Dosan Ahn Chang Ho - The Founder of the Korean American Community
Maybe you might question Dosan's title as the Founder of the Korean American Community. It seems appropriate and thought provoking once you learn the facts. Hopefully this idea motivates people to ask about Dosan and search for information and learn about him.
Dosan and his wife Helen arrived in San Francisco October 14, 1902. They came to the United States to learn about American life. Dosan intended to study Christianity and the Western style of education. They planned to stay for a while and go back to Korea to continue Dosan's work on social reform of Korean people and society. Dosan started the first co-educational school in Korea in 1900 as an example of his modern thinking and ideas on social reform. Contrary to traditional Korean thinking he knew girls needed to be educated, too.
Dosan was the first leader of Koreans in America and he started work to improve every aspect of the lives of the small group of Korean people living in San Francisco when he arrived. These "community" developments for early Koreans in America were initiated and managed by Dosan with the help of his followers:
The first thing Dosan did was organize the selling of ginseng by Korean merchants. Korean merchants had followed the Chinese who came to America to work on the railroads. The Chinese preferred Korean ginseng. When Dosan arrived there was no cooperation among the Korean merchants. Dosan actually stopped a fight in San Francisco between two Korean merchants on the street in front of a crowd of laughing Americans. This incident alerted Dosan's sense of civic responsibly and drove him to form this group of Koreans into a respectable community.
Dosan started the first community organization for Koreans in America in 1903 in San Francisco. It was called the Chinmokhoe or Friendship Association. It was established to help Koreans in America to assimilate to Western culture. Dosan also developed a "Cleaner Homes, Hands and Habits" campaign. Dosan and his wife Helen went to the places Korean people lived and physically cleaned these homes to start improving their fellow country people's existence.
Dosan started the first political organization for Koreans in America in 1905. It was called the Kongnip Hyophoe or Mutual Assistance Association. The headquarters was established at 938 Pacific Street on November 14. It was organized to help get Koreans treated fairly while going through immigration at Angel Island, to find jobs and arrange places for them to stay. Koreans were arriving in the mainland as they left the plantations in Hawaii and some others who had left Korea for America. It was also formed in reaction to the Protectorate Treaty settled in Portsmouth where President Teddy Roosevelt awarded Japan control over Korea after the victory of the Japanese forces over Russia in a war held on Korean peninsula 1904-1905. This Treaty began the Japanese conquest and colonization of Korea and the rest of Asia. It lead to the Annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. The Kongnip Hyophoe under Dosan's direction started Korean's first newspaper in America first published on November 20, 1905.
Dosan organized the first Christian worship services for Koreans in America in San Francisco in 1903. His missionary school education in Korea made him a strong Christian. He also learned about social values from the missionaries and how they approached life and other people. A few years later a Korean Mission is established on California Street and approved by the Methodist Church on October 8th, 1905.
The title of Father of the Korean American Community may come to mind. This title seems to be more appropriate for Dr. Philip Jaisohn, also known as Soh Chae Pil. He came to America in 1885 and stayed in San Francisco for a short time and ended up settling in Philadelphia. He became a medical doctor and the first Korean to be naturalized as an American in 1890.
Considering the developments Dosan was responsible for, the title of Dosan as the Founder of the Korean American community starts to make sense. When Dosan arrived he saw the need for social changes both externally and internally for the Koreans in San Francisco. He developed the ways to make these social changes and to brought people together in a manner they had not considered before Dosan and his wife appeared. Dosan's activities seem to be the work of a man who implemented the plan to make a community for Koreans in America where there was none before.
Korean Concept of Community and Civic Responsibility These two ideals are a big part of Dosan's teachings. Many people think of Dosan as an Independence Movement Patriot only. Besides Dosan's patriotic accomplishments his work to achieve his dream of social reform for Koreans was even more impressive.
If we can define community as: "... being a number of people who have something important in common or who at least think they do, who meet and talk to each other to some extent, and who have some regular ways of making decisions about their common interests and of trying to carry out these decisions." the thought of a community of Koreans in San Francisco did not exist before Dosan arrived.
If you look into the Independence Club and its activities for social reform in Korea in the late 1800's and early 1900's you can see where Korean society did not have a true sense of community or civic responsibility.
Koreans in America and in Korea had no concept of community. The idea of a community as understood from a modern definition did not exist. The feudal system of ruling Korea and the Confucian style of defining society and relationships between people did not provide for community minded approach to how people really needed to live together in a modern world. Dosan's understanding of Western Education, Democracy and Christianity was the foundation of his perspective of how people made a nation. Dosan was ultimately a nation builder. He knew he needed to start with improving individual character and spiritually bond people into a cooperative group making a community as a step towards making Korea a nation. Another concept of community is civic responsibility which was not a primary ideal in early Korean society. Civic responsibility was only effectively developed in Korean thinking in recent years. Dosan had a well developed idea of civic responsibility by the turn of the century.
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Do not recognize anyone as a leader based on vanity... Examine his qualities not by rumors that go around but by looking into his history and actions. »Dosan