Over the past few months, proponents of Korean culture and Chinese culture have been embroiled in tense disputes after China accused South Korea of “stealing” numerous Korean traditions, from kimchi to hanbok. Now, a group of Korean American high schoolers are fighting back by instating an official “Korean Hanbok Day” in a United States borough.
The Asian American Youth Council was initially founded by 18-year-old Brian Jon after his 9th-grade Spanish teacher made a racist remark: “I hate Koreans.” The incident led him to pioneer an organization that would embrace and represent all young people of Asian ethnicity in the United States. Across the country, over 50 youth activists lead the Asian American Youth Council in addressing race, gender, politics, and society.
And now, the youth council’s latest initiative is all about bringing traditional Korean culture to light. As of this week, the New York suburb and New Jersey borough of Tenafly has designated October 21 “Korean Hanbok Day”.
Beginning last year, many reports have surfaced from China accusing South Korea of stealing its own cultural heritage. Dubbing South Korea “Thief Country“, China has bizarrely alleged that hanbok, among other cultural assets, was originally Chinese. Naturally, numerous Koreans have been doing their best to fight back against the accusations, including high schoolers working with the Asian American Youth Council.
The council held an online discussion with its members and decided to make a stand to show that hanbok is part of Korean culture. After the council wrote letters to politicians around the U.S. East Coast, Mayor Mark Zinna of Tenafly accepted their petition. This week, the proclamation ceremony for “Korean Hanbok Day” was held, with Mayor Zinna himself wearing hanbok for the occasion.
According to reports, this marks the first time a “Hanbok Day” has been designated outside of Korea. Instated in 1996, Korea’s “Hanbok Day” also falls on October 21 each year. In order to fight back against claims that hanbok isn’t Korean, the youth council made sure to name the U.S. event “Korean Hanbok Day”.
Ultimately, the Asian American Youth Council hopes that by promoting “Korean Hanbok Day”, U.S. authorities will provide a strong basis for Koreans to refute China’s false claims. The council members say they will continue to promote “Korean Hanbok Day” to other U.S. cities in the hopes that they’ll adopt it too.