In July, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and his wife Yumi welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-In at a presidential luncheon hosted by the South Korean Embassy with a greeting in fluent Korean. They were the only American couple invited to the event.
Governor Hogan and his wife Yumi — the first Korean American first lady of any US state — have encouraged Marylanders to build strong ties with Korean communities in the state. In 2016, Governor Hogan declared January 13 as Korean-American day, commemorating the day that the first Korean Immigrants arrived in the United States in 1903. Also, he proclaimed April 5 as Taekwondo day in Maryland — a day for the Korean traditional martial art — and hosted the first Maryland Governor’s Cup Taekwondo Championship in March 2017.
Korean communities have significantly contributed to Maryland’s economic development and cultural diversity. A Korean shopping center, Lotte Plaza Market, has revitalized the area along Route 40 in Ellicott City, which struggled with a depressed local economy about 10 years ago. In December 2016, state officials designated a five-mile stretch on Route 40 as Korean Way, recognizing Korean contributions to the local economy. This year, Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt became the state’s first public school providing Korean courses, after a years-long effort by the school’s principal, the South Korean Embassy, and Bob Huh — the Korean teacher at the school.
Last year, Maryland exported $233.4 million in goods to South Korea, with the state’s top 3 trade items being chemicals, minerals, and computer and electronic products. In 2015, Maryland signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Gyeonggi Province in South Korea to increase business and innovation. In 2016, the state announced the signing of a Letter of Intent between two Korean energy firms — The Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and LS Industrial System (LSIS) — and Montgomery College to build an eco-friendly micro grid on the school’s Germantown campus.
Every Lunar New Year, many Asian-Americans in Maryland wear their own traditional clothes and gather at the Government House in Annapolis for an Annual Asian Lunar New Year Celebration hosted by Governor Hogan and the First Lady. The passion and dedicated efforts by the first couple of Maryland lead the state’s stronger relationship not only with South Korea, but also with other Asian countries, enriching the state’s culture and economy.
Yeo-Ri Kim is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a Master's candidate in Global Policy Studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas.