, Conflict with African Americans, a book documenting community race relations, edited by Dr. Kwang Chung Kim in 1999, a professor of Sociology at Western Illinois University. To say the least, the Korean American experience, at best, has minimally been documented.

Korean American women’s have significantly contributed much to the development of the immigrant experience and community in Illinois. Yet there is no documentation ? simply missing all together ? of capturing the unique voices and the pioneering women in our community, whether in small business, in education, medicine, or other professions ? or simply documenting the incredible historical lifespan of immigrants’ life.

As our elders pass away, we are inspired by the urgent need to collect their stories.

As part of its mission to educate and widely disseminate Korean culture focused on women, we embarked on planning KAWSP in April of 2008, with the mission of documenting our unique, beautiful, fun, imperfect, and at times, hear breaking stories — to leave a written legacy for other young Korean American women ? to showcase role models they have been exposed to, to learn from them and to break the existing stereotype of Korean American women.

KAWSP will select and interview Korean American women with extensive ties to Illinois and who are dedicated to her chosen field or profession ( for example, science, art, music, education, medicine, law and social service), or has just lived a compelling and interesting life as viewed by the community.

The women selected to be interviewed are known as Narrators, women who will share her unique life story through an oral history interview; the women who will nominate the Narrators are Historians- the woman who will interview the Narrator to capture her untold story. These interviews will then be transcribed and eventually be turned into a story chronicling her story written by a professional writer. KAWSP will request the Narrator to provide relevant personal photographs to share in illustrating her story. Some of the Narrators are scholars, small business women, artists, musicians, business consultants, pastors, and many more.

The Narrators will be asked questions in the categories of Family, Education, Work, Community Service, Home and Place, Leisure and Culture, Health and Sexuality, Women Identities, and History and World Events, as chosen by the Historian. Each Narrator will be asked to reflect upon the legacy she would like to leave her descendants and what advise that she would give to the next generation of women.

KAWSP seeks to enable women to witness their own intricate and panoramic lives- as mothers, wives, grandmothers, immigrants, professionals, laborers, community activists, educators, and more, to create a complete, balanced, vital historical legacy. The Trailblazers: Korean American Women Ahead of Their Time was released in May 2010. The KAWSP Book is targeted to be released in the fall of 2012. The book will be marketed in the broader community both in the United States, in South Korea, and throughout the world via the KOWIN network of Korean American women Diaspora and leaders. The books will also be distributed to public libraries and institutions throughout Illinois as resources on ethnic and Asian American history.


KOWIN Chicago Chapter members are uniquely qualified to conduct the project in Illinois as, although we may not be scholars, we are volunteers and professionals, who devote our time to community service, are rooted in the community and have deep networking relationships. We intimately know our community.


Jae Choi Kim (Project Chair) — Mrs. Kim is an attorney practicing in the area of corporation immigration and estate planning. Ms. Kim is currently the President of KOWIN Chicago Chapter, and the general counsel to KOWIN America Foundation for Education and Culture, Inc. She has been an advisor to the Asian American Institute, the Illinois Ethnic Coalition and the Concerned Citizens of Wilmette. She was a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow Class of 1998, a member of the U. S. Civil Right Commission Illinois Advisory Committee.

Kwang Ja Lee (Chair of Content and Interview Committee) — Mrs. Lee is a retired Chemist and the immediate past Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Korean American Women’s Association of Chicago, the preeminent women’s organization in the community boasting 350 members. Ms. Lee was also a Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Korean American Community Services.

Yoo Ja Kim (Chair of Budget Committee) — Mrs. Kim is a Senior Administor at Swedish Covenant Hospital and a registered nurse. She is also on the board of the Korean American Nurses Association of Illinois and also board member of Global Children’s Foundation, which raises significant funds for malnourished children in developing countries.

Bonita Cho (Chair of Writers and Intern Committee) — Ms. Cho is a principal of Cheng Cho and Yee, P.C., a firm specializing in immigration practice in Chicago. She was the past President of the Korean American Bar Association of Chicago, and currently chairs the Solo Practioner section and a board member of National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Stella Hahn (Chair of Publishing Committee) — Ms. Hahn is an educator teaching Korean Language and Culture at North Side Preparatory High School. She is the current Vice ? President of KOWIN Chicago Chapter and an active member of the Korean American Educator’s Association of Chicago.

Kyung Sook Nam (Chair of Publicity Committee) — Mrs. Nam is a registered nurse practicing in Highland Park Hospital. She is currently a board member of the Korean American Cultural Center of Illinois Committee, and past President of the Association of Korean Language Schools in Illinois. She is a member of National Committee of Unification of Korea, prestigious position appointed by the South Korean government.

Ransil Park (Chair of Web Design and Equipment Committee) — Mrs. Park is an educator and a senior administrator at the Chicago Public School Department of Language and Culture. She was the immediate past President of the Chicago Chapter of KOWIN, and currently a vice chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Korean American Community Services and the President of Korean American Educator’s Association of Chicago.

Wonsun Kim (Chair of Legal Committee) — Mrs. Kim is an attorney practicing in real estate and corporate business in Chicago. She is currently a Vice president of KOWIN Chicago Chapter, a board member of the Korean American Chamber of Chicago, and Korean American Professional Women’s Association.