Houston’s new Korean-American community group stands up for all immigrants

Woori Juntos is a new organization defending American Koreans in Houston, who face issues of access to languages ​​and limited community representation.

Its founder, Korean-American organizer Hyunja Norman, says it’s easy for Houston’s relatively small Korean-American community to be eclipsed by other nationalities with larger populations, like immigrants from Mexico, the ‘India and Vietnam.

An estimated 1.6 million immigrants live in greater Houston; only 14,000 of them are Korean immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Norman calls Woori Juntos – which is financially supported by the progressive National Korean American Service and Education Consortium – a “community group defending (for) our own place in America.”

From his office inside the Korean Community Center, Norman wears a blue t-shirt that reads “Citizenship for All”. Her hair is cut close to her head – it hasn’t had a chance to grow since she shaved her hair at a citizenship protest in Washington DC

Norman is not new to community work. About seven years ago, she said she started registering Korean voters through her church. She is president of the Korean American Voters League and has fought to improve access to languages ​​in Harris County for Korean voters.

Now Norman seeks to build on his community work and advocate for policies that would benefit Koreans in Houston and immigrants of other cultural backgrounds.

Norman chose the group’s name – Woori Juntos – to include the large Latino population who live near their headquarters in the Spring Branch neighborhood. “Woori” means “us” in Korean, while “Juntos” means “together” in Spanish.

Norman has previously involved the small group active in multiple protests defending immigrant rights across racial and ethnic lines.

At a rally in October, Norman played “buk”, a Korean drum, while marching with other predominantly Latin American organizations like FIEL, CRECEN and United We Dream to push Democrats to support a path to peace. citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants to the United States through budget reconciliation.

“Without the help of immigrants, we cannot build back better,” Norman said, highlighting the contributions to the work of undocumented immigrants from all backgrounds. She said she had come to know many undocumented Koreans through her community work, who would benefit from immigration reform.

“Woori Juntos is important because he seeks to make Korean Americans more politically visible,” said Board member Dona Kim Murphey.

“With around 10-20% of undocumented Korean Americans in this country, with laws like SB 1 specifically targeting our experiences as fluent voters in English and with a redistribution to dilute our votes, we need to protect our fundamental rights. . If we don’t do it, no one else will, ”she said.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 5,700 undocumented Koreans living in the United States are protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era protection for people brought illegally while in transit. they were children.

Another 32,000 Koreans are eligible for DACA, but will not be able to access protections because the government has been prevented from granting protections to new applicants due to a ruling by Texas federal judge Andrew Hanen.

Hyunja Norman sees citizenship advocacy as an extension of the work she has done to promote the vote among Korean-Americans.

“To be American means to vote,” said Norman, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1990.

But speaking out in favor of progressive immigration policies has its drawbacks in its community work.

“Citizenship for All” is not welcomed by a population it works closely with – first-generation Korean seniors, who tend to support Republican candidates.

“Seniors, older generation, first generation – they’re very conservative,” Norman said, “That’s my dilemma. “

She recognizes the irony she often registers and leads voters to the polls who can vote for candidates who oppose immigration reform.

She also translates candidate information from any political party into Korean for posters and local media so the community can decide for themselves who to vote for.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “I want to help our people get the vote.”

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