Each Sunday night in May, NBC4 is celebrating Asian American heritage month with special Life Connected segments devoted to highlighting Asian Americans that have had an impact on the community.
We begin the month by highlighting a family that helped lay the foundation of the Korean community in Southern California and has also been honored by the president of South Korea.
One man traveled across the world to Seoul to connect with his ancestors, but he would also end up connecting with the Korean community they helped craft in Los Angeles.
Near USC, a walking tour takes Colin Kim through the history of his great-grandparents, who were pioneers from Korea and arrived in Los Angeles over a century ago.
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"Were living in a time on our planet when we don't have to look far to see the hardships of immigrants and refugees," Kim says. "It's interesting that people will often villainize refugees as less than human when to be a refugee and to seek a better life is the most honorable thing a human being can do."
Kim's great-grandparents arrived in Los Angeles escaping occupation.
"There were only 150 Koreans in Los Angeles [at the time], and now, Los Angeles houses the second biggest Korean population on the planet with over 250,000 Korean residents," said Kim.
At the invitation of the South Korean government, Kim and his brother traveled to Seoul to honor his great-grandfather, Kim Sung Kwon, and his great-grandmother Sarah Kim.
Kim was about to connect with them in ways he never expected.
"Growing up, we had many photos of my grandparents, but never put the dots together of who they were," Kim says. "It was really powerful moments on that trip connecting those dots, who my grandparents were in the line of Korean democracy and independence."
Even when they were living in the United States in the early 1900s, Kim's great-grandparents continued to fight to end the occupation of their homeland by Japan.
Sarah Kim founded the Korean women's organization in California, raising money for the independence effort while her husband was president of the Young Korean Academy instilling values that still inspire Kim to this day.
"The ethics and bylaws of the Young Korean Academy were to have self-discipline with your personality," Kim says. "To have self-discipline with who you associate with and the third is to be honorable and trustworthy in everything you do."
"That, I believe is the cornerstone of the Korean people--to seek truth and then to act courageously on that truth," Kim continues.
Eventually, the remains of his great-grandparents returned to Korea from a Glendale cemetery in a repatriation ceremony. The South Korean government says the remains of roughly 130 independence fighters have been returned to the country since Korea's liberation in 1945.
"We knew of our family's history, but we didn't know the hardships they had to overcome," Kim says.
Their hardships and their achievements earned the "Kim's of LA" an introduction to the president of South Korea. Though Kim has never met his great-grandparents, he says they are close to his heart.
"I am so proud to be a Korean American and represent my heritage," Kim says.
The walking tour that starts near USC, continues at Wilshire and Western at the Alfred Song metro station.
"Alfred H. Song was my grandmother's cousin," Kim shares proudly. "The first Korean American to be accepted to the California state bar and not only the first Korean but the first Asian to serve in the California State Legislature."
Kim, a popular spin and yoga instructor, says he is grateful for life in LA and grateful to the relatives who came with the courage to call it home.
"That could only have happened through the selfless service of all the people who came before," Kim says.