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Young, promising Argentine policymaker proud of his Korean roots

For Antonio Kyore Beun, a 29-year-old assistant vice culture minister of Argentina, the fact that he is a son of immigrants from South Korea has not been a handicap at all but something that always helps him do his job.

South Korea's impressive economic advance is surely a reason for people to have favorable views of anything related to the country but among other things, its popular music, dramas and movies are a yet another major factor behind less prejudice and more friendliness that he comes across in day-to-day life.

"As a minority, I have never experienced discrimination. Quite the contrary," Beun said in an interview with a group of reporters in central Seoul. "The fact that I am a person of Korean descent has not been a curse at all but a huge boon in Argentina."

"That is probably because Korea has such a high global standing... Besides, you can see Korean dramas and K-pop on popular TV shows on many occasions, which has helped let the name of Korea be known to many locals and reduce any possible prejudice against people like me," he added.

Beun is in Seoul to attend a forum of Latin American countries organized by the foreign ministry here. He was tapped as an assistant vice culture minister earlier this year, the highest ever government position that a second generation Korean-Argentine has assumed there.

His parents immigrated to Argentina in 1980 with just US$10 in their pockets. Decades of hard work and success in a clothing business have made their life much better off. But they have always taught their three sons where they came from.

"I never forgot how to speak Korean since I learned it from my mother, who hit my palms whenever I made mistakes. My Korean has a unique accent since I also lived with my grandmother," Beun jokingly said in fluent Korean.

Beun said that he strongly prides himself in his roots and he prefers to be called by his Korean name -- Beun Kyore -- over his Argentine name, which is why he always uses his Korean name when signing government documents.

"Since such documents will remain forever, I really like to leave my (Korean) name so that people later on will know there was a Korean-Argentine who served as a high-ranking official."

As much as he is proud of his Korean heritage and his different looks for leaving a strong impression on those he meets, he said that sometimes the difference comes around as a heavy burden.

"People remember my face very easily since it is different from theirs. I have to be extra careful and modest in my behavior. I feel like I am representing not just myself, but Korea as well. A mistake can ruin the impression," he said.

Asked how he managed to be so successful in his career at such a young age, Beun said that he has always tried to make the most of the strong points of Korea and Argentina.

"Unlike South Korea, Argentina has no strong hierarchy. Creativity is encouraged and you can say whatever you want to with your boss. Also, you can make friends with anybody no matter how old they might be," he said.

"What I learned from Korea is hard work ethics. I was taught since my childhood that I had to work really hard. Now I make sure to get things done all the time," he added.

A law major at University of Buenos Aires, Beun has worked his way toward the current position by engaging in diverse political activities even during his school days. He was first interested in politics as he saw it as a means to help people.

Now that he has become a policymaker, he no longer has the desire to rise higher. His long-term goal is to contribute to the government's push to eradicate poverty and give everyone a fair chance.

As for any cooperation between Argentina and South Korea in cultural areas, Beun said that he is working on launching an artistic residence program in which artists visit each other for three months to experience local culture and share their creativity. He is to meet culture ministry officials here before leaving the country. (Yonhap)