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Asian American Studies

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The Korean community in the United States has been existing for over 100 years and has been examined by the social scientists and the media due to its “unique mode of economic adjustment” (Min, 2007) (sic) and interrelationship with other ethnic minorities (Min 2007). 

Korean immigrants during early 1900’s were employed as laborers for sugar plantations because they were known to be a hardworking, reliable, stable, inexpensive, and a docile workforce (Ember et al, 2005).

Around 1965, middle-class Koreans immigrated into the United States with the aspiration to become more economically stable (Ember et al, 2005). Nonetheless, even though the immigrants were educated and skilled, there was difficulty in integrating their educational credentials and occupational skills into the American labor market and be employed. This dilemma did not hinder the Korean immigrants from becoming sustainable and independent individuals. Ember et al (2005) states that their focus shifted to small business ventures, like dry-cleaning and laundry services, import and export trade, restaurant and bar, general merchandise wholesale and retail industries.

According to Light and Rosenstein (1995), entrepreneurial success depends upon the relationship of supply being offered and demand the market requires. Koreans have found and created a niche where there is an absence of competition (Light, and Rosenstein, 2005) allowing them to exploit entrepreneurial possibilities. Min (2007) stated that Koreans were able to operate small groceries even in a crime-infested neighborhood. Moreover, according to Light and Rosenstein (1995), Koreans have the versatility to switch industries based on what services or products are lacking in a certain community. Primarily, Korean immigrants enjoy a supplier’s monopoly of ethnic marketable products where they have relevant knowledge, expertise, and contacts (Rusinovic, 2006; Jones et al, 2000). Thus, the presence of small businesses in major cities in the United States creates an impression that Korean immigrants are business-minded.

Korean immigrants receive financial support from their relatives and the Korean community. Ember et al (2005) explained that unlike most western executive, the Korean entrepreneur’s primary source comes from the combination of personal savings and loans from relatives, while some of the more affluent Korean immigrants bought existing businesses using personal capital. Moreover, according to Ember et al (2005), the Korean entrepreneurs also organized a credit union (kye) to provide funds for its members.

Korean-American Marriage Patterns

Korean women immigrants adopt their husband’s last name and are encouraged to have American first names based on American customs and convenience. Thus, Jung Sook Kim felt confused about her identity when being referred to as Sara Lee.

Korean married women are expected to profess obedience to father before marriage, obedience to husband during marriage, and obedience to her son in old age (Lee, 2009). This entails that Korean men expects to dominate women. That is why, according to Lee (2004), Korean women, who were born and educated in America, prefer to choose for themselves or for their daughters a non-Korean male partner because of the Korean males’ dominance and violent tendencies.

Lee (2004) states that there is a growing rate of pan-ethnic marriages due to the collective term “Asians” and due to constant social exposure to people with diverse cultures. Marriages between Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans during that time were widespread and a common event due to similar socioeconomic status and interests (Shinagawa, and Pang, 1998).

The study, conducted by Lee (2004), revealed that marriage preferences of Korean Americans are centered on values, like family cohesion. This entails that the chosen bride or bridegroom should not cause a rift between the two families.

Among affluent Korean-Americans males, their first choice would be to marry co-ethnically. In case there is difficulty looking for a Korean-American partner, Lee (2004) discovered that they would look for “the next best thing” (sic) in the person of an Asian-American presumably, due to cultural similarities in valuing education and family. However, the term “Asian” excludes Vietnam and Philippines due to perceived low-class label (Lee, 2004).

Nonetheless, Lee’s (2004) study also revealed that second-generation Korean-Americans, particularly working class Korean-Americans, prefer to profess and establish self-identity; they do not mind dating individuals from another culture openly.

Korean-American Support Groups

The Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance or KIWA is a non-profit organization founded in 1992 in Koreatown, Los Angeles, California. The organization aims to empower low-wage immigrant workers and promote solidarity among its constituents through sound leadership and a vision that entails effective strategies that transform workplace ethics and influence the whole Los Angeles area (Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance [KIWA], 2012). It is multi-ethnic in nature and caters to all needs of ethnic minorities working in Los Angeles, including Latin-Americans and other Asian-Americans. Part of their campaign is to develop leaders within a certain establishment, capable of lobbying worker’s grievances. Some of their victories include upholding legalization and immigration rights, raising minimum wages, lowering bus rates for the less privileged people, and advocating respect and dignity of workers. The team encourages its constituents to continue fighting against injustices in the workplace applying a unified strategy (KIWA, 2012).

Improvements and developmental strategies become successful when individuals are committed to promoting and advocating change. Sustainable development is made feasible through an aggregate of actions. Individuals in the workplace must first be aware of management policies and learn to ask questions about their rights. The KIWA staff will serve as their guide and stronghold when it comes to legal matters. This means that the organization will help in organizing groups that will monitor the workplace and evaluate the workers’ needs. Individual workers must become vigilant in assessing situations within the workplace and immediately report any grievance to committees concerned. The KIWA team provides a legal representative that will evaluate the situation and, if necessary, accompany individuals from closed-door meetings with upper management to court hearings (KIWA, 2012).

Individuals can be a part of the campaign by promoting the teams’ advocacy through social media. This would push the city officials to hasten development projects, like community parks and affordable housing. Promoting tourism and business opportunities aimed at corporate conglomerates can help answer demands in employment. Social media, like television and the Internet, plays a vital role in promoting the Korean-American experience and can be exploited to the advantage of promoting cultural solidarity amidst economic struggles.

Korean-American Adoptees

Kim (2010) wrote that South Korea earned its reputation as the “Cadillac of adoption programs” (sic) because of the number of expedited adoptions to the United States of America and Europe. It is presumed that the economic boom in 2007 was due to the exploitation of Koreas’ children (Liem, 2000b). The child becomes a commodity equated with monetary units thereby degrading his or her dignity as a human being. In 2006, some Korean adoptees campaigned for the termination of overseas adoption due to negative adoption experiences (Kim, 2010).

Nonetheless, Kim (2010) reported that a certain group of transnational adoptees understood the presence that economic instability was the foremost reason for sending adoption. Kim (2010) was able to illustrate the opposite side of this perception through narrating the experience of one adult adoptee on his return trip to his birthplace and noticing that Koreas’ economy is not on the verge of economic instability; hence, there should be no reason for the continuity of the overseas adoption program. There is this sense of foreboding that Korea cares less for the emotional precepts that surround an adoptee. Nonetheless, Kim (2010) was able to state that anthropologists and psychologists acknowledged the issues surrounding adoption, such as social “displacement and misidentification” (sic). She further elaborates on this matter through her findings that the American immigration law made it difficult for the adult adoptee to trace his ancestral roots.

The ethnographic study of Kim (2010) presented flexibility in its methodology. Her subject did not focus on one individual. She extended her observations and interactions to groups of adoptees in various locations, thereby enabling her to have a full grasp of the situation surrounding adoptees. Her findings, though extensive, have limited information regarding what goes on in exclusive circles of Korean adoptees that she clearly cited as a challenge. This entails that there are certain facets in the life of a Korean-American-adoptee that remain a mystery. Kim (2010) noted in her research that she experienced what it was like to be an outsider inside a group with a commonality shared but limited only to a concept of race. Korean-Americans have a sense of belonging to both Korean and American heritage, but not for the adoptees, meaning they will have no history to call their own. Among Korean-American adoptees, it seems that their identity and sense of belongingness is neither a Korean, because of the adoption laws that erased their Korean identity, nor a full blood American, because they were not biologically born of their American parents. Nonetheless, adoptees, according to Kim (2010), had found ways to have a sense of belongingness and identity through assimilation.

Deann Borshay Liem: First Person Plural

Deann Borshay Liems’ documentary about her journey of rediscovering her Korean roots after years of living as an adopted child of her American parents showed a bittersweet reality of acceptance of loss. Liem (2000a) stated that she had difficulty integrating both Korean and American concept of family and belongingness. In her video documentary, she mentioned that she feels more of a visitor amongst her Korean family, and that “she cannot just pop up as a child” (sic) and be part of that family (Liem, 2000b).

Liem (2000a) acknowledged that assimilation is an issue that she had struggled with some difficulty because of the implication that she has to establish her self-identity through reinventing self-image and accepting the reality that she has lost a great part of her history.

The 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest

Lie and Abelman (1999) expressed that the said event had both a negative and positive impact on the lives of the ethnic minorities involved. Furthermore, both authors explicated that the 1992 unrest was not due to a conflict between ethnic groups but because of the “anger and frustration” (Lie, and Abelman, 1999) (sic) brought about by the verdict on a certain injustice to an individual.  

Ember et al (2004) stated that the violence directed to Korean-owned enterprises tantamount to over $400 million. Moreover, Korean merchants in the ghetto experienced disputes from different clients, boycotts from an entire ethnic group, and looting (Ember et al, 2004; Lie, and Abelman, 1999). This prompted the Korean community to stage rallies to seek the aid of the government for police visibility and racial harmony (Ember et al., 2004). Dana (2007) states that during times of conflict Korean immigrants showed solidarity by coming to the aid of other Korean merchants under the threat of bankruptcy. Korean merchants were able to establish business associations that aimed to protect their community’s economic interests (Dana, 2007).

Among the African-Americans, that particular event in 1992 showed how people perceive their ethnic group as violent and considered it to be a dangerous liaison. According to Ember et al (2004), they were blamed for the looting and violence towards the Korean merchants even if most of those arrested during the aftermath were mostly Latin-Americans. Lie and Abelman (1999), in their interview with a Black-American, stated, “Black-Americans felt ignored” (sic) and that particular riot was a way for them to be heard and not feel oppressed by the government. Because of the riots and conflicts between ethnic groups, several African-Americans lost their jobs and were laid-off.

Korean merchants preferred employees to be the Latin-Americans because of their docile nature and cheap cost of labor (Min, 2007). The upheaval resulted to unemployment, but then, not all Latin-Americans worked as employees of Korean merchants. According to Min (2007), most of these Latin-Americans are property owners of the business establishments and houses used by Korean merchants. Problems associated with rental fees were seen as one of the reason for store robberies staged by Latin-Americans during the 1992 riot.

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