KOREANS. Korean immigration to Cleveland largely stems from the end of the KOREAN WAR. Some South Koreans left their homeland to escape the harsh aftermath of war, and others to escape the military regime that took over the government of South Korea. Some came to the U.S. for education, while others hoped to find economic prosperity. By 1960, however, only a handful of Koreans had made their way to Greater Cleveland. The local Korean community numbered about 50.

U.S. immigration policies did not readily admit Asian Americans until the 1970s. It was only then that their numbers began to increase significantly. The 1980 U.S. Census records 299 Koreans living in the City of Cleveland and a total of 1,241 living in Cuyahoga County. The 1990 census fixed the county population at 1,468. For the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area (the Greater Cleveland PMSA includes Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, Lorain, and Medina counties) the 1980 census recorded 2,105 Koreans, and in 1990 gave the count as 3,073. In addition to these resident Koreans, there are also about 400 students from South Korea who are currently attending the colleges and universities of northeast Ohio. The growth in the local Korean population is mostly accounted for by continued immigration. Again due to immigration policy, those Koreans coming to Cleveland represent a proportion of individuals with professional backgrounds not typical of the community at large. Chief among these are engineers and physicians.

Because the Koreans did not arrive together in Cleveland in large numbers, they did not tend to settle in a particular neighborhood as had their European predecessors. The Korean population is spread throughout the metropolitan area, and the great majority reside in the suburbs and in the surrounding counties rather than in the City of Cleveland itself. A central bond for the widespread community has been their churches. Almost entirely Christian, the local Korean population is about 80% Protestant and 20% Catholic. They support 6 churches in the Greater Cleveland area. There are 5 Protestant churches: First Korean, Cleveland Korean Presbyterian, Korean-American United Methodist, Korean Central Baptist, and Korean Central Presbyterian; and they also support one Catholic church, St. Andrew Kim (which is named after the first canonized Korean martyr). The churches not only provide congenial places for worship, but they also sponsor Sunday school programs that offer instruction in Korean culture and language.

The community also actively participates in the functions of its one major social organization, the KOREAN-AMERICAN ASSN. OF GREATER CLEVELAND, which was founded in 1966. It numbers some 5,000 members spread across a geographical area from Ashtabula on the east, to Sandusky on the west, to Mansfield on the south. The association provides many services. It publishes a bimonthly newsletter in both Korean and English for its members, which keeps them abreast of local happenings as well as offering commentary on topics of interest. Each year the association also sponsors some 21 events for the Korean community. The most important comes on 1 March, when the Koreans commemorate Independence Movement Day, that day in 1919 when organized resistance to Japanese hegemony over their homeland first arose. Recent gatherings have been held at the CLEVELAND STATE UNIV. Convocation Center. The formal part of the occasion centers around the reading of the original Declaration of Independence, followed by speeches on historical or cultural developments in their native country. A social follows the formal events.

On 15 August, the Koreans mark two other milestones in their nation's history. At the end of World War II in 1945, that date marked their liberation from Japanese rule. Three years later, in 1948, that same date marked the formal establishment of the Republic of South Korea. The third major event is the annual Cleveland-Korea Day, which usually takes place in October. It is a festival celebrating Korean art and culture.

By and large, the Korean population of Greater Cleveland has easily adapted to its new home. The Korean-Americans constitute both a prosperous and a professional community.

James Toman

Article Categories