Sunday, July 12, 2015

Weekly Response 3

In response to Han Geon-Soo’s “Multicultural Korea: Celebration or Challenge of Multiethnic Shift in Contemporary Korean History?

Gendered Migration, Korean Adoptees, and Multiculturalism

While I am not surprised by Han’s omission of transnational Korean adoptees from the discussions of Korean multiculturalism, I am somewhat disappointed, as I think that a lot of what Han discusses can be applicable to the transnational Korean adoptee populations as well. Transnational adoption between Korea and nineteen “Western countries” has a sixty year history, and comprises a population of over 250,000. Korean adoptees comprise ten percent of the Korean American population, and thousands of Korean adoptees come to Korea each year not only to visit and tour, but to live and work. Often showcased as the ambassadors of multiculturalism in the 1990s in the United States, Korean adoptees know far too well from experience the problematics that arise from the “rosy vision of the ideals of multiculturalism.”[1] Yet the omission from current dialogue on Korean multiculturalism shows the ambivalent history that extends into today that Korea has in thinking about adoptees as Korean subjects. Much like the marriage- and domestic labor-based migrants in Korea today who “had adapted themselves to their new home environments 200% by mastering trot singing, traditional Korean culinary skills, and operation of farm appliances, not to mention local dialects,” highlighting the success of Korean multiculturalism, Korean adoptees have also been co-opted by Korean society to prove the country’s status as global citizen.[2] I feel that in both these cases, the true experiences and difficulties individuals have faced as they have negotiated the oftentimes conflicting identities of foreigner and citizen of Korea.

Han’s discussion of “denizens” and “margizens”[3] reminded me of the recent discussions in The Guardian,[4] The Wall Street Journal,[5] and other news sources about the differences between expatriates and migrant laborers and the tiered hierarchy of migration. And while there are certainly connotative differences between denizen and margizen and expat and immigrant, as Han observes, there are also experiential differences, as middle-class migrants “not only live entirely different social lives, but also enjoy differential treatment in relation to their cultural background.”[6] I think it’s somewhat ironic that while certain foreigners are considered second-class citizens in Korean society, in other countries, particularly Western nations like the United States, Koreans themselves are considered migrant workers or immigrants rather than expatriates.

Finally, Han’s critique of Korea’s version of multiculturalism makes me wonder if there are alternatives to an assimilationist or multicultural model. The American version of dealing with racial, ethnic, and cultural difference has a lot to be desired, and even the celebrated Canadian multicultural model fails to acknowledge a lot of the nuanced cultural differences among its minorities. While multiculturalism is far from perfect in practice, I wonder if even in theory it is the ideal model. Yet, what alternative frameworks could be implemented? And is it all just semantics in the end?


[1] Han, 36.

[2] Choe qtd. In Han 34.

[3] Han, 41.

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration

[5] http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2014/12/29/in-hong-kong-just-who-is-an-expat-anyway/

[6] Han, 41.