If your local dry cleaners in NYC are ethnic-Korean owned, you may have been "drafted" as a supporter of ROK in their territorial dispute with Japan as you haul your dry cleaning home, according to this NYT article:
March 21, 2009
On City’s Plastic Bags, an Old and Distant Dispute
By KAREEM FAHIM
The islands began appearing last fall, detailed in pleasing shades of blue on the plastic bags that drape the city’s dry cleaning. Busy New Yorkers fetching their shirts might have glanced at the picture — of an ocean and a rocky isle — and taken it for a travel ad, perhaps for an Italian island like Capri, or Phuket in Thailand.
Those who looked closer saw a manifesto.
“Dokdo Island is Korean territory,” the ad declared. “The Japanese government must acknowledge this fact.”
To understand the message on the bag is to go back more than a century, to the beginning of an emotional land dispute between Japan and Korea.
The conflict is over a cluster of barely inhabitable islets and reefs in the sea between the countries — called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan — and much more, especially the legacy of Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.
Foreign arguments like these often persist in New York City, where more than a third of the population is foreign-born and memories of home are kept close, from soccer allegiances to shared experiences of oppression. While some of those conflicts regularly make headlines in the city, others, like the tug of war over the islets are barely noticed.
That is, until last year, when Chang-Duck Jeon, president of the Korean Dry Cleaners Association, assumed the role of publicist: He ordered 250,000 “Dokdo bags” from a South Korean manufacturer and solicited orders from the approximately 3,000 Korean-owned dry cleaners in the city. About 100 of them ended up stocking the bags.
“It was a way to speak out,” Mr. Jeon reasoned. “What’s ours is ours.”
It was not the first effort by Koreans to argue their case in the United States, but it might be the most ambitious. “This is the first attempt I’ve heard of to commercialize this,” said Alexis Dudden, a professor of modern Japanese and Korean history at the University of Connecticut who follows the Dokdo-Takeshima debate closely.
In the past, she said, a few Koreans had pursued an ad-hoc campaign. A freelance publicist for South Korean causes placed advertisements in American newspapers. A radio station in Queens printed binoculars on camouflage T-shirts and a slogan on the back: “Together we can protect Dokdo.”
A few years ago, the “Dokdo Riders,” a group of young South Korean college graduates, toured several countries on motorcycles, collecting signatures, looking for free food and spreading the Dokdo word.
But the real action lies elsewhere. Protesters in South Korea have cut off their fingers, stabbed themselves and, in a particularly inventive move, burned large cardboard effigies of the Japanese Ministry of Education (to protest Japan’s teaching of its version of the dispute).
Japanese-Americans have, for the most part, stayed out of the fray, for a variety of reasons. Third- and fourth-generation Japanese-Americans often have a distant relationship with Japan, Ms. Dudden said, pointing out that the dispute over the islets raised uncomfortable questions about the ways Japan portrays its colonization of Korea.
Gary S. Moriwaki, the president of the Japanese American Association of New York, said the Japanese community in the city was small, made up mostly of people born in Japan, and not very politically active, at least on the question of the islets. “The conflict doesn’t really come up,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington said she was having a hard time finding someone to comment on the dispute, and she referred a reporter to the Web site of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. There, “Japan’s Inalterable Position on the Status of Takeshima” is spelled out in 10 languages.
Mr. Jeon recounted his path to action last week as a different kind of tension mounted between Japan and South Korea: In San Diego, teams from the two countries were set to face off on Tuesday in the World Baseball Classic (Korea won, 4-1; when the teams met again on Thursday, Japan was the winner, 6-2).
He came up with the idea in July, during one of the semiregular flare-ups over the islands, which are now administered by South Korea. Mr. Jeon could not remember exactly what had set him off, but that month, the Japanese Education Ministry asked teachers and textbook publishers to make sure Japanese students understood their country’s claim to the islets.
Also that month, the United States Board of Geographic Names changed the islands’ status from “South Korean” to “undesignated sovereignty.” Enough was enough; Mr. Jeon ordered his bags, from a distributor he works with in New Jersey.
Some of his fellow Korean New Yorkers have said they might start pushing homeland issues with more force. A group of parents is planning to lobby the city’s Department of Education next week to change textbook references to the Sea of Japan — Koreans call it the East Sea — and the local Korean-American Association has just started a Dokdo committee to plan ever-more ambitious campaigns.
These include teaching younger Korean-Americans about the claim to Dokdo. Misun Chang, the general manager of WWRU (1660 AM), a Korean-language radio station, often talks about the conflict on her morning program, hoping to reach that audience. “The first generation — we know Dokdo is ours,” she said, adding that as people her age set up new lives in the United States, they had sometimes been too busy to teach their children about the issue.
Kevin Kim, 38, a City Council candidate from Queens, said that he really started thinking about the islet dispute only when he got to college, but that Korean-Americans young and old were becoming more politically active.
The resolution by the House of Representatives in 2007 calling on Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its wartime sex-slavery, was a milestone, he said. “The community rallied around pressuring the house to pass the resolution,” he said. “That was considered a huge success, and they felt more empowered.”
It is not clear what Mr. Jeon thought would happen when his dry-cleaning bags hit the streets of New York. The association’s previous activism had centered on matters central to the business, like the rise in the prices of hangers imported from China, and donating leftover clothes to charity. Still, he worked with what he knew.
“The whole world lives together in New York,” he said. “And we use a lot of poly bags.”