State pols look to honor Korean independence leader
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 18, 2019 | 748 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State lawmakers are seeking to honor a freedom fighter for the Korean people nearly a century after her death. Last Tuesday, Assemblyman Ron Kim, State Senator John Liu and members of the Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY) gathered on the steps of Flushing Town Hall to announce a resolution honoring Yu Gwan-sun. “This is the first step to acknowledge the human rights activism, the bravery, perseverance, resilience, grit and tenacity of a young woman,” Kim said. “This is someone that should be studied in every single nation around the world.” Gwan-sun was a 17-year-old leader in the Korean independence movement against Japanese rule. She helped organize the March 1st Movement, a massive peaceful demonstration on March 1, 1919, that kicked off the push for liberation. Her family went door-to-door to encourage people to take part in the protest. The organizers even reached residents in neighboring towns, resulting in a 3,000-person demonstration at Aunae Marketplace. Later that day, Japanese military officers arrived and killed 19 protesters, including her parents. Gwan-sun was arrested and then tortured to reveal information about other demonstrators. Following a year in prison, Gwan-sun organized fellow inmates to honor the first anniversary of the March 1st protest. She died in September 1920 from her injuries. “Even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped away and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to pain of losing my nation,” she wrote before her death. “My only remorse is not being able to do more than dedicating my life to my country.” Kim said Gwan-sun’s story represents the “spirit of the Korean people.” He tied that resilience to the ethos of immigrants. “No matter how hard things get, we don’t give up,” he said. “We persist and resist and keep going.” The Korean-American assemblyman added that young people everywhere can learn from Gwan-sun’s journey and character. “It’s something that we should embrace,” Kim said. “All of us can learn a lesson from that.” Liu said 100 years after the March 1st Movement, communities are still telling her story of heroism and love of country. The state senator said he expects to pass the resolution this week. “This resolution is not only meaningful for Korean-Americans, but meaningful for all New Yorkers who don’t yet know about the epic tale of Yu Gwan-sun to be inspired by what she has done,” he said.
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The Bad Dancer Who Was Seduced by Salsa
Jan 18, 2019 | 129 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jean Franco is the owner of Salsa In Queens.
Jean Franco is the owner of Salsa In Queens.
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At six, he knew he was a terrible dancer.
At six, he knew he was a terrible dancer.
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He has a degree in electronic engineering just in case.
He has a degree in electronic engineering just in case.
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Salsa In Queens is going to open soon, so Jean Franco Vergaray grabs a broom and starts sweeping the wooden dance floor. He moves back and forth, back and forth and back and forth again. Over and over and over. Once his feet feel the beat, he establishes his own methodical rhythm, his movements reflected in the studio’s wall of mirrors. This simple dance for this simple task is a far cry from the spicy, sassy salsa steps students come to Jean Franco’s studio to master. Whether he’s sweeping the floor or sweeping a partner across it, Jean Franco, who is buff, brown-eyed and bearded, makes it look easy. The funny thing is, he’s not a natural-born dancer, which is something he and his feet intuitively knew when he was six. His defeat occurred at a birthday party he attended with his friends in Lima, Peru, where he was born and raised. “One of my only memories from that age is crying to my mom about this,” he says. “I asked her to help me.” So it was that two dancing aunts and three cousins took Jean Franco and his feet into their arms. “I just let my body do its thing to the music,” he says. “I could do the moves, but it took me a long time to feel comfortable doing it.” He was confident enough, however, to play drums in the school orchestra and sing in the institution’s chorus. But there were more changes in store for Jean Franco. When he was 11, his father moved to New York City in hopes of getting a better job. Two years later, the rest of the family followed. “My parents didn’t tell my younger sister and me that we were moving here,” he says. “We thought we were coming for a two-month summer visit.” That September, Jean Franco enrolled at Astoria’s Academy of New Americans, where he learned English. “It was really hard,” he says. “But all the other students were in the same boat.” At 16, while he was attending Flushing International High School, he got his salsa on. “My aunt had been taking classes, and she invited me to a practice and a performance,” he says. “Everyone went out after the performance, and I danced all night with all of her friends. The rest of my family was like a fish out of water, but I was swimming.” Two years later, he started taking his first formal lessons, eventually joining a performing dance team. “It brought me back to when I was six because I was the worst in the bunch,” he says. “I cried a couple of times, because I sucked but I couldn’t run to my mom even though I wanted to.” (Actually, he could have because he still lived at home, but you get the idea.) Soon, he was dancing through the night, every night. “It was a family-oriented group, and the studio felt like home,” he says. “But my parents were worried because I was staying out, rehearsing and dancing, and coming home at 1 a.m. They didn’t want me to do it.” Although he was making good money working in restaurants, his family persuaded him to go back to college, which is why he has a degree from DeVry University in electronic engineering, a profession he is positive he will never enter. “I had played chicken with college before, but I needed something under my belt just in case,” he says. Two years ago, around the time he graduated, everything came together: Jean Franco opened Salsa In Queens, he moved in with his girlfriend, and he became a U.S. citizen. About his girlfriend: In case you’re wondering, they did, indeed, meet while dancing the salsa. “She was a student of mine when I was teaching at another studio,” he says. “She had a boyfriend, and they took the class together as a date. She kept coming, and he didn’t.” There aren’t many dance studios in Queens that teach salsa, and Jean Franco thinks that’s a shame. That’s why he’s making it his mission to change that. Down the road, he hopes to open five more studios in Queens plus more in other boroughs. “I want to create more events around the dance,” he says, adding that he already has hosted a number of successful ones. The steps aside, Jean Franco has discovered that salsa is a demanding dance partner. He’s either at the studio or working on studio matters pretty much 24/7. He’s happy to do so, even if it means taking a phone call at midnight or not getting to dance much any more. “Salsa has always been my happy place, my safety net,” he says. “It gave me lifetime friends and a job. Salsa has given me more back than I ever gave it.” Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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