When Martha Vickery adopted her Korean daughter back in 1990, she and her husband Steve Wunrow had no idea that they would one day become the voice of the Korean American community in Minnesota. Seventeen years later, the couple is celebrating the tenth anniversary of their brainchild, the Korean Quarterly, a St. Paul-based publication serving Koreans living in Minnesota and around the world.
Discussion of a newspaper began back in 1997 when the couple was attending the Korean Presbyterian Church of Minnesota. “After we started knowing families in the Korean community, we realized there were serious communication problems,” said Vickery. “The more I learned as an adoptive parent, the more I realized how important it is to teach your kids how to be a Korean American in this society and to pass it on.”
Vickery and Wunrow talked to Korean immigrants, second generation Koreans, Koreans in bi-racial marriages and adoptive families, and the newspaper slowly came to fruition. The publication, which now has a website and order information for Koreans living outside of Minnesota, is a completely volunteer operation, aside from a small stipend for Wunrow, who does most of the photography, and handles the business management and advertising. Most of the editorial content comes from Vickery and contributions from the community.
The Korean Quarterly has festivities planned for October 27 at Augsburg College to celebrate ten years of sharing stories and connecting the Korean American community in Minnesota. Augsburg chose to sponsor the Korean Quarterly event as part of its many outreach programs. The college has provided them with an events coordinator and the Christianson Center as the venue. “We’ve had two other celebrations and have had to pay for every single thing,” says Vickery, “this is the first time we’ve had a sponsor.”
Besides traditional Korean food and a silent auction featuring arts and crafts, the celebration will feature musical performances by internationally recognized artists. South Korean drummer Dong-Won Kim, a performer with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, will be a special guest. Joining Kim will be Twin Cities based mezzo-soprano Hyounsoo Sohn, Singer Karen Haechung Lyu of Global Jazz, the Chung Mi Korean Drum and Dance group and Shinparam, a multicultural drum group sponsored by the Korean Quarterly and the Korean Institute of Minnesota.
The anniversary also boasts three photo exhibits about Korean history and culture. In “G.I.s and the Kids—A Love Story,” George Drake and Al Zimmerman collaborated with the Korean War Children’s Memorial Foundation to produce a book and photo exhibit about orphans from the Korean War. “G.I.s and the Kids” tells the story of American service women and men who raised money for orphanages, medicine and clothing for the nearly 100,000 Korean children who were left behind after the war. The touring exhibit will eventually be housed in the Korean War Museum to be built in St. Louis, Missouri.
In addition, Korean Quarterly’s art director Kim Dalros will showcase Here, an oral history and photography project documenting the lives of Korean adoptees in Minnesota. A third exhibit, by photographer and Korean Quarterly co-founder Steve Wunrow, depicts the international adoption process in South Korea.
Phillip Lee, a first-generation Korean American, is the chair of the seven-member Korean Quarterly board and has been involved since its inception. “When we first met, there were seven or eight of us sitting in Martha and Steve’s living room,” says Lee. “Our goal was to publish one or two issues and have enough money to put out a final goodbye issue. Now we’re celebrating our tenth anniversary.”
The newspaper, he says, has been an “incredible labor of love” and has maintained its initial goal of telling the stories of Korean Americans, even after offers from outside buyers. “We’ve always rejected them so we can tell our own stories and do what we wanted,” says Lee.
There are approximately 13,000 Koreans living in Minnesota. The nonprofit Korean Quarterly is the only newspaper in English about and for the Korean community in Minnesota. Recently, they have extended into the Korean market in Chicago and in four countries.
While the newspaper originally focused on Korean adoptees, now Lee says it is a vehicle for sharing Korean culture with those outside the Korean community. “We have gone beyond just being a publication,” says Lee, “we’ve become almost like an outreach program.” The Korean Quarterly has sponsored different events over the years, and discussed key issues affecting the community.
During the anniversary celebration, Vickery plans to take time to honor the many contributors who have made the Korean Quarterly’s success possible over the past ten years. “I was completely surprised at how many there were,” says Vickery. Her vision for the future includes more web content, an online archive of the ten years of material that has been published in the Korean Quarterly and maintaining a firm foothold in Minnesota’s Korean American community.
“We don’t have any other publications like this here,” says Vickery, “we need to continue to be a presence in the community.”
Colette Davidson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis and the Associate Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News.