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The history of Koreans in America as told through the remarkable life story of one Korean American woman

Doing What Had to Be Done

The Life Narrative of Dora Yum Kim

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Soo-Young Chin

"History comes to life in this compelling saga of a courageous and controversial Korean-American woman and her biographer. Dora Kim's story—frank, painful, but inspirational—is an enduring testimony to the power of the human spirit to rise to new challenges. Soo-Young Chin's monumental study is a major contribution..."
James M. Freeman, author of Changing Identities: Vietnamese Americans 1975-1995

The first biography of an American-born Korean woman, Doing What Had to Be Done is, on the surface, the life story of Dora Yum Kim. But telling more than one woman's story, author Soo-Young Chin offers more than an unusual glimpse at the shaping of a remarkable community activist. In addition—as she questions her subject, introduces each chapter, and reflects on how Dora's story relates to her own experience as a Korean-American who immigrated to this country as an adult—she carves around Dora's compelling and courageous life story, a story of her own and one of all Korean-Americans.

Born in 1921, Dora, as she tells Chin her story, chronicles the shifting salience of gendered ethnic identity as she journeys through her life. Traveling through time and place, she moves from San Francisco's Chinatown—where Koreans were a minority within a minority—to suburban Dewey Boulevard where Dora and her family attempt to integrate into mainstream America and where she becomes a social worker in the California State Department of Employment. As the Korean immigrant community grows in the late 1960s, Dora becomes deeply involved in community service. She remembers teaching English to senior citizens and preparing them for their naturalization exams, finding jobs for the younger Koreans, and founding a community center and meals program for seniors.

A detailed and inspiring lens through which to view Korean-American history, Dora's life journey echoes the changing spaces of the American social landscape. The grace and ease with which Dora just "does what has to be done" shows us the importance of everyday acts in making a difference.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Part I (pdf).

"My entire life has been a struggle against racial and sexual discrimination. In my lifetime I've washed dishes at my parents' restaurant in Chinatown and ridden in presidential motorcades. I've been prevented from leaving Chinatown and traveled all around the world....When you have to struggle for survival, you learn that there are things you just have to do...."
Dora Yum Kim

"I have always been an outsider in the various contexts in which I have lived, and that I feel somewhat misplaced in the academic setting is not surprising.... I suspect that the only place I will feel comfortable is writing of the margins from the margins."
Soo-Young Chin

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Reviews

"...a wonderfully nuanced portrait of the lives of Koreans and Korean Americans in the US, as well as a powerful meditation on the meanings of "Americanness" in the late twentieth century. [Chin] also addresses theoretical issues relating to traditions of Western and Asian autobiography—and ethnography in terms a non-anthropologist can grasp, while the footnotes add another layer of analysis for the specialist."
The Women's Review of Books

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The Tuesday, October 11th issue of the San Francisco Chronicle contained Dora Yum Kim's obituary, which identified her as the subject of Doing What Had To Be Done.

 

Contents

Acknowledgments

Part I: Chinatown, San Francisco
Descendants of Man Suk Yum and Hang Shin Kim: A Korean American Family Tree
1. American Origins
2. Coming of Age
3. A Mother's Devotion

Part II: Dewey Boulevard
4. Leaving Chinatown
5. The Influx
6. Centering Service
A Family Gallery

Part III: A Room of Her Own
7. Hidden Costs
8. On Her Own
9. Hwan'gap
Conclusion: Doing What Had to Be Done
Epilogue: Loose Ends
Chronology
Notes
Index

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About the Author(s)

Soo-Young Chin is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Asian-American Studies at the University of Southern California.

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
Women's Studies


In the series

Asian American History and Culture, edited by David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials..

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture, series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeritus editor Michael Omi, series editors David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Vő, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

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