News: Interview with Senator Yonah Martin at the 10th Annual Korean Heritage Day Festival


Kristi Choi
August 7, 2011
On August 6th 2011, Blue Mountain Park in Coquitlam, BC, was bustling with the sounds and smells of Korea for the 10th annual Korean Heritage Day Festival. This one day event showcased traditional Korean heritage through a variety of cultural performances, food, and a gathering of the Korean- Canadian society.
From 11 am to 7 pm, parking lots were packed and the area was filled with lineups for Korean food and many other enjoyable attractions for people of all ages, accompanied by the sounds of a singing competition and Korean drumming throughout the day.
Present at the festival was Senator Yonah Martin, the first Canadian of Korean descent to hold public office in Canada. Senator Martin who immigrated to Canada from Korea with her family in 1972 has been involved with the Korean Heritage Day Festival since 2003. Back in 2003 and the following couple of years, she helped with many of the English aspects of the festival. When asked what compels her to devote so much of her time and energy to this festival she explains that she saw the positive impact it had on her own daughter. “[When] she was just a little girl her enthusiastic response to coming out to the festival really warmed my heart because she’s half Korean and she started asking questions about her identity at that time. It really made me stop and take a good look at myself and made me realize that in order to raise a daughter who is of mixed race that I had to be clear about my own identity”, she says.
Senator Martin explains that she thinks the festival was one of the catalysts that allowed her to start her own journey to finding her identity and therefore, this festival means a lot to her on a very personal level. “I used to direct the festival for four years in a row so I know what it takes to put something like this together. I am not actively involved anymore but I do love it very much. Once you experience a festival or a community event that is so dynamic it just becomes a part of your soul, you want to have a taste of it again and again. So for me, I’ve just been a long fan of the festival and I’ll be coming for as long as it’s happening”, she says.
The Korean Heritage Festival has not only been a popular event to Koreans but has also attracted and allowed many people from other nationalities to experience Korean culture as well. Through the help of enthusiastic volunteers and the welcoming Korean society, the festival attracts Koreans and non- Koreans alike with the opportunity to experience Korean culture.
Senator Martin explains that this festival has had a tremendously positive effect in bringing together the community, not just for people inside the Korean community but people outside of it as well to enrich a larger Canadian multicultural society. One of the main strengths and important traits of this festival is that it was always designed to welcome all people, of Korean descent or otherwise.
“Today I came with a Korean War veteran, well he loves Korea as much as we do, and he doesn’t have any Korean in him but he served there, he saw his friends get killed there… this festival was always meant to be very inclusive”, says Senator Martin.
Long before entering politics and being appointed to her position in 2009, Senator Martin has been avidly involved in her community. In 2004, Senator Martin was awarded the Spirit of Community Award for Cultural Harmony for her community service in the Tri-Cities area.
“It seemed a little hypocritical at the time, I didn’t feel deserving of it but in a way, sometimeswhat other people see first, they recognize in you then you kind of tap into your own potential. So maybe, it was perfect at that time for me, to make me that much more responsible… that if I am a recipient of this cultural harmony award, then what role can I play?”
When asked what sustainability meant to her, Senator Martin considered the concept in terms of different generations and the impact they have had and continue to have on each other. “I think your generation and my daughter’s is a new generation, born into a world where environment and sustainability are central to your values. My generation, we learned of it as we were growing up, and of course my parent’s generation… they had no time to think about it because they were surviving the war; so every generation has evolved and now we’re facing world challenges that are undeniable.”
Senator Martin states that Korea is one of the leaders in sustainability in Asia as President Lee has made greening of the agenda one of their top priorities. Our own Canadian government, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, also has that kind of commitment and she has seen some very innovative projects and ideas.
“Vancouver can be quite a model… I am a Vancouver resident, from the lower mainland, we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth so I think it’s just central to our values as west coasters”, says Senator Martin.