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Half-Korean adoptee L.A. sheriff visits land of birth

Cecil Rhambo explained that the five stars on his uniform sleeve represent his 30 years of service with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as he told the story of his life as a half-Korean adoptee and law enforcement officer.

The 51-year-old lawman said that this was his first time visiting Korea. “I didn’t visit Korea until today primarily because it was too far away, I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language at all, and it was a little frightening to come by myself.”

He said it was not due to “indifference” to Korean culture but the environment in which he grew up that caused him to feel distant.

“I grew up in an African-American community, and where I lived, I did not have enough access to the Korean culture.” Alongside that, his deceased adoptive father and 91-year-old mother had talked little about his adoption.

“All I know about my adoption is through my naturalization paper, the fact that I came from the ‘Holt’ agency and that I am half African-American and half Korean, and that’s about it,” he recalled.

Despite his limited knowledge of Korean culture, he was well-informed about the zesty tastes of L.A. Galbi marinated short rib beef and kimchi. 
L.A. County Sheriff Cecil Rhambo, a half Korean adoptee, says, “My Korean genes have something to do with my success.”  (Kim Myung-sub / The Korea Herald)
L.A. County Sheriff Cecil Rhambo, a half Korean adoptee, says, “My Korean genes have something to do with my success.”  (Kim Myung-sub / The Korea Herald)

“When I was promoted to lieutenant and worked as the head of the Asian Crime Task Force Unit in 1996, whilst investing crimes committed among Korean, Chinese and the Asian community, it became a whole awakening experience toward Korean culture,” he said.

He said he is getting to know more about the Korean culture as he attends dinners and social gatherings within the Korean community in L.A.

Rhambo said he did not have any particular “hardship” growing up as an adoptee, nor for being half-Korean and half-black thanks to laws like affirmative action.

“U.S. laws are protective and promote diversity within the country. Hence, I can’t say my heredity did any harm nor good to who I became today, but all I can say that is that I did work very hard to reach this stage,” he said.

“I believe being a Korean, my body genetics has things to do with my success.”

Jumping with excitement at Choi Kyung-ju’s win at a golf tournament, Rhambo said “though the cultures in where I grew up and here are different, it’s pretty evident that I have Korean blood, and I feel more emotional connection here.”

Rhambo and 12 other foreign police officers from the Korean descent will be participating in the 5th international police training program hosted by the Korean National Police Agency from Oct. 18-22.

The week-long seminar is a chance for them to understand and share different police-prosecutor relations among different nations, enhance cooperation and enforce crime prevention for Korean residents in foreign countries.

Rhambo explained independent investigating units in the United States.

“Police officers are given the independent investigation rights, and they may exert rights beyond the investigation. All U.S. investigation units have separate powers, the front-line law enforcement deals with almost all evidence, and prosecutors take the job usually to determine whether or not to file the prosecution and work as an advising unit.”

The investigative powers of the police, separate from prosecutors, are not as independent in Korea as they are in the U.S. Rather, the investigation works in a hierarchical system.

Rhambo said that although he was not aware of the difference between the two countries’ systems, he was willing to learn and share the different systems through the program.

By Hwang Jurie  (