James Woo

James Woo

I came to the United States from Seoul, Korea, when I was ten years old. I didn’t know any English, and there were only four Asian students in the entire school, and that included all of my cousins. Eventually, my whole family moved from Mississippi to Georgia. My entire family worked hard to make a life for themselves. Korean immigrants have a saying that the business of the person who picks you up at the airport will also become yours. My uncle, who owned a beauty supply store, was the person who picked us up, and so my father has owned one for over 25 years. 

As the child of immigrants, I played an important role in my family. I was the interpreter, translator, and business manager. I had to help out with all the business needs. It didn’t leave much opportunity to enjoy college life or indulge in the lifestyle I witnessed others having. Once I completed graduate school, I had the opportunity to study and work abroad. I was fortunate to work for international organizations and companies in China and Korea, and had the chance to study International Peace Studies at the University for Peace. All these experiences and seeing the world led me to want to do more work at home, and work with my communities.

A pivotal moment in my professional and personal life was when I met Helen Ho, the founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, and Stephanie Cho, who later became the Executive Director. Stephanie guided me and made me understand the importance of uplifting our voices. Currently, I am the communications director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, a legal advocacy organization where we work to empower our communities, especially Asian Americans and immigrant communities. We help people become civically engaged, provide legal services, and work on policy advocacy as well as litigation. We strive to uplift everyone’s voice.

Now, as the father of a young son, Ian, who is now two years old, I want my son to be able to live his life fully, be whoever he wants to be, and not have to deal with the same issues that I or my parents did. I don’t want him to worry about things like my parents getting stopped at a light and needing an interpreter to talk to the police, or needing to call an employee at their store because an incident happened and my parents cannot properly communicate. I just want him to be in a place where he can truly thrive and have community.

I chose the word community for my portrait, because, growing up, it was the community support from my family, my church, and friends that helped me and my family not only adjust to this new land but thrive.