Thursday, July 23, 2009

Consulate Official: "Nodutdol Is Kind Of A Pro-North Korean Group"

"In Search of a Delicate Balance, Koreans Clash Over an Antiwar Protest"
by Denny Lee
From New York Times, March 23, 2003

To hear some Koreans tell it, an Axis of Evil was forming in Chelsea two weeks ago.

The source of the fear was a group known as Nodutdol, which was planning an antiwar teach-in at the Korean American Association of Greater New York, a major community center on West 24th Street.

The group, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development -- nodutdol means ''steppingstone'' in Korean -- is a 50-member advocacy group in Woodside, Queens, that has been a vocal opponent of war in Iraq.

But although the group has met previously at the association's offices, this particular event provoked an outcry. This is in part because of the nuclear crisis in North Korea and the delicate issue it poses for Korean New Yorkers.

''Anti-U.S. Meeting at Korean American Association,'' read the headline on the front page of the Mar. 13 edition of The Korea Times, the city's largest Korean-language daily. The article, written by a reporter named Yongil Shin, created an uproar.

''These antiwar, anti-U.S. people were penetrating the mainstream of Korean culture,'' Mr. Shin said the other day. ''It would give the impression that the Korean American community, as a whole, supports such a movement.''

Members of Nodutdol, who are mostly younger, Western-educated activists who cut their teeth on progressive politics, tried to explain to the association's president that being antiwar was not necessarily the same as being anti-American. But it was too late.

The article led to a flood of angry calls to the center, including one from a representative of the South Korean consulate in New York, who suggested that Washington could misconstrue the meeting as a sign of hostility. ''Nodutdol is kind of a pro-North Korean group,'' said a consulate official, who insisted on anonymity.

Hours before the meeting was to take place, the center rescinded its invitation.

''That's typical McCarthyism and misplaced fear,'' said John Choe, 32, a founder of Nodutdol, which also provides social services to immigrants. ''People who have any kind of opposition to the U.S. military's policy are being marginalized as anti-American. It's censorship.''

While mainstream America may not equate antiwar protests with acts of treason, newer immigrant groups often do.

''Immigrant groups feel a great deal of pressure to display their loyalty to America,'' said Richard Alba, a distinguished professor of sociology at the State University at Albany. ''Community leaders, in the interest of the group, try to discourage dissent.''

And similar tensions have arisen in other Asian communities. ''For a lot of people-of-color immigrants, it is an expression of survival,'' said Sung E Bai, executive director for the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, a nonprofit group. ''They really want to be seen as part of the American identity.''

Andrew Kim, president of the Korean American Association, which represents 190 groups, said he regretted the controversy but felt that he had little choice.

''We got tons of calls,'' Mr. Kim said. ''I have no problem to lend them my space, if they are not doing anything anti-American. But everyone here is concerned about America and Korea. We don't want people to hate us. We are not fully Americanized yet.''

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