International Perspectives on MLK

Utica College observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 21, with activities and panels to commemorate the activist’s memory.

The events that took place in Strebel lounge initiated a week of activities at UC to discuss issues of racism and inequality happening around the nation today.

Those activities were open to all of the campus community, including international students, who can provide their own country’s perceptions about a figure in King who has transcended borders.

Sung Jang is a government and politics major at UC. Originally from South Korea and Vietnam, he stated that racial awareness in East Asia is very different from Western views.

“I’m actually quite disappointed at my home country and the international community outside the United States,” he said. “I’ve had a westernized education, and I recognize the significance of racism and the contributions that MLK has made towards the American consciousness of understanding race and social inequality.”

However, “back in Korea and Vietnam, society is very conservative. Social institutions oppressing racial minorities is something that is never really discussed about,” Jang said.

When it comes to MLK’s figure in South Korea and Vietnam, Jang explained that he is not very much talked about and that “consciousness of racism is something that is not even understood.”

The way Jang, a senior, said holidays such as MLK Day should be observed is “by continuously educating and fighting within and outside the system to pressure institutions of power into changing their minds on how to treat people of minorities.”

“MLK inspires me in the sense that I have become very vocal about issues of racism and inequality,” Jang said. “I admire MLK because he wanted to break from the cycle of violence and he wanted us to abandon the idea that moderation is something noble in politics.”

Especially in East Asia, Jang stated that “it’s needed a better understanding and awareness of both the contributions that MLK had towards these ideas of racial equality.”

Calvin Mends, an international studies major from Ghana, explained that King is generally known in his country.

“People know that MLK was a very important figure in the American society, especially in terms of defending the rights of African-American people,” he said.

Mends explained that although King is a well-known humanitarian, Ghanaians “don’t observe the holiday because it isn’t really a part of the country’s culture,” he said.

“MLK inspires me because of what he stood for, his intentions and his ability to organize and mobilize people to affect change,” Mends explained.

Mends, a senior, tries to follow King’s message by “making sure that no one looks down on me or tries to disrespect me in any way because of where I’m from or who I am.”

“Even though I’m not African-American, I am still African,” he said. “And MLK’s teachings have inspired me to be a better person.”

King’s message has also reached Asia.

Tam Kwo Tim, an English major from Hong Kong, stated that for her, “Martin Luther King is a legend and a true humanitarian.”

“When most people in America turned a blind eye to racial discrimination, Dr. King was the one who stood at the front as a leader to combat racial inequality,” Tam said.

Tam commemorated MLK Day by reading and informing herself about the civil rights leader’s legacy that she found to be “really inspiring.”

In Hong Kong, “most of the people may have heard about Martin Luther King, but they may not know what he did or his contributions. Most of them don’t know MLK Day exists either,” Tam explained.

Tam, a junior, remembered the first time she heard about Martin Luther King in high school.

“During the morning assembly, my English teacher told us that day was MLK Day, and she showed us his most famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ on YouTube,” Tam said.

She added that her teacher “introduced him as a great activist who spent his lifetime fighting for equal rights for all the African-Americans in the U.S.”

“MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech inspires me a lot,” Tam said. “I really believe that all people are born to be treated equally and all of us should have equal rights. We should all learn from Martin Luther King, who would always stand up for equality and justice.”

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