High expectations greet Filipina-Korean lawmaker
Philippine envoy says community feels pride in Jasmine Lee
By Philip Iglauer
The Filipino community here is abuzz with pride and high expectations of lawmaker-elect Jasmine Lee, the first naturalized citizen ever elected to the National Assembly in the history of Korea.
“Jasmine Lee is a source of pride in Korea for Filipinos in particular and for the migrant community in general,” said Philippine Ambassador to Korea Luis Cruz, Wednesday, during a musical performance at the Philippine Embassy that spotlighted Jimmy Tagala, jr., a 21-year-old violin virtuoso invited here to compete in the Seoul International Music Competition.
“It is the fulfillment of the desire of the Korean government as well to spread the values of multiculturalism which saw a leap forward with the passage of the Law 2007.”
Lee won her seat for proportional representation on the ruling Saenuri Party ticket in the 19th National Assembly during the general elections held in April 11.
“Ms. Lee has once again made Filipinos in Korea proud in her latest string of achievements as a naturalized Korean. She has distinguished herself as an ardent advocate of multiculturalism in Korean society,” Ambassador Cruz said. "We hope that she will continue to promote the rights and welfare of the 1.2 million growing immigrant community in Korea," he added.
Dinah Amora Magat, long-time embassy staff member at Philippine Embassy and an 18-year resident in Korea echoed that sense of pride palpable among the crowd of expatriate Filippinos and foreign VIPs.
“We are so happy for her. I think she can help us,” Magat said. “She can help tackle issues facing migrant workers in general and the Filipino community.”
Magat is a leader in the Filipino community here and president of Vismin Organization, which works to represent Filipino migrant works here.
There are an estimated 60,000 Filipinos residing in Korea.
Magat said some of the issues they face in Korea, includes language and communication issues, unpaid wages, mistreatment by employers and other labor issues.
“One thing Lee can do is call employers when there is a problem and represent Filipino worker’s point of view. For example if they don’t pay his salary, she can call them and pressure them.”
Lee’s election is widely seen as part of the government’s promotion of greater understanding and acceptance of immigrant communities living here.
Lee grew up in Davao, southern Philippines and met her future husband Lee Dong-ho in 1994 when she was a college freshman majoring in biology at the Ateneo de Davao University, according to the Philippine Embassy’s web site.
They were married in April 1995, moved to Korea and had two children. Lee became naturalized Korean citizen in 1998.
Tragedy struck the family, however, when her husband died of heart attack two years ago while rescuing his daughter who was caught in a whirlpool in a mountain stream in Okcheon-dong, Gangwon Province while on a family vacation, according to the embassy’s website.
Criz said Lee got the attention of many in Korea when she was a panelist on the KBS program “Love In Asia” and on account of her work at the Seoul Global Center.
Cruz said Lee had contributed greatly to promoting multiculturalism in Korea.
“She was approached two years ago, as well, to run for office, but things did not work out for her then,” Cruz said.
This year things did work out for Lee, who became the first naturalized citizen ever to be elected as a National Assembly representative.
But Cruz pointed out that immigrant communities must not only assimilate into Korean society but also share their heritage and culture.
“Multiculturalism is a two-way street. Filipinos should introduce their culture into Korean society, as well,” he said.
“Music is the best way to introduce one’s culture. They will sing Filipino songs, too.” That is the reason why Tagala will not only play music familiar in the cannon of classical music, but Filipino favorites, too.
Tagala will perform “Nais Ko” (My Wish) and “Bayan Ko” (My country) in the competition.
Other foreign envoys were as ebullient as Cruz on Lee’s election.
“I think it is wonderful. I am not aware of anyone else who has achieved as much as Jasmine Lee in this way,” Said Belarusian Ambassador to Korea Natallia I. Zhylevich. “I think she may be the first person naturalized as a Korean citizen to win election to the National Assembly.”