By Sam Brief, Medill, Immigrant Connect
When he observes Korean-American neighborhoods in his hometown of Los Angeles, Joseph Kim is not pleased.
“I have never seen the Korean-American community in such bad shape in my life,” says Kim, a database services manager. “I see this firsthand. Small businesses are going out of business. For the first time in my life, I see Korean-American homeless people. People are just desperate.”
Kim, a proud supporter of Donald Trump, attributes many of the struggles to the Obama Administration. Los Angeles is the American city with the highest number of Korean-Americans, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“The fact of the matter is, the last eight years under Obama have been very, very bad for the Korean-American community,” Kim says. “I know the Democrats have been saying that the economy is great, but I just don’t see that. And neither do most Korean-Americans.
“In my opinion, the American dream is dead. … Trump has come in and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to put America first. Not immigration first, not terrorists first, not some liberal agenda first.’ I’m going to put America first. People really bought into that, and I’m one of those people.”
According to the National Asian American Survey, Asian Americans are more than twice as likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans—and 70 percent of Korean-Americans identify as Democrats. Mainstream logic says that minorities are Democrats, and that minorities oppose the controversial Trump. But Kim represents a faction of Korean-Americans who staunchly support the President.
Before the 2016 Presidential election, Lisa Shin, a daughter of Korean immigrants, jumpstarted a group called “Korean-Americans for Trump,” which has a website and a private Facebook group consisting of Korean-Americans with similar pro-Trump views. Shin, who spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, proclaims that the group is a “minority within a minority,” but some fellow supporters don’t quite see it that way anymore.
“When you look at the demographics now, I would venture to say that the Korean community does very well in school, they do very well financially and they do pretty well in business,” says Tae Kim, a Korean-American attorney who immigrated from Korea to America in 1979. “If you look at their values—family first, education, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps—they almost entirely line up better with the Republican ideas and the Republican views. … Have I seen people actively against Trump? Not in the Korean community, no.”
Leading up to the 2016 election, immigration reigned supreme in many debates. According to Pew Research Center, 70 percent of voters labeled immigration as “very important” to them. But Tae Kim points to the pervasive discussion on unauthorized immigrants as frustrating for Korean-Americans.
“A lot of Korean immigrants who did it the right way, who came through the process the right way many years ago, resent all immigrants being lumped into the illegal immigrant debate,” Tae Kim says. “Why do the politicians want to have a discussion about immigration and not have a discussion about the success of legal immigrants?