Isolation to inclusion: the evolution of the Korean Women’s Association

As it nears its 45th anniversary, Tacoma’s Korean Women’s Association has grown into a wide-reaching provider of social services.

NEARLY HALF A CENTURY later, OK Sun Wilson can still recall the thrill that rose in her chest the first time she spotted a fellow Korean walking down the streets of Tacoma in the early 1970s.

Wilson, now 77, immigrated to the United States in 1968 as the wife of an American serviceman, and even if she thought she knew what to expect, culture shock hit hard. The weather was cold and the food bland. Without anybody to converse with, Wilson didn’t speak a word in her native tongue, or see a fellow Korean, for nearly four years.

“I almost lost my language, because I was only speaking English,” Wilson says. “It was a lonesome town for Koreans in those days.”

Korean Women’s Association 45th anniversary celebration

When: 6 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Greater Tacoma Convention Center

Program: Keynote speakers include Washington Lieutenant Gov. Cyrus Habib and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The event will include an interactive historical timeline and a cocktail hour.

Tickets: Prices start at $100.

For more information: event@kwacares, 253-538-8369

Over the course of the ’70s, that began to change. More servicemen, many with young wives, were recalled to Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base from the Korean Peninsula, where war had given way to reconstruction.

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Wilson and a group of newer arrivals began congregating at their houses all over Tacoma. Without an Asian grocery in the city at the time, the friends were forced to get creative — substituting crushed red pepper normally used for pizza for a similar, unavailable spice to make kimchi, singing Korean songs from memory.

There were only a dozen or so such women initially, and they existed as a social club more than anything. Until the latter part of the…

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