15 minutes with Daniel Oh

Posted 7/17/10

Questions about metro Denver’s growing Asian-American population? Ask Centennial resident Daniel Oh, who has been a community leader for more than …

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15 minutes with Daniel Oh


Questions about metro Denver’s growing Asian-American population? Ask Centennial resident Daniel Oh, who has been a community leader for more than three decades.

This year, the native of South Korea is the honorary chair of the 10th annual Denver Dragon Boat Festival at Sloan’s Lake Park in northwest Denver, July 24 and 25. The free festival highlighting Colorado’s Asian-Pacific American heritage has been called the only festival of its kind in the United States.

The two-day event, a signature of the local Asian community, will showcase an array of traditional and contemporary performing arts, cultural customs, cuisine and a marketplace of crafts and vendors — all anchored by two days of festive dragon boat racing.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary, the 2010 festival will have a special focus on such Eastern practices as Feng Shui, meditation, yoga and Oriental massage.

Oh, 60, emigrated to the United States in 1975. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Korea on the United Nations’ Command Civil Affairs Team before moving to Colorado to study divinity at St. Thomas Catholic College in Denver.

Oh later received real estate and insurance-broker licenses, became a certified public accountant and received his Ph.D in philosophy from Strassford University in London.

On an international level, Oh serves on the National Unification Advisory Council of Korea, a position to which he was appointed by South Korea’s president.

Back in Colorado, in 2008, Oh was named by Gov. Bill Owens to the Governor’s Asian Pacific Advisory Council of Colorado. He was also a member of the Denver Mayor’s Asian Advisory Council for 10 years. A founding member of the Aurora Asian Pacific Community Partnership, he helped create a vision that became the Aurora Asian Film Festival.

Over the years, Oh has received the Asian American Hero of Colorado award, the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, the Outstanding Service Award for Peace Unification of Korea, and the Outstanding Service Award from the governor of Colorado.

Colorado Community Newspapers recently asked Oh to discuss the upcoming festival, the local Asian community and his own background as an active first-generation Korean American.

CCN: What is it that makes the Dragon Boat Festival so unique in this country?

Oh: People tell me this is one of the biggest [Asian] events in North America. It’s the kind of unity of Asian culture mixed together, the harmony. We’re looking for a show-and-tell of the melting pot in the United States.

CCN: What do you hope people get out of it?

Oh: Number one, the visibility and the fun and the eating and the show. Besides the activity, we’re looking for some kind of a reach-out to show people the cultural unity of the Asians. Each country has its own background because of its ancestors and the language and the climate. So it is kind of a fun time where we can reach out and share.

CCN: There’s a huge Asian population in metro Denver. But China, Japan and Thailand are as disparate as England, France and Germany. What binds this community together?

Oh: That is the big important issue. The Chinese and Japanese are third and fourth-generation [Americans]. They don’t know about the motherland or the language. Koreans may be first generation. The Filipinos speak English very well.

At first, it was very hard working together — different languages, different cultures — but for the 10 years I was the state chair of the Governor’s Asian Pacific Advisory Council, I tried to mix them up as much as we can so the third and fourth generations fully understand the first generation adopting to American society.

CCN: You’ve been in the United States since 1975 and you’re obviously very involved in the Asian community. Do you define yourself as a Korean-American or simply an American?

Oh: I have fully adapted to American society. I can use the wisdom between the American society and the Asian society to improve the quality of life [for other Asian Americans].

CCN: You still have a fairly thick accent for someone who has been in the United States so long.

Oh: Well, I’m the first generation. At 26 years old, it was very difficult to change my tongue. Sometimes people say my accent is kind of strange.

CCN: You were too young to have first-hand memories of the Korean War. But as you were growing up, what were your perceptions?

Oh: The Korean War heavily damaged both countries. We lost fathers, brothers. I was in [a southern province of] South Korea. We didn’t have any loss to family, but I saw a lot of people suffering.

CCN: You return to South Korea a few times a year. Ever been to North Korea?

Oh: Yeah. North Korea is not a country. North Korea is kind of a kingdom with one dictator. He can do whatever he wants. North Korea is very strange.

CCN: It can’t be easy to get back and forth.

Oh: I flew from the United States to North Korea. I tell senators, congressmen that I’m going to North Korea. “Am I OK?” They say, “fine.”

CCN: Are you hopeful that the North and South will be reunified?

Oh: That’s our dream.

CCN: OK, most important, where does one find the best Korean food in Denver?

Oh: Korean food is very diverse. You can stop by Seoul BBQ at 2000 S. Havana St. in Aurora. I’m too much Americanized. I cannot eat spice anymore. But you won’t be disappointed.


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