[PROFILE] Paull Shin - Senator in the State of Washington
- Paull Shin, Ph.D.
Paull (Shin, Ho Bom) is a senator in the state of Washington. He was
the first Korean- American to be elected a state senator. Adopted
over 40 years ago, he transformed himself from a street urchin in
Korea to a U.S. state senator. He was guided by one thing - a passion
for learning. Having had no formal education in Korea, he started
working on his GED at age 18. He frequently slept less than 3 hours
daily in his quest for education. He went on to earn his Ph.D. and
became a college professor. His dream in life was to become a ¡°
useful person,¡± who can make contributions to others and to society.
Paull Shin, Ph.D.
I, for one, consider it a great blessing to have been adopted. I was
born in Korea, and at the age of four, my mother died. Shortly
thereafter, my father left me. Having no place to go, I became a
street urchin, standing on the street corners of Seoul begging for
food to stay alive until age 15. When the Korean War broke out in
1950, I fled to the south to avoid the communists. Rumor had it that
the US forces were landing in Inchon, so I decided to walk up to the
front and greet the arriving American troops.
As the soldiers came from south of the Han River trying to cross
north, US army engineers built emergency rubber rafts for a bridge.
As the convoys of hundreds of vehicles passed across the bridge, I
was one of hundreds of homeless kids waving at the soldiers. "Hallo,
chewing gum. Hallo, chocolate" hoping they would throw candy to us.
One day, for reasons unknown, one of the soldiers lent me his hand
and, as I reached out to him, he picked me up and brought me over to
the truck. It was this simple gesture that constituted the beginning
of my new life.
The US Army took an interest in me. Upon crossing over into Seoul,
they placed me with a unit of seven Army officers as a houseboy. I
began my first and new career polishing shoes, and washing and
ironing their clothes. One of the officers, Dr. Ray Paull, an Army
dentist, took a special interest in me. He and his family eventually
adopted me and brought me to the United States at age 18.
After my first dinner in America, my Dad asked me what I would like
to do. My immediate response was, "Father, I would like to be
educated." Unfortunately for me, the prospect of school was not that
easy. I had never gone to school in Korea. The next day, we visited a
grade school and a junior high, only to be rejected for being too
old. As a last resort, we went to a local high school. The principal
looked at me and said, "You have no grade school education, no junior
high school education, how can I possibly take you?" I was so
disappointed and emotionally hurt that I burst into tears. The
principal asked why I was crying. I replied, "Sir, one of the reasons
I came here was to get an education, but getting an education has
become an impossible dream for me." He then told me about the special
program called the GED for boys like me. With the help of a wonderful
special tutor and the support of my parents, I not only passed the
GED but also went on to a university, continued on to graduate school
for a Master's Degree, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
I consider myself living proof of American blessings and opportunity.
In the course of my education, I came upon a passage from Benjamin
Franklin, who said, "A grateful person is one who realizes blessings
and reciprocates by serving." Having received so many blessings in
this country, I decided to serve. I embarked on a teaching career
that has spanned over 31 years. Teaching students is extremely
gratifying when you see that your words and actions are a benefit to
others and will help them prepare for life. I was called on by
governors of Washington State to serve as an advisor on trade issues,
and led several trade missions to various Asian countries. I was
grateful that I was able to render service to the people of the
United States and Asia.
I have been active in a number of community organizations such as the
United Way, the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA. I have also been
keenly involved in international adoption organizations such as World
Association of Children and Parents (WACAP), Holt, and Korean
Identity Development Society (KIDS), which I co-founded to assist
adoptees in adjusting to life in the United States.
I cannot say that my experience is exceptional. Indeed, there are
many Korean adoptees in the United States who have found successful,
meaningful lives and many ways to contribute to the betterment of
their communities. However, as a minority living and working in the
United States, my experience was not without many problems and
One of the challenges often confronting me was the simple
question, "Who am I?" People would ask me if I am Japanese. I'd
say "no". They'd ask me if I was Chinese. I'd say "no". Then they'd
ask, "Well, what are you then?" To that question I'd answer, "I'm an
American." Their reply was always, "Oh, no, no, I mean who are your
This was a very uncomfortable question for me because, no matter how
I tried to become American, somehow I was always labeled a minority.
This is one of the main problems adoptees face, not only adoptees but
also most international minority groups in the United States. The
struggles and experiences they have in order to find their own
identity are shared by many of us. "Where do I belong?" "What should
I do?" "What is my identity?" are questions with which many minority
When I left Korea, I vowed never to return again because of the
discrimination and suffering that I endured. I came to the United
States with a new attitude and a new purpose -- to seek the rainbow I
had heard was the American Dream. I tried my hardest to become part
of my adopted family who had shown me so much love and attention, but
the society around me was not nearly as hospitable as my family.
Society continued to question my ability to become an American.
As I searched for my own identity, I discovered that in order to find
my true self, I had to seek out my heritage. Through studying the
language, history and culture of Korea, I was able to understand my
unique background and relate that to my present situation. In doing
so, I was able to reconcile with myself and understand my role in
this hybrid society that was the United States.
Although one can be adopted and loved by a caring family, it is
impossible to change one's color; I will always be a Korean-American.
However, I learned to assimilate myself in the American mainstream
and found positive ways to contribute to this society.
Being a teacher helped me understand that many issues are associated
with identity and discrimination.
Having found my identity, I decided the best way to pay back to this
country was through public service. I felt that serving in politics
was one of the fastest ways to be integrated into the mainstream. I
had never run for a public office, but in 1992, I decided to run for
a seat in the Washington State Legislature. My opponent was a four-
term incumbent and a well-known man in the district. In addition, the
district in which I lived was comprised of over 95% white Americans.
My friends, associates and the press all told me it was an impossible
dream. Nevertheless, I had a strong will and desire to serve.
I visited every home in the district that summer, telling
constituents my story of success and American opportunity. I
testified to them that it was time for me to pay back society for the
blessings I have received. When November finally came, I won the
election by an 11% margin, to the astonishment and surprise of many.
Although I was surprised by the result, I had a startling revelation
in the course of the campaign. I realized that I was afraid to run
for public office because of my color. Deep down in my heart, I did
not believe that I could be fully accepted by the American people.
Fortunately, my victory proved that the fear I had was only fear
In 1998, I won a seat in the Washington State Senate again using the
same campaign approach. I went through 4 pairs of shoes walking every
day, 9 hours a day, for 9 months, soliciting the vote of neighbors
and other people I so desperately wanted to serve. This only proves
that one can overcome anything with the right spirit and
Everyone must have a dream of some kind -- a dream and a belief that
you are God's child, and a belief in yourself and your capacity to
become anything and everything you desire. The power of positive
thinking, and the conviction that you can achieve your dream cannot
be underestimated. I learned this valuable lesson as I went from
feeling like a nobody to feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and
One must understand that adoption is a blessing. You've probably
heard the saying that "blood is thicker than water." This is true,
but my testimony to you is that "love is thicker than blood." It is
that love you possess through your adoptive family, you become one of
them, and you share love by giving and receiving. It is the love that
conquers all. If you first have love for yourself, you can begin to
love others and feel a desire to serve your fellow men. My advice to
adoptees and Asians in the United States is simply to work at loving
yourself and believe that you are equal in capacity and potential to
anyone else. With this attitude, and with a lot of hard work and
prayerful determination, any dream can become a reality.
Legislative Office: 404 John A. Cherberg Building; P.O. Box 40421;
Olympia, WA 98504-0421; Telephone: (360) 786-7640; Fax: (360) 786-
7450; Toll-Free Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000; e-mail:
District Office: 19707 64th Ave. W. #207; Lynnwood, WA 98036;
Democrat: Term expires January, 2003.
Elective Office: State Senate 1999-present; State House of
Leadership: Vice President pro tempore, 2001-present; .
Standing Committees: Agriculture & International Trade, Vice Chair;
Higher Education, Vice Chair; Transportation; Rules.
Special Committees, Councils and Boards: Governor's Council on Higher
Education; Governor's Council on International Trade; Blue Ribbon
Study on Washington Trade; Governor's Commission on Asian American
Affairs; Governor's Small Business Improvement Council; Joint
Legislative Committee on Veteran and Military Affairs; Joint
Legislative Committee on Transportation; Joint Legislative Committee
on Economic Development.
Civic Activities and Committees: University of Washington Friends of
the Library; Children's Deaconess Services, Board Member; YMCA, Board
Member, United Way, Board Member; Cascade Bank, Board Member; Asian
American Political Action Civic Affairs, Board Member; International
Trade Fair, Board Member; United Nations Dolman Society, Board
Member; Washington State Boy Scouts, Board Member; KIRO Radio, Board
Member; World Association of Children and Parents (WACAP), Board
Member; Northwest Region of Korean Americans, President; Economic
Opportunity Council, Board Member.
Awards: YMCA Outstanding Service Award 1998; Distinguished Alumnus,
Brigham Young University, 1997; Vocational Education Development
Award; Distinguished Alumnus, University of Pittsburgh; Asian-
American Pioneer Award, Northwest Asian Weekly; Honorary Doctorates
from Far-Eastern State Technical University (Vladivostok), Konok
University, Kunsan National University; Honorary Professor, Yanbian
University of Science and Technology.
Education: University of Washington, Ph.D., Master of Arts;
University of Pittsburgh, Master of Public and International Affairs;
Brigham Young University, Bachelor of Arts.
Personal: Paull and Donna have 2 children and 4 grandsons.