Héctor Alejandro Arzate/WAMU/DCist
Kimchi is a spicy and fermented vegetable dish – usually made with cabbage, chili peppers, and garlic among other ingredients.
Héctor Alejandro Arzate/WAMU/DCist
On Thursday, lawmakers in the Rules Committee for the House of Delegates voted 18-0 in favor of a joint resolution to designate November 22 as Kimchi Day in Virginia. The day would officially commemorate the spicy, fermented vegetable dish – which is also celebrated as a national holiday on that same day in South Korea.
While the resolution still has to pass the House floor, the vote has likely cleared the way for it to move towards passage as soon as next week when it makes its way to the uncontested calendar.
The proposal was first introduced by Irene Shin, who represents the 86th district for the House of Delegates in Virginia.
"I think it's fantastic that we're starting to celebrate the cultural diversity and the heritage that makes our society and our Commonwealth so great today," said Shin in an interview with DCist/WAMU.
Shin is a daughter of immigrants, and this year was the first Korean-American woman to be elected into Virginia's House of Delegates. She says introducing the holiday is one way to celebrate Northern Virginia's thriving immigrant communities – particularly those of Asian descent.
"We are home to one of the largest Korean populations in the country. The communities of Annandale and Centreville in Northern Virginia are vibrant and bustling population centers and hubs," Shin said during Thursday's session with the Rules Committee.
The resolution also received support from community leaders, who testified that commemorating the holiday is one way to recognize their impact on Virginia's economy.
"I support this resolution and the designation of November 22 as Kimchi Day in Virginia as a testament to the contribution of Korean-Americans to the economic development of the Commonwealth," said Dr. John Kim, the former president of the Korean American Society of Greater Richmond. "As well as their contribution to the rich and diverse culture and culinary traditions, which makes Virginia one of the top destinations in America and also one of the most dynamic economies in the nation today."
For Shin, the rising popularity in kimchi is an indicator of the Commonwealth's increasing diversity.
"When I was growing up, kimchi used to be something that we ate in our household almost every single day," said Shin. "It was a very strange food to my friends who would come over and they'd be like, 'What is this?' And now I can go to Trader Joe's or Costco and I can buy kimchi."
According to recent data from the 2020 Census, Fairfax and Loudoun counties are home to roughly 235,000 and 90,000 people who identify as Asian. Those numbers have increased since 2010 by about 45,000 and 44,000, respectively. In Fairfax County alone, immigrants – or foreign born people – make up more than 31% of the population.
Among the Kimchi Day resolution's co-patrons was Delegate Mark Keam, who himself is an immigrant and the first Korean-American elected to Virginia state office. In a separate session earlier in the day, Keam remarked on the importance of celebrating cultural events.
"The coincidence of Lunar New Year and Black History Month starting on the same day this year – I believe is very symbolic and significant for the Commonwealth of Virginia," said Keam, who represents Virginia's 35th District. "Today's Virginia is not as clear cut as a black-and-white Virginia."
He says Virginia's changing demographics have paved the way for the first Asian American Pacific Islander caucus.
"Because we now have so many of us in this chamber, we formally formed ourselves an Asian-American Pacific Islander Caucus for the first time in the Commonwealth's history," said Keam during his speech on the floor.
As a member of the caucus, Shin sees kimchi day as a platform for other key bills. She hopes it will help them gain steam on the "Virginia Statute on Religious Expression," or HB1063. She says it would bolster the Commonwealth's protections to include religious symbols, garments, and other displays.
"You cannot be discriminated on the basis of what your outward expression of that religion is," said Shin. "It's about making sure that we're redefining what it means to be American, what it means to look American, right?"
While Shin and the AAPI Caucus are prioritizing heavy legislation, the junior lawmaker can't help but feel elated to work on making Kimchi Day a reality.
"I certainly hope it will catch folks' attention," said Shin. "I'm happy to have opportunities to bring a little joy and lightheartedness into this very serious work that we do."
To celebrate, Shin says she's thinking about bringing kimchi into the state capitol for her colleagues who've never tried it before.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.