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Korean American Day – January 13 – History, Celebrations & More!

It’s time to celebrate Korean American Day, observed annually on January 13th! This national day commemorates the anniversary of the first Korean immigrants to United States and honors the vital contributions Korean Americans have made to the country.

This January 13 national day is a great time to celebrate Korean culture, learn the history of Korean immigrants, and celebrate the ways Korean Americans have impacted the United States.

Keep reading for a list of ways to celebrate Korean American Day through amplifying Korean American voices and stories, and learning more about this national day.

National days like Korean American Day are a fun and important way to celebrate a variety of topics. Be sure to check out this national days guide for more information about the history of national days, why we celebrate them.

A Korean flag and a flag of the United States overlapping in a square next to the text "Korean American Day, January 13" to mark this January 13 national day all inside a red and blue border.

A brief history of Korean immigration to America

Since part of celebrating Korean American Day is observing the anniversary of the first Korean immigrants, it’s helpful to understand the history of Korean immigration to America.

Though the United States and Korea have had diplomatic relations since 1882, the first Korean immigrants didn’t arrive in the United States until January 13, 1903.

These 102 Korean immigrants arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii to work in pineapple and sugarcane plantations. Between the years of 1903-1924, more than 7,226 Koreans came to Hawaii.

In addition to sugarcane workers, there were also a significant number of picture brides (1,115) that came from Korea to the United States. 

A South Korean flag and a US flag on two poles, crossed, to illustrate the history of Korean immigration to America.

Korean immigration to the United States was halted in 1924 with the The Johnson-Reed Act. This put quotas to drastically limit immigrants allowed to the United States, and prohibited any immigration from Asia.

In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan and was under Japanese rule until World War II ended in 1945. During this time, the Empire of Japan used assimilation tactics to try to erase Korean culture.

After World War II, and the liberation from Japanese rule, the Korean peninsula was divided. In 1950, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea), starting the Korean War

The second wave of Korean immigrants came to the United States after World War II, and during the Korean War. This wave of Korean immigrants contained over 6,000 Korean War brides, and many Korean War orphans

When the War Bride’s Act of 1945 was passed, it allowed wives of G.I. soldiers and their children to come to United States even with the current immigration restrictions.

Then, several years later, in 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act removed the ban on Asian immigration.

The third wave of Korean immigrants came in 1965 when the Hart-Celler Act removed immigration quotas put in place by previous legislature, and established new immigration policies.

Today, the largest population of the Korean diaspora lives in the United States.

Within the United States, the largest Korean American community resides in Los Angeles County, California. Nearly half of the Korean American population live in three states: 30% in California, 8% in New York and 7% in New Jersey.

History of Korean American Day

With Korean Americans holding such an important role in the history of the United States, it’s only fitting that there’s a day to celebrate Korean Americans.

In 2003, on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Korean immigrants, George W. Bush issued a presidential proclamation that the day be recognized as The Centennial of Korean Immigration to the United States.

The words Korean American Day, January 13 under two circles, the circle on the left has the flag of the United States, and the circle on the right has the flag of Korea.

The proclamation was set forth to honor Korean American achievements in all fields, and acknowledge “their important role in building, defending, and sustaining the United States of America”.

Then, two years later, in 2005, both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed resolutions to encourage observing Korean American Day on January 13th.

The resolutions (S.Res.283, H.Res.487), both passed with unanimous approval through congress.

The resolutions encourage honoring the contributions Korean Americans have made to the United States, supporting the goals and ideals of Korean American Day and celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of the first Korean immigrants through appropriate ceremonies, programs and activities.

Honoring a few Korean Americans

Korean Americans have made innumerable contributions to the United States in every industry.

These industries include but not limited to: politics, athletics, business, activism, medicine, art, academia, entertainment, journalism, music, culinary arts, military, science, religion, technology and more!

The list below honors a few Korean Americans, but in no way is a comprehensive list of all the amazing Korean Americans who have helped shape the history of the United States through their achievements.

A butterfly with the pattern of the flag of the United States next to a butterfly with the pattern of the flag of Korea on its wings to celebrate Korean American Day.

  • Samuel (Sammy) Lee was the first Asian American man to win a gold medal in the Olympics (1948, London). In the next Olympic games (1952, Helsinki) he won another gold medal, becoming the first man to win consecutive gold medals for Olympic platform diving. In addition to his two Olympic gold medals, he also won an Olympic bronze medal (1948, London) and two medals for diving in the Pan American Games.
  • Hines Edward Ward Jr. was a wide receiver for the Pittsburg Steelers, in the NFL. He played from 1998-2011, and during his time with the Pittsburg Steelers, the team won two Super Bowls (XL 2006, XLIII 2009). Ward even earned Super Bowl MVP in 2006 Super Bowl XL game.
  • Jay Kim was the first Korean American to be elected to the United States congress. He represented California’s 41st district in the United States House of Representatives.
  • Herbert Young Cho Choy was the first Asian American man to serve as a federal judge for the United States. He was a judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1971-2004.
  • David Hyun was an architect known for revitalizing the neighborhood known as Little Tokyo, in Downtown Los Angeles, with his designs of the Japanese Village Plaza and Yagura Fire Tower (1978).
  • Emma Broyles was the first Korean American to win the Miss America pageant in 2022. She represented her home state of Alaska, giving the state its first ever Miss America title. 
  • Jim Lee is a world famous comic book artist, writer, editor and publisher. He’s created art for both Marvel and DC comics, and currently serves as the Chief Creative Officer of DC and publisher for the company.
  • Kristen Kish won season 10 of the reality television cooking competition, Top Chef. She was the second woman and first Korean American woman to win the show. After winning, she opened her own restaurant (Arlo Grey), published a cookbook (Kristin Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques), and became a host for several food-related television shows.
  • Larry Kwak made Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2010 for his work of 20 years as a cancer researcher, focusing on immunology and cancer vaccines. He has earned multiple awards including the Ho-Am Prize in Medicine.

If you’d like to learn about more Korean Americans who have made outstanding contributions in their field of expertise, this list is a good (though not comprehensive) place to start.

Ways to celebrate Korean American Day

Now that you know a little about Korean American Day, it’s time to celebrate! There are so many ways you can honor Korean Americans, today and every day.

The first way to honor Korean Americans is to listen to and learn from their stories.

A great way to do that is through Korean American Story’s Legacy Project. The aim of of the project is to preserve this stories and history of Korean Americans through video recordings.

The Legacy Project’s library of videos contains over 280 submissions, which are free to view! This project is ongoing and Korean Americans who want to participate can submit a request to schedule a recording.

A blue background with white and red paint swirls in a circle surrounding the words "Korean American Day" which are under a flag of the USA and South Korea.

It is also a great time to attend events celebrating Korean American Day. The Korean Economic Institute of America in Washington, DC, holds a yearly event on January 13th to celebrate the day and honor Korean Americans who have made contributions of importance to their field.

This event is live-streamed on Youtube, so you can attend from anywhere in the United States. You can also visit the Korean Economic Institute of America’s website to view interviews of past honorees from previous years.

You can also read non-fiction books written by Korean American authors like Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong (a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general nonfiction) and Memoir of a Cashier: Korean Americans, Racism, and Riots by Carol Park.

There are also many documentary films you can watch that discuss the Korean and Korean American experience. 

You can support Korean Americans in your community by shopping from local Korean American owned businesses. You can also support Korean American businesses through shopping online, too.

Today would be an excellent opportunity to visit a museum like the Museum of Korean American Heritage in New York. If you’re not local to NY, you can research museums and cultural centers in your area to see if there are Korean exhibits currently on display.

If you’d like to attend a festival celebrating Korean culture, make a plan to visit the Korean Festival in Hawaii (this festival usually occurs in August).

Another way to support Korean Americans is to share information about this day with your friends and family on social media. What have you learned today that you can pass on to others?

Share this post about Korean American Day with your friends on twitter:

Spread the word about Korean American Day with this tweet: 

Korean American Day is on January 13th. Head to Always the Holidays to learn the history of the day and ways to celebrate! 🇰🇷🇺🇸 #KoreanAmericanDay Click To Tweet

More January 13 national days

Did you enjoy learning about Korean American Day? Well you’re in luck, January 13 is host to more than just one national day! 

A calendar page that reads "Jan 13" to mark the January 13 national days.

Here is a complete list of all the January 13 national days:

  • Korean American Day
  • National Sticker Day
  • National Rubber Ducky Day
  • National Peach Melba Day
  • National Stephen Foster Memorial Day
  • Gluten Free Day
  • Public Radio Broadcasting Day
  • Make Your Dream Come True Day

If you’ve enjoyed learning the history of Korean American Day, make sure to check out our other history and trivia posts.

More national days in January

There are close to 2000 national days in the year and over 150 of them are celebrated in January.

To see them all, have a look at this post to discover more about the national days in January. Do you like puzzles? If so, be sure to also check out the January word search printable which feature many of the national days hidden in a word find puzzle. 

The word January in capital letters surrounded by confetti of various colors.

Is food your thing? Each day of the month has a food or drink associated with it, too. You’ll find all the January food holidays here.

Be sure to also check out these national days in January:

Pin this post on Korean American Day for later

Would you like a reminder of this post for Korean American Day? Just pin this image to one of your trivia boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

A South Korean flag and United States flag joined by a heart at the top of the image and bottom of the image, with the words "Korean American Day January 13" in the middle.

Jess author photoAbout the author

Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.

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