Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his wife Yumi hosted more than 200 people from the Asian community Thursday night at the governor’s mansion to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
It was not the first such celebration at the mansion, but it was the first hosted by an Asian-American — the first lady, a Korean artist who immigrated to the United States in her 20s, raised three daughters as a single mother, pursued a painting career, and met her husband at an art show.
“I’m just so proud of her,” the governor said in an interview, looking over at his wife in a pink and blue traditional Korean dress. “She looks like a beautiful Asian princess.”
Among the Asian fare on the buffet table: kimchi, Korea’s signature vegetable dish. The first lady cut it herself in the mansion kitchen, which houses her enormous kimchi refrigerator that she brought from the couple’s home in Edgewater.
“How’s the food?” Hogan asked one table of guests and bragging, “We’ve got our own kimchi refrigerator in the kitchen.”
The guest list included officials from local Asian groups; several legislators, including Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery County), the first Asian-American elected to the House of Delegates; officials from the embassies of Korea and China; Hogan’s Asian staff and government officials; and Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland.
As the governor mugged for photos with guests, he said, “Say kimchi!”
In a short speech, the governor referred to himself with a Korean phrase that he said meant “son-in-law to the Korean people.” But he felt like he was more than that. “I feel like I’m the son-in-law to all the Asian people.”
The governor credited Asians with playing a key role in the vitality of the state, both economically and culturally. And they make up an increasingly important population in Maryland politics. The number of Asians jumped 51 percent, to 318,853, between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. They now represent 5.5 percent of the state’s population.
Hogan thanked his wife, who got big cheers and looked on with a gentle smile, but didn’t make any formal remarks.
The first lady has been keeping a busy schedule. Besides continuing to teach at Maryland Institute College of Art, she has spoken this month at Maryland Arts Day, volunteered at a shelter for homeless families, attended a White House dinner, and hosted a Black History Month celebration at the mansion.
George Cheung, the senior vice president of Pacific Culture International, a Bethesda group that puts on the Pacific Miss Asian American Pageant, said the first lady’s presence at the Lunar New Year celebration magnified an already important event in the Asian community.
“She brings it closer to Asian families,” Cheung said.
Chris Zhu, the president of the group, said she was hoping to ask the first lady to judge the pageant.
“She’s beautiful and elegant,” Zhu said, “and she’d be a great role model.”
The event didn’t include many of the Hogan’s old friends, but one special person to them was there — James Shin, who met Yumi at a Wheaton church when she first moved to Maryland and helped her adjust to life here. He also helped officiate their wedding.
“Oh my goodness,” Shin said. “I’ve seen her blossom into this amazing woman. She was able to acclimate herself with the local community. Now being where she’s at, she’s helping Larry know more about the Asian community, in addition to helping Marylanders relate more to the governor’s office. This is exactly where she needs to be.”