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Kimchi in bowl (via Portugese Gravity/Unsplash)

(Updated on Feb. 1) Irene Shin, the first Korean American woman to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates, believes it’s time the Commonwealth gave kimchi its due.

Shin, who started representing the 86th District this year, has introduced a bill to celebrate Nov. 22 as Kimchi Day, a tribute to the classic Korean fermented vegetable dish.

Del. Marcus Simon, who represents Pimmit Hills, Merrifield, and the City of Falls Church in the 53rd District, has signed onto the legislation as a cosponsor.

California became the first U.S. state to make such a designation last year, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) also celebrates the day each year.

“I think it’s really an incredible opportunity to celebrate the cultural heritage and the contributions they’ve made [through] cultural diversity, especially in the northern Virginia region,” Shin said.

Called H.J. 147, the bill recognizes Korean culture’s influence and reach around the world, from K-pop music to Korean dramas.

It notes that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “recognized Korea’s traditional process of preparation and preservation of kimchi, known as kimjang, as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage Item” in 2013.

The proposal also speaks to the region’s changing demographics. The largest Korean population in metropolitan areas in the U.S. is Los Angeles, followed by New York and D.C., according to 2019 data, the Pew Research Center found.

According to the 2020 Census, Fairfax County is now Virginia’s second most racially diverse county, in part due to an increase in its Asian population, though the data was not broken down into more specific ethnicities or nationalities.

Growing up, Shin felt the dish might be unfamiliar to people when they visited her home, but she’s seen its prevalence and popularity rise over the years. She’s eager to help celebrate that diversity like other parts of the country have, even if it means introducing the cuisine to legislators who may not have tried it.

“In Virginia, Korean is the third most spoken language other than English,” she noted. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the Commonwealth.

To mark the occasion of being sworn into office on Jan. 12, Shin wore her family’s hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.

“I hope it will serve to remind us that diversity makes our Commonwealth great,” she said on Twitter.

Del. Mark Keam, who serves the 35th District, was the first Korean-American elected to any statewide office in the Commonwealth.

Photo via Portugese Gravity/Unsplash

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