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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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One Book One Northwestern hosts Helen Cho for talk on Korean diaspora

Kelly Luo/The Daily Northwestern
Students enjoyed chicken skewers, broccoli and fried rice noodles while they worked on guided discussion prompts after the talk.

Asian American studies Prof. Helen Cho gave a talk in partnership with One Book One Northwestern in the Dittmar Gallery at Norris University Center Wednesday evening.

The talk, titled “Swept Up in the Korean Wave: Feeling and Belonging in the Korean Diaspora,” explores the navigation of Korean identity in an age of increased visibility for Korean culture in the media. Guests enjoyed chicken skewers, broccoli and fried rice noodles during the event.

Cho (Medill ’06) is a visiting assistant professor in the Asian American Studies program. Her research focuses on the role of digital media in shaping narratives of ethnic and racial identities.

“If you can’t speak Korean, are you no longer Korean?” Cho said. 

In her speech, she discussed many tensions in the Korean diaspora. Growing up Korean, Cho described the experience of Korean belonging as more “personal”. 

“Being Korean was something I did at home,” said Cho. “When I would go to school and do extracurriculars with friends, I didn’t feel very Korean.” 

History Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh, faculty chair of One Book One Northwestern, opened the event. Yuh was Cho’s professor when she was an undergraduate student at NU.

“She is among my first few years of students,” Yuh said in her introduction. “It’s really my particular honor and pleasure to introduce Helen Cho.”

Cho presented her research on the Korean diaspora and how the concept of belonging has shifted with the popularity of many aspects of Korean culture, including BTS and K-dramas.

“All of a sudden, there is visibility and people are making assumptions about what my identity means,” Cho said. 

She said she regards these newfound constraints as a nuanced side of increased visibility, which further fuels what she called tension in the Korean diaspora. 

The remainder of the event was a discussion dinner for all attendees. A handout provided discussion prompts, and guests were invited to share their own insights. 

“I’m not Korean, but I realized how the discussions relate to me because I consume Korean media and have similar experiences as an East Asian,” said One Book fellow and SESP sophomore Megan Lin. 

Lin described looking up to K-pop idols as a child due to a lack of Asian representation in the media. 

For Weinberg sophomore Courtney Kim, her identity as a first generation Korean American immigrant strongly resonated with the topics of discussion, she said. 

“The message that I took away is that we all as human beings need to be understood, and representation provides that,” Kim said.

Cho also walked around different dinner tables to participate in discussions. 

She said she was glad the attendees brought up how representation in media can have positive effects, but also can constrain perceptions.

“What struck me was that everyone was bringing in their lived experiences,” Cho said. “It tells me the things I’m thinking about are real, and others think about them too.” 

Cho will also moderate a film screening Thursday for “Liquor Store Dreams,” a film about Korean American children of immigrant parents, at The Block Museum of Art. 

“In certain spaces, discussions about identity are difficult and sometimes even stigmatized,” Kim said. “I’m glad that people in our school are willing to speak about how our identities impact who we are.”

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