Category Archives: SANACS Digest

Kim Bok-Dong on “Comfort Women”

Kim Bok-Dong. Photo Credit: Wiesenthal Center

Kim Bok-Dong. Photo Credit: Wiesenthal Center

On Monday, July 29th, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is hosting human rights activist, Kim Bok-Dong at the Museum of Tolerance. The 87-year-old Kim is one of the few surviving Korean “comfort women”: women and girls forced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during World War II. Her story delineates a harrowing experience of countless sexual assaults beginning at the age of 14. Exacerbating the pain of her experience is years of shame and secrecy in her personal life alongside denial and avoidance from the Japanese government.

Kim’s talk will cover the history of these atrocities and the ongoing struggle to deliver historical accuracy and justice for the over 200,000 victims of these crimes. Her voice is especially pertinent now in light of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto recent public statements defending the practice of forced sexual slavery in wartime.

Kim’s effort to advocate for herself and other victims is, in part, driven by the fact that very few survivors remain. Kim’s hope is to see to it that “the Japanese government resolves the problem as soon as possible while we elderly women are still alive.” Meanwhile, some suspect the Japanese government is hoping that, as the victims die off, the issue will also be forgotten.

However, as described by psychologist Miyoung Yoon Hammer, an intergenerational transmission process occurs within families and cultures, making traumas of one generation pertinent to the next. Yoon Hammer comments that: “Legacies are transmitted from one generation to the next. Legacies are not always explicitly passed down, but instead can be done at an unconscious level.”


There is no charge to attend the Kim Bok-Dong event, but RSVPs are required. RESERVE YOUR TICKETS HERE.

Read more about Kim Bok-Dong and the Comfort Women issue at AP: The Big Story.

Rev. Daniel Cho Responds to Asiana 214 Crash

Rev. Daniel Cho. Photo Credit: UMC

Rev. Daniel Cho. Photo Credit: UMC

United Methodist Minister Daniel Cho responds to the tragic Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. Speaking as a Korean American, Rev. Cho expresses the shared hurt that some Koreans and Korean Americans are experiencing in the wake of this tragedy. “There’s a communal sense of — the word is called Han, a sense of pain that we can’t do anything about,” says the Rev.  Cho. “We do feel that pain.”

Andrew Sung Park discusses the concept of Han in his article “Healing the Wound of Asian American Christian Families in the Context of Confucianism and Christianity.” Dr. Park’s article reflects on the nature of suffering shared by members of Korean culture. He describes Han as, “a wound caused by personal or structural dimensions of society, culture, and tradition.”

More at CBS News.

From Cover Ups to First Responders

KorAm Journal reports on KFAM’s Domestic Violence Conference 

Domestic Violence has long been a scourge of the Korean American community. KorAm Journal reports that 80% of all Asian domestic violence cases in Los Angeles involve Korean Americans. Also, in a 2000 study, Shimtuh found  42% of those surveyed report knowing another Korean woman who was being or had been abused at the hands of her partner.

Sadly, Korean American churches have a reputation as havens for spousal abusers. The church’s response has too often taken the form of telling female abuse victims, “This is your test from God, this is your cross to bear.” Or mistaking forgiveness for a call to cover-up, taking on an attitude of “Let’s not talk about it, let’s forget it.” [1]


K. Samuel Lee. Photo Credit: KorAm Journal

The good news is that the tide is shifting. Korean American leaders in the community and the church are working to change old patterns of abuse and cover-up, turning former enablers into effective first responders. KFAM’s Domestic Violence Conference, led by Dr. K. Samuel Lee worked to promote a new attitude among Korean American clergy to “be a sanctuary for victims… to be a place of helping, healing and hope.”

Dr. Andrew Sung Park also addresses the problem of DV in Asian American Christianity in his SANACS Journal Article “Healing the Wound of Asian American Families in the Context of Confucianism and Christianity.” Dr. Park’s article spells out an integrated response to the issues of sexism, suicide, child abuse and domestic violence.


[1] Quotes taken from Dr. K. Samuel Lee’s presentation at KFAM conference.

In Karmic Tones

Comments on Miyoung Yoon Hammer’s “Psychological Homelessness: Healing Intergenerational Wounds.” Dr. Yoon Hammer’s article can be found in SANACS Journal #4

Things happen to us. These things make us who we are today. And things have happened before we were born, in our parents’ lives and our grandparents’ lives. Stuff maybe no one even remembers, and yet also making us who we are today.

Dr. Miyoung Yoon Hammer is a psychologist. She looks at life as a psychologist would, seeing people as more than distinct and discreet units, but as a part of bigger things. So our troubles and experiences are not just because of who we are. But who we are is of all our troubles and experiences.

Stories and Systems

An example: as a young man, I had a habit of compulsively wrecking cars. I’ve lost count, but in my first 15 years of driving, I must have been the cause of 3-dozen accidents. [*] Was I just an awful driver, careless and dumb? Or were things going on in my “systems” pushing me to drive too fast, too close, too tight?

The technical term for what we’re describing is “systems theory.” And a systems approach is a beautiful thing. It’s realistic and thorough. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that we’re all active participants in our environment, impacting and being impacted by what’s around us. [1]

Miyoung seems most interested in the systems between generations. How the events of prior generations persist in impacting the present generation, even after those events are forgotten.

In my example, my father died in a car wreck when I was very young. The details surrounding the accident are vague and rarely talked about, except every once in a while, at a bar, with someone who used to know my dad back-in-the-day. And even then it’s confusing: what a great person he was, but what an awful lot of trouble he had gotten himself into.

Miyoung talks about her father too. As a 10-year-old boy, he escaped communist North Korea, leaving his family home in hopes of waiting out the war. He never made it back, and instead immigrated to the other side of the world to start a family. And the cost of that choice was high. He left a seminary position in Korea to work in a factory in Canada. A time Miyoung describes as “demoralizing.” And her mother toiled under a similar burden, embracing an ambitious resolve to leave her family behind to pursue greater professional goals. Later, Miyoung would make a similar decision to leave her family home and pursue an education on the other side of the country. Her mother’s response was, “Well, I left my mother so I guess it’s fate that you are leaving me.”

Miyoung describes these heart-wrenching stories as steeped in the “two themes of loss and resilience,” themes that impact her present day choices, experiences and relationships. She goes on to talk about the tension between loss and resilience plays out in her life. In the tension she feels navigating her different worlds: Korean – American – Seventh Day Adventist. This tension is summarized in her marriage a non-Korean man from a different religion. A choice that crushed her parents’ “hopes and dreams for putting down deeps roots for their family in America.”

Generational Karma

Miyoung gives a heartfelt account of an experience that I’ll call, for lack of a better term, generational karma.

In my cursory understanding of Buddhist theology, karma is the enactment of the Law of Cause and Effect. Meaning, simply, that whatever happens makes something else happen, and those “something else happens” are connected to the initial “whatever happens.” I drop a vase; my karma is a broken vase. I plant an apple tree; my karma is apples.

In Miyoung’s story, parents from one generation are seeing the effects of their causes played out in their daughter’s life. Only what they’re seeing is not what they’ve hoped and planned for. But more simply the natural effects of their actions. So Miyoung’s parents pioneer a trail of leaving home (literally and symbolically) to forge a new life. And Miyoung herself leaves home and forges new a life.

An apple tree is planted and apples are gotten.

In my story, the turns of a father keep rippling into his son’s life. A vase is dropped and a vase is broken.


There is another aspect to systems theory, what I’d call equilibrium. In a family, it’s the idea that the assembly of people in the family attempts to balance itself. So family members are pushed into playing different roles. For example: a blamer, a distractor, a computer, a leveler, and a placator. [2] And, once a system is in equilibrium, it tends to stay that way.

Thinking about Miyoung’s intergenerational stories, I wonder how families seek out and maintain equilibrium through generations, playing out a back-and-forth across the ages, having an elder drop out of a role as a descendent fills it in. There’s a harmony in these shifts. A grandfather is a carpenter; his son is a poet; his grandson is a carpenter. Reminds me of the old idiom, “Talent skips a generation.” Or the Rilke poem, “Sometimes a Man Stands Up During Supper.” [3]

But in many of our stories, we’ve seen a generation of massive disruption throwing family equilibrium into chaos. Miyoung talks about it in the trauma of uprooting and transplanting plants, the trauma of immigration, disturbing a natural pattern. So now, instead of a family smoothly balancing itself out within and in-between generations, the system is in survival mode, just trying to re-establish itself as viable.

I can imagine Miyoung’s pull to this graceful back-and-forth when she laments having grown up without her grandparents, losing track of the rhythm of her family’s intergenerational system. I can feel my own version of this pull, missing a physical father while being propelled into life by an invisible and unconscious father in my mind.

Loss and Resilience

I like Miyoung’s invitation to listen, not jump at answers. It’s a beautiful nod to the therapeutic process. Another wonderful part of therapy is an old and resilient idea: the interventions don’t matter as much as the relationship. [4] It seems to me that intergenerational wounds do, over time, re-establish balance. Immigrant families do plant deep roots. Barriers of language and culture eventually make way for common ground. We, more recent immigrants, can see this in older immigrant cultures, cultures that have become more distinct cross-culturally American.

So I conclude my thoughts by humbly bypassing Miyoung’s request. I suggest that there is a solution, one that is slow and patient and full of love. It is staying in relationship: conversing and sharing and being together, fighting and rejecting and breaking apart, understanding that something in us will hang on and heal and get back to the business to growing. And, as our stories entreat us, that though much is lost, much abides.


[*] An exaggeration. I did sit down and add it up once. It was a fairly large number, but inflated by including minor fender-benders.

[1] Systems theory is very broad and includes work in many different disciplines, including biology, engineering, and economics. In psychology, it can refer to several areas of study. In this post (and in Hammer’s article), I’m using the term within the parameters of Family Systems Psychology. A downside to systems theory, detractors might comment, is that it takes away from individual rights and responsibilities, turning personal problems into collective problems.

[2] These are roles identified by the “Mother of Family Systems Therapy,” Virginia Satir. Satir believed that families can get stuck in playing out these roles instead of developing healthy, authentic and flexible identities.

[3] “Sometimes a man stands up during supper and walks outdoors and keeps on walking, because of a church that stands somewhere in the east. And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead. And another man, who remains in his own house, stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses, so that his children have to go far out into the world towards that same church, which he forgot.” From A Book for the Hours of Prayer, translated by Robert Bly.

[4] This theory has proven to be fairly rigorous. In recent meta-analyses by the American Psychological Association, Norcross found that “the therapy relationship makes substantial and consistent contributions to patient success in all types of psychotherapy studied (for example, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, behavioral, systemic). The therapy relationship accounts for why clients improve (or fail to improve) as much as the particular treatment method.”

We’re All AARMS And Dangerous: film screening of ondi timoner’s we live in public

ISAAC’s AARMS (Asian American Artists Relations and Movements) debuted on May 4, 2013 with a screening of We Live In Public. Complete with cocktail service and vintage Latin dance intermissions, the event emerged out of a perfect Southern California spring evening in Young Lee Hertig’s homemade driveway movie theater.

Driveway Movie Theater

Driveway Movie Theater

The small crowd watched as Ondi Timoner‘s documentary was projected onto a bed-sheet stapled onto Young’s garage door. The way the film was shown mirrors a theme of the movie: the mundane has become the centerpiece.

In Timoner’s film we follow the rise and fall of ultramundane cubicle jockey turned internet prophet, Josh Harris. One of the first dot-com millionaires, Harris sold his company, Jupiter Communications, and found himself with 80 million dollars and an itch to make something amazing happen. He proceeded to fund his prescient imagination through elaborate entertainment/experiments on technology and human relationships.


Ondi Timoner and Josh Harris
Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Predating the reality TV explosion, Harris’ projects included two experiments on the effects of constant surveillance: one in a large group setting and another in an intimate one. What we discover are copious amounts of mayhem and pressure as the participants struggle to tell the difference between genuine experiences and show business. As one of the subjects in his own experiments, Harris eventually collapses in every area of his life: financial, relational, artistic and psychological.

As the debut AARMS event, We Live In Public is a bold choice. It’s a graphic film with no shortage of violence, nudity and profanity. And, despite comments to the larger themes of alienation, community and the contextuality of human behavior [2], the film has no overt Christian or Asian American themes. But in its own way, this is the perfect inaugural event for AARMS. Until otherwise noted, We Live In Public defines what AARMS is. It has an unusual message to AARMS’s largely Christian audience: this is an open space for us to encounter the unexpected.

For anyone seeking  specific applications, this event doesn’t offer anything didactic. Instead, it presents the audience with an opportunity to take in the art and respond. In this case, the responses were varied. During the post-screening discussion, thoughts included concerns about the growing surveillance state and how we are willingly complicit. Also, one viewer raised the question of how this screening was related to Asian American Christianity. My own comments were on the story arc of Josh Harris as a modern day prophet. [3]

Samuel Kho, Curator - AARMS

Samuel Kho, Curator – AARMS
Photo Credit: Facebook

This process appears to mirror the world-view of its curator, Sam Kho. Sam has a noted preference to let art speak for itself, impacting its audience without explanation or direction. In other words, he’s not in the business of teaching lessons through pretty pictures. I have the feeling that Sam himself doesn’t really know what he’s expecting to happen at his events, but is instead happy to be part of the experiment. [4]

And here we come full circle. If we assume that We Live In Public was purposefully chosen to set the stage for all of AARMS’s future efforts [5], we can surmise that AARMS is going after something similar to what Josh Harris’ Quiet: We Live In Public project was going after. Namely: a live action experiment on how humans respond to novel stimuli. Or, maybe more specifically: an opportunity to see how Asian American Christians respond to art.


[1] The title of this post is taken from the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of the Promise Ring song, “Arms and Danger,” which reflects the ambiguity of some experiences, leaving  interpretation to the viewer.

[2] James Kang had these thoughts on the film, “What the film made me do was reflect on the breadth of human behavior and its natural characteristic of being contextual. I believe we are largely a product of our environment, which also seems to have been a theme throughout the entire film. What it made me consider was how we might formulate contexts that produce human behavior that is good and spiritually and socially beneficial.”

[3] Not necessarily in the Christian sense of one who is in direct contact with God, but in a broader sense of one who is in touch with a larger knowledge of how the world operates and who plays the role of ushering in large scale change.

[4] As an introduction to the screening, Sam read from noted futurist Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is most famous for his quote, “the medium is the message.” Which sets up the question, what is the medium here? And therefore, what is the message?

[5] Currently AARMS is in the process of creating an ongoing discussion group. Those interested should contact Sam Kho at sam.k.100[at]gmail[dot]com.