K. Connie Kang, who is thought to have been the first Korean woman reporter in the United States, has died from pancreatic cancer, it was reported Monday. She was 76.
Kang came to work at the Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1992, according to the newspaper. She was hired at the urging of the Korean American Journalists Association on the heels of the 1992 riots, during which few reporters could interview Koreans whose neighborhoods were overwhelmed by violence because of a language gap.
Longtime friends told The Times Kang died last week.
For The Times, Kang covered the city’s Asian communities in earnest and with understanding, said Hyungwon Kang, a former photo editor at the paper who was mentored by Kang.
“She would be flooded with calls from Korean Americans who wanted to get their stories out there, because no one else in the mainstream media spoke their language,” Hyungwon Kang said.
When she was a little girl, Connie Kang and her family fled her ancestral homeland in what is now North Korea. She grew up in Okinawa, Japan, and her love for the English language was fostered at an international school there, according to a biography of Kang in “Distinguished Asian Americans: A Biographical Dictionary.” Her father, an English and German teacher, was among the first to embrace Christianity in Korea at the turn of the century.
The family would later settle in San Francisco. Kang studied journalism at the University of Missouri and Northwestern University, where she received her master’s degree. She was a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner before her tenure at The Times.
She also wrote a regular column for Koreatown Weekly. The publication’s founder, K.W. Lee, said Kang’s contribution to journalism cannot be overestimated.
“She was almost a saint,” said Lee, believed to be the first Asian immigrant to work for a mainstream daily newspaper in the U.S., the Kingsport Times-News in Tennessee.
“She was doing it because she felt not only an obligation to speak for the second generation of Koreans in America, but also to speak for the voiceless and powerless immigrants who brought them here, most who were monolingual.
Kang was a meticulous, sensitive observer and approached her job like an anthropologist, said Hyungwon Kang.
Connie Kang covered religion in her final years at The Times. After leaving the paper in 2008, the deeply devout Christian decided to become a minister. She graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2017 and shortly after passed the U.S. Presbyterian Church’s ordination exam. Her dream was to build a Christian school in North Korea.