Koreans mark century of migration with tree – QNS.com

Koreans mark century of migration with tree

By Alexander Dworkowitz

The Queens Botanical Garden is full of trees memorializing the lives of the residents who surround the institution.

One tree is dedicated to the victims of the Wendy's massacre, which occurred just blocks away on Main Street. Others mark the memory of Queens residents who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, while another honors the late Saul Weprin, one of the borough's most respected political leaders.

On Friday, officials at the garden and leading members of the borough's Korean community gathered to dedicate a tree, not in memory of the lost but in honor of an entire culture.

The Council of Korean American Associations of Greater New York has adopted an oak tree at the garden in honor of the 100th anniversary of Korean immigration to the United States.

“It's a symbol of the growing community,” said Kwangsik Kim, one of the leading members of the Council.

In January 1903, the first Korean immigrants came to what is now the United States. The boat SS Gaelic arrived in Honolulu, bearing about 100 Koreans to work at the island's sugar plantations. In the following years, thousands traveled from Korea to Hawaii and the U.S. mainland in search of work.

Korean immigration to the United States accelerated with the Korean War of the 1950s. In 1965, Congress adopted the Immigration Act, which abolished discriminatory quotas for immigration and opened the door for more newcomers from Asia.

Today Flushing, where the garden is located, is home to one of the country's largest concentrations of Korean Americans.

Kim noted the garden, which was founded in 1948, was established shortly before Koreans began arriving in the metropolitan area in large numbers.

“Korean Americans have been in New York for about 45 years, the same age as the botanical garden,” he said.

A plaque was unveiled Friday at the base of the full-grown oak tree that says: “Adopted by the Council of the Korean Associations of Greater New York in Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Korean Immigration to the United States.”

The council made a donation to the garden of $3,000 for the adoption of the tree.

Susan Lacerte, executive director of the garden, said the oak tree was an appropriate choice for the council.

“Oaks are symbols of strength,” she said. “They're strong and they soar.”

Out of the 300,000 annual visitors to the garden, about 15,000 are Korean Americans, according to a survey taken last year.

Several Korean groups use the garden. The non-profit Korean Community Service of Metropolitan New York brings volunteers to help plant at the garden and a Korean beauty school uses the garden's auditorium for its graduation ceremonies.

“Taking part in an institution like us, for new immigrants it demonstrates their commitment to America,” Lacerte said.

The words for “trust” and “tree” are very similar in the Korean language, Kim said.

The tree, which is named new hope, is meant to symbolize both the 100 years of Korean immigration as well as the future of the community, Kim said.

“It's for evidence, for our history, to show Korean Americans are here.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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