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World Cup Is A Mix Of Sport And Mourning For Kansas City's South Korean Community

Suzanne Hogan

Most of the World Cup attention Thursday will be on the U.S. game against Germany. But there will be some Kansas City-area residents who will have their attention on South Korea’s game against Belgium.

Little Korea in Kansas

Tucked away off 103rd  St. and Metcalf Avenue, in a strip mall in Overland Park, Kan., there is a concentration of South Korean businesses where people gather to watch soccer.

“Kansas doesn’t have like a Korea town,” says David Ahn. “So this is kind of considered like a Korea Town.”

Ahn is from Korea and manages the Oriental Supermarket, a family run business in Overland Park's "Little Korea." When the store first opened 15 years ago, the strip mall was mostly vacant. Now, there are a lot of businesses, a good number of them Korean owned; a salon, gift store, liquor store and two Korean restaurants that the Ahn family owns.

“It’s a very close knit group of people,” he says.

Ahn says there are about 7,000 Koreans in Kansas City. His market, which has a wide range of oriental foods, serves as a sort of meeting place for a lot of the Korean community. He shows off some of the Korean specific food, like kimchi which is fermented cabbage and bulgogi which is Korean marinated beef.

Here you can also find the local Korean Newspaper, which comes out monthly, and is in Korean. And they also sell Korea Legend T-Shirts for this year’s World Cup Team. They are red and have a tiger holding a soccer ball.

Across the parking lot at the restaurant Chopsticks, a small group of friends wearing the shirts watches Algeria defeat Korea 4-2. This means in order for Korea to advance to the next stage, they need to defeat Belgium by multiple goals, and hope Russia can beat Algeria.

Sejun Song is one of the Koreans watching the game. He teaches computer science at UMKC and says Kansas City attracts a lot of Asians because of all the tech companies like Cerner, Garmin and Sprint.

Song says it feels like a lot of the Korean World Cup hype has been calmer this year, because people are still mourning the more than 300 victims from the ferry that sunk in April.  

“We haven’t got to find all the lost people there, still in the sea,” says Song.

A community still in mourning

Credit Suzanne Hogan / KCUR
Emily Yu-Choi hands out yellow ribbons to people attending the memorial service at Korea Antioch Church in Kansas City, Kansas. It's to commemorate the over 300 victims of the South Korean ferry disaster in April.

Ahn, owner of the Oriental Supermarket and the restaurants in this ‘Little Korea strip mall,’ leaves halfway through the soccer game to drive to Korean Antioch Church in Kansas City, Kan. It’s one of the nearly 20 Korean churches in the city. Ahn is also president for the Korean Sports Association in the U.S.A., and organizes the Korean mini Olympics every two years. But there are some things that are more important than sports today.

At the church a memorial concert is being held for the victims of the ferry accident, an accident that many feel could have been avoided. As the rest of the world has their eyes on the South Korea soccer team, the Korean community in Kansas City comes together to pin yellow ribbons on a memorial board, sing songs, and show their condolences for the victims, survivors and their families. 

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today.

In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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