General APA, Korean American

Happy Lunar New Year!

Lunar New Year 2012

We’d like to wish everyone a Happy Lunar New Year 2012 (Year of the Dragon)!  Click here to read more about this important event and how it is celebrated among many Asian Pacific American (APA) communities. This year, Smithsonian colleagues Jina Lee (Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Sojin Kim (Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage) share how they, as Korean Americans, celebrate the Lunar New Year in their homes.

Leave us a comment about how you celebrate the Lunar New Year!

Young Jina

Young Jina posing in her han-bok.

Guest Blog by Jina Lee, Exhibitions Assistant at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

As a Korean American, I’ve had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year, both in the traditional Korean (Eastern) and Western tradition.  The Western tradition, as we all know, is the fun filled night of celebrating the last night of the Western calendar—Dec. 31st.  In particular, my family will the end of that particular year.  We would either go into the city (Washington D.C.) for a nice dinner outing, or stay in and have Mom cook us a delicious dinner of steak or fish.  Lastly, we would put on the annual Dick Clark (now Ryan Seacrest) New Years Eve television special, and watch the iconic Time Square ball drop as the massive crowds chant in sync with the countdown.  While the Western tradition seems to focus on celebrating the end of the calendar, the following day (January 1) for Korean Americans seems to be the opposite.  The focus is more so on starting anew and with a clean slate for the New Year.  Our New Years Eve meals were usually so decadent, however on New Years Day, Mom would cook the traditional Korean rice cake and mandu (dumpling) soup for brunch.  This soup usually had a beef based broth, lots of fresh rice cakes called dduk and homemade mandu (dumpling) dropped into the soup, along with scallions, egg, seaweed (gim), and slices of beef as garnishes.  It was scrumptious!

Young Jina

Young Jina is bowing to her grandparents as a sign of respect and good fortune in the New Year. This Korean tradition is known as sae-bae.

After “cleansing” ourselves with this soup, all the elders in our family would then sit on the floor of our living room to receive their sae-bae bows from the young ones (their children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc.).  Sae-bae is a traditional Korean custom of bowing to one’s elder as a sign of respect. As the young ones, we would wish them good fortune in the coming year.  We (the young ones again) would usually line up in a row, and do a group sae-bae, as opposed to the embarrassing solo sae-bae, where it was all eyes on you.  But with all that embarrassment aside, what is rewarding about the sae-bae is the money you receive from your elders as a sign of good fortune and luck in the coming year. I used to place this money in my little red and gold hand-sewn pouch that came with my han-bok (traditional Korean garments). When I was little, I wasn’t fond of the han-bok material because of all the multiple layers and the different texture from my school clothes. But, the richness of all the different colors on the han-bok were very beautiful even to my little girl eyes.  At that time, I probably didn’t realize I was celebrating both my Korean and American heritage, however after 26 years or so, I now realize how special it was to do so.  Happy Lunar New Year!

Guest Blog by Sojin Kim, Curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The translation of traditions from one place to another is of course an imprecise process with its inevitable miscalculations, deprivations, and redundancies. In my family, birthdays are celebrated on days that are vague approximations of lunar calendar coordinates and in some cases downright fabricated dates. No matter, my mother says, in our tradition everyone turns a year older on the first day of the new year, an occasion that we often observe twice.

Korean duk (rice cake)

Left: My mother's version of duk mandu guk, a dish that Koreans typically enjoy to celebrate the new year. Right: Chewy rice cake (duk).

A few weeks ago on January 1, my family convened as usual for our New Year’s meal. We sat down at 10:30 am with glasses of champagne and steaming bowls of duk mandu guk. This year, my mom’s version included both the flat chewy rice cakes and meat dumplings, strips of fried egg and marinated beef, kimchi, and a few slices of Japanese shishito pepper (standing in for the green onions that she had forgotten to buy). The key ingredient is the duk (rice cake)—eating it on New Year’s, I’ve been assured, is good luck.

A meal from the food offered to the ancestors.

A meal from the food offered to the ancestors.

Later in the day, my family gathered around for a second, less formal meal. We heaped our plates with marinated ribs, sautéed vegetables, battered shrimp and fish, stuffed peppers, and more kimchi. This bounty, wrapped carefully in old takeout containers and aluminum foil, was delivered from an old family friend, who had prepared and offered the spread to the ancestors earlier in the day. Every year, we get their leftovers, and we feast for days on these, even as our own ancestors go hungry.

In a week or so, as the Lunar Year of the Dragon kicks off, my family will sit down again for duk mandu guk. We may or may not make it ourselves—very likely we’ll go to a restaurant. In either case, we figure, one can never have too much good luck.

Art, Korean American

Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway

Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995)

On July 20th, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) celebrated what would have been Nam June Paik‘s 79th birthday, as well as his piece, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii.

Nam June Paik (1932-2006)

Nam June Paik (1932-2006)

Considered to be the father of video art, Nam June Paik was a revolutionary in the field of contemporary art. Recognizing the importance of utilizing new technology as a medium for artistic expression, Paik began to create pieces using TV screens, film reels, neon lighting, and other high-tech outlets, effectively transforming the media and art world.  As stated by John Hanhardt of the Guggenheim Museum, “Paik’s work [had] a profound and sustained impact on the media culture of the late twentieth century.”1

While Superhighway is the only Paik piece at SAAM, he is also known for his other works such as TV Cello, TV Bra for Living Sculpture, Something Pacific, Positive Egg, and Ommah.  Paik is celebrated for his modern innovation and creativity.  He is remembered for his groundbreaking artistry.

Superhighway Cake

Superhighway Cake from the Eye Level Blog

The Nam June Paik event was held in the Watch This! Gallery of the museum. Featured lecturers included John Hanhardt (senior American Art curator for media arts) and artist Jim Campbell, who discussed the compositional significance of the Superhighway.  The party continued in the Luce Foundation Center, with a large sheet cake adorned with the printed image of the Superhighway.

At the reception, staff members were able to reconnect with Paik’s nephew, Ken Hakuta Paik, who flew in from New York.  Since the death of his uncle in 2006, Ken has been the one in charge of Nam June Paiks’ affairs as well as the preservation of Paik’s legacy.

To learn more about Paik and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, please visit

Related Links:

1 Hanhardt, John.  Retrieved from

General APA, Intern Update, Korean American

Intern Update: Introducing Terry Park

Terry Park

Hi, my name is Terry Park, and I’m a PhD candidate in the Cultural Studies Graduate Group at the University of California, Davis.

As an intern at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, I am conducting historical research on my dissertation, Aliens at the Border: The Korean Demilitarized Zone and the Asian/American Enemy. My dissertation explores the transnational relationship between the “last Cold War frontier” of the Korean DMZ and the “racial frontier” of Asian America, looking at the ways in which a Cold War discourse of containment, an environmental discourse of preservation, and a neo-liberal discourse of productivity reverberate within and between these two racialized spaces.

For my research, I have taken advantage of the wealth of resources in the DC metropolitan area—from the Asian Reading Room in the Library of Congress, to the military records in the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland, to the exhibitions, archives, and experts throughout the Smithsonian Institution. I have also assisted with various activities at the APAP, such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Asian Pacific Americans program and the National Portrait Gallery’s Portraiture Now focus on Asian Pacific America. I’m really happy and honored to be a part of such an amazing, dedicated, and lively staff.

Academic, Art, Chinese American, Crafts, Event, Family, Filipino American, Folklife Festival, General APA, Hawaiian, History, Indian American, Japanese American, Korean American, Lecture, Performance, Social, South Asian, Vietnamese American

Smithsonian Folklife Festival to begin, wood sculpture welcomes visitors

The stage is waiting for you

As the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival quickly approaches, the National Mall in Washington, DC resonates with the sounds of hammers on wood as workers prepare the stages, tents, and other physical structures that will house the myriad participants teaching mall visitors about everything from the culture and history of Mexico to the foodways and community experiences of Asian Pacific Americans today to how exhibitions at the Smithsonian are put together.

Wooden sculpture by Foon Sham

Standing under the over 90-degree (maybe even 100-degree) heat, quietly waiting for the festival to start, a structure of wooden panels seem particularly welcoming in a grassy area under the trees. Upon closer inspection, names and words of greeting in at least four or five different languages are beginning to fill this signature wall.

Designed by Foon Sham, professor of fine arts at the University of Maryland, College Park, this wooden sculpture resembles a giant guest book. Visitors and passers-by of the National Mall over the course of the Folklife Festival are asked to sign it with their names and contribute one-word descriptions of themselves or their professions.

Wooden sculpture by Foon Sham

The presence of the wooden sculptures symbolizes a welcoming to visitors of all backgrounds. This is significant because such a welcome was not always the case for Asian Pacific Americans—both native-born Americans and more recent immigrants—as can be seen in the various exclusion acts in U.S. history. Signing the sculpture along its vertical panels reminds us that, in context of a globalizing world, languages are not always written horizontally from left to right. Specifically, it reminds us of the several Asian languages written vertically. While the signatures on the wood will fade over time (as purposefully designed), the memories created at the Festival will not disappear but will affect us and our global relations for years to come.

Foon Sham is also the artist of The Glory of the Chinese Descendents, a wall sculpture at the Chinatown-Gallery Place metro station leading into Chinatown in Washington, DC.

Be sure to come visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which runs June 24-28 and July 1-5, 2010, everyday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the Mall with evening events throughout the greater DC area after 5:30 p.m.

Check the Folklife Festival website for the full schedule and more details.

Academic, Event, Korean American

Bridges to America: Korean Adoption from the Mid-20th Century to the Present

The National Museum of American History presents:

Bridges to America

Meet Our Museum with curators Nancy Davis and Noriko Sanefuji

As the exhibition Barriers to Bridges explains, many Asians have entered the United States as adoptees. Curators Nancy Davis and Noriko Sanefuji compare the changing means of adoption and cultural practices as exemplified by the hanboks (traditional dress) worn by Betty Rhee Holt when she arrived in 1955 and by the one worn by Julia Ha-Yeong Bosch in 2003.

Thursday, June 4, 2009, 12 – 12:30 p.m.
Flag Hall, second floor center
National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Smithsonian (Orange or Blue lines)
Art, Crafts, Event, Korean American, Performance

The Art of the Korean Hanbok

The Art of the Korean Hanbok

The Asian Cultural History Program of the National Museum of Natural History, together with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, presented the 2007 Smithsonian Korean American Day Celebration Day featuring a fashion show of Korean hanbok, the traditional costume of Korea.

Saturday, January 13, 2007, 6:00 p.m.
Baird Auditorium
National Museum of Natural History
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW

Designer Soon-Hwa Lee’s creations were on display.

Standing-room only crowds filled Baird Auditorium to view the colorful designs, then celebrated in the Rotunda at the reception following the program.

Event, Korean American, Performance

Tracings: A Korean American Dance Journey. Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company


Critically acclaimed Asian American modern dance company, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, celebrated its 10th anniversary with performances of Tracings, a dance journey inspired by the personal stories of Burgess’ family members who immigrated to Hawai‘i from Korea in 1903.

Friday, November 5, 2004, 8:00 p.m.
Lincoln Theater
1215 U St., NW
Washington, DC

Burgess says, “My family’s experiences on the Hawaiian Del Monte Plantation included the remorse of being cut off from Korea and the harsh realities of life on the plantation at the turn of the century, and yet with these experiences a deep belief in filial loyalty and community loyalty endured.”

The Washington Post writes, “Tracings is the delicate fruit of a decade of dance.” Tracings included an inter-generational cast, featuring Burgess’ mother, Anna Kang Burgess.

The performance was made possible by State Farm Insurance and was jointly commissioned by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.