Kye Young Park
August 13, 1999.
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
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THE DISCOURSE ON CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION
Kyeyoung Park, Ph.D.
Visiting Scholar, Russell Sage Foundation
ABSTRACT. This paper deals with the construction of culture in diaspora communities, specifically Korean immigrants in the U.S. The paper analyzes Korean immigrant discourse on culture and argues that "Korean immigrant culture-making" is a creative and critical process drawing from Korean, American, and other cultures. Korean immigrants visualize this process in terms of tree grafting. They have developed a specifically Korean American interpretive, hermeneutic frame, developed as an ideology that links American claims to Korean responses.In New York City in the late '80s, a progressive group in the Korean American community organized a Korean cultural program in the Asian village at the famous Queens Festival . This mammoth festival attracts as many as 300,000 visitors on a weekend. After the festival was over, controversy arose over the Korean cultural exhibit. Did it fairly represent Korean culture?
Some people were indignant about the exhibit. They chided the organizers and said that the strong political messages --such as posters, paintings, woodblock printings, and wall hangings--had little to do with the elegance of Korean culture. For them, the artwork depicting Korean workers demanding higher wages and democracy was a disgrace for Koreans in the U.S. They questioned why exhibit organizers ignored the other aspects of Korean culture. They also declared that performance of farmers' dances and other folk dances misrepresented Koreans.
Here, the lingering question is the presentation and representation of Korean homeland culture in the context of a festival in the U.S. In other words, what is really "Korean" in the Korean transnational community, and why does this matter provoke such heated arguments among Korean Americans?
As Koreans leave Korea and settle in other nations, "Korea" is imbued with an enigmatic meaning, much different than in the homeland. In Korea, when people marry, they tend to verify their identity through references to region , birthplace, family background, educational level, and other factors. In contrast, here in the United States, the reference point for Koreans becomes ethnicity. Often we hear conversations involving immigrants about whether their daughter is marrying another Korean or not.
In addition to the problems of representation of culture and ethnicity, there is a problem of measurement. A Korean immigrant is often asked, how "Korean" are you? They raise this question as if we could measure the degree of Koreanization or Americanization . But it is more important to look at the implications of this question. What do people mean when they identify a person as "not being Korean enough" or "being too Korean"?
This article examines the construction of culture in diaspora communities--in particular, what happens to culture and identity as Korean immigrants live in the U.S. I pay special attention to meanings of "Korea" and "Koreanness" among Koreans living in the States. My intention is to analyze the recreation and reinterpretation of "Korea" in the Korean American community . I analyze Korean immigrant discourse on culture and argue that the making of Korean American culture is a creative and critical process drawing from Korean, American, and other cultures. Specifically, Korean American culture is rooted in Korea; however, its parameters are set by the political economy of the U.S. (i.e., by the impact of restructuring of U.S. economy on the immigrant community).
My data come from my ethnographic fieldwork on the Korean immigrant community in New York City in the late 80s, where some 200,000 ethnic Koreans reside . In Queens, New York City, the county population in 1987 was 49 percent white, 21 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic, and 14 percent Asian. In New York City, which has the second largest Korean community in America, over two-thirds of the Koreans work in small businesses as either employers or employees. As a Korean-born woman and an anthropologist, I will also add my own perspective as a new immigrant researcher to this discussion .
I position my work in relation to an increasing number of new approaches to immigrants and their communities which are shifting discussion from international migration studies to transnational diaspora. In their forthcoming book on Chinese diaspora, Nonini and Ong viewed diaspora in the following affirmative ways:
as a pattern (a) making a common condition of communities, persons and groups separated by space -- (b) an arrangement moreover, that these persons see themselves as sharing ("we Chinese..."), (c) one that is continually reconstituted by the literal travel of Chinese persons across and throughout the regions of dispersion, and (d) one, finally, characterized by multiplex and varied connections of family ties, kinship, commerce, sentiments and values about native-place in China, shared memberships in transnational organizations, etc.... (forthcoming:23-24)Also, as presented in new journals such as Diaspora (see Tololyan 1991 and Rouse 1991), Public Culture, and Identities, writers and researchers interpret the contemporary global movement and flow of people, information, and commodities, as trans-national instead of inter-national, multiple, circular, and returning, and following multifarious trajectories and diverse networks. This approach refutes the earlier framework of unidirectional assimilationist analysis.
This approach also reflects a new understanding of nation-states as borderlands of shifting and contested boundaries and presents migrant networks and communities in this context. These development occur within the new time-spaces of late capitalism or what David Harvey called The Condition of Postmodernity. A constellation of technical, financial, and institutional innovations which have occurred since the early 1970s has led to a shift in capitalism from mass industrial production to globalized regimes of "flexible accumulation" (Harvey 1989). According to Harvey,
Flexible accumulation rests on flexibility with respect to labor processes, labor markets, products, and patterns of consumption. It is characterized by the emergence of entirely new sectors of production, new ways of providing financial services, new markets, and, above all, greatly intensified rates of commercial, technological, and organizational innovation (Harvey 1989:147).Fundamentally, these changes are associated with the enhanced and increased mobility of people, commodities, ideas, and capital on a global scale. One of the major consequences is the migration of people. For example, Asian countries are producing more highly trained members than they can absorb, while the United States produces fewer than it needs. These imbalances are a product of the contradictions of capitalism, the resulting class struggle, and the efforts to restructure the global economy (Ong, Bonacich, and Cheng 1994:270). Since the late 1970s, large numbers of Koreans have come to the U.S. In Korea, they were mainly middle-class professionals. Their departure from Korea and their entrance into the U.S. reflect the relationship of late capitalist development between the U.S. and Korea.
Korean immigrant culture is based on the diaspora experience. It is transnational and deterritorialized. Following Glick-Schiller and Fournon (1989) in their study of Haitians, I analyze the Korean diaspora experience in terms of multiple and overlapping identities. For Korean immigrants, these identities allow them to both accommodate to and resist the realities of race, class, and gender both in Korea and the United States . Korean American culture, thus, is very fluid, and similar to what some scholars have described as creole cultures. According to Ulf Hannerz (1992), creole cultures "are intrinsically of mixed origin, the confluence of two or more widely separate historical currents which interact in what is basically a center/periphery relationships" (Hannerz 1992:264). Can Korean Americans be one of the many new creoles in New York?
Hannerz's Creolization concept helps us analyze the creation of Korean immigrant culture. However, the concept lacks important historical and political dimensions. It does not adequately capture Korean immigrants' critical role in the construction of culture and identity. Although the state plays the major role in resocializing or enculturalizing ethnic immigrants, people are not passive but rather dynamically engaged in the process of cultural construction.
In her much celebrated study of Asian American diasporas, Lowe argues that interpreting Asian American culture exclusively in terms of the master narratives of generation conflict and filial relationship essentializes that culture, obscuring the particularities and incommensurabilities of class, gender, and national diversities among Asians. Instead, based on her study of Asian American cultural texts, she suggests:
The making of Asian American culture may be a much "messier" process than unmediated vertical transmission from one generation to another, including practices that are partly inherited and partly modified, as well as partly invented (1991:27).Similarly, Apter stresses cultural construction as a dynamic process, evident in his study of Haitian Vodoun, Brazilian Candomble and Cuban Santeria. In his deconstruction of the much celebrated essentialized syncretic paradigm by Herskovits on the repossession of Africa's heritage in the New World, Apter states, "the relation between implicit social knowledge and political economy...that defines the horizon of Africanity in the New World: not as core values or cultural templates but as dynamic and critical practices" (my emphasis) (1991:251).
Nonetheless, Gable, Handler, and Lawson insightfully note the ongoing construction of culture can be politically damaging to underrepresented (or misrepresented) peoples who are in the process of claiming their collective rights. More significantly, lost in the deconstructive orgy is the more crucial point that majority or mainstream traditions are equally invented (1992:802).
In this article, I examine the construction of culture in diasporic communities, emphasizing the creative and critical practices relating to "agency." How do transnational people struggle to survive and what strategies do they adopt? In the case of hybrid-culture-making, what efforts are made to inscribe subjectivities?
So far the transnational experience have been addressed in celebratory terms. Little attention has been paid to "the prices people pay and are forced to pay by all of this, the blood on the floor and immense suffering and anguish and ambiguity" (Lauria-Perricelli, 1992:257). It is in this context of "anguish and ambiguity" that I examine the question of Korean American culture in multiethnic America.
A researcher who studied cultural differences and communication styles between Korean merchants/employees and black patrons in South Los Angeles listed the following values and characteristics of Korean immigrants, based on her observations:
Respect of hierarchy; racial pride; reverence for lineage-loyalty, honor and duty; introspection and self-control; age orientation; emphasis on collective responsibility; formalism in behavior and logic of the heart; circular (indirect) ways of thinking; avoidance of confrontation; and high regard for education (Stewart 1989:17-19).In addition, she stated that Asian tradition assumes that all humans are created unequal . Although some of these characteristics may be true, the concept of culture is much broader than a list of values and traits.
Other scholars have approached the concept of culture through acculturation studies. In Los Angeles, Hurh and Kim (1984) studied patterns of Korean immigrants' acculturation by measuring the following variables: English proficiency, exposure to American-printed mass media, and Anglicization of Korean names (first names):
In sharp contrast to the findings on acculturation, most of the dimensions of ethnic attachment are not related to the length of residence in the United States...regardless of the length of residence, a high proportion of our respondents subscribe to Korean newspapers, prefer to associate with Koreans, and prefer to attend the Korean ethnic church...One problem with these acculturation studies is that "they often involved a rather weak sense of the political economy of culture, of the overwhelming power of the Western expansion and of the material bases of change" (Hannerz 1992:262). In addition, in this study, we do not know what each Korean thought of the survey. Here, the measure of "Korean culture" is limited to the variables of language, names and media.
I believe that one of the most important keys to understanding Korean immigrants is the notion of "anjong" (establishment, stability, or security) related to small business ventures . As used by immigrants, anjong refers to a definition of success that is different from becoming rich or attaining status as a member of high society. Anjong was developed by Korean immigrants to make sense of the American ideology of opportunity. Included in the concept are the immigrant community's analysis of causes and consequences of social relations and prescriptions to take advantage of opportunities.
The immigrants see establishment of their own small business as a short-cut to the American dream. In striving for this ideal, they remind themselves of the proverb: "one will be rewarded as hard as one works." In their pursuit of "anjong" they alter traditional gender and kinship relations, as seen in the rise of a Korean American women-centered and sister-initiated kinship structure in small business. Also as a result of their focus on anjong, Korean immigrants have developed a new understanding of class, ethnicity and race, and new religious ideas and practices. "Anjong," therefore, plays the central role of a new "ideology" in the lives of first-generation Korean Americans.
The above description reveals certain aspects of Korean culture reconfigured in the Korean American community. However, unless we relate these concepts to perceptions of members of that community, we fail to understand the meaning of cultural reproduction, especially relating to selectivity. Is Korean immigrant culture "Korean" or "American" culture? Here, both terms are used metaphorically. Just as there is a great deal of heterogeneity in the way my interviewees talk about Korean culture, the same is true for American culture. For the most part, immigrants tend to identify American culture with life styles of the white American middle class. However, they are also familiar with other ethnic cultures in America. For instance, given the importance of small business activities, many Korean immigrant men in New York are familiar with Latino culture through bars and restaurants. Nonetheless, for Korean immigrants there seems to be a gap between their perception of America and their multiethnic experience. As a result, in their discourses, they do not seem to recognize American multiethnic culture, yet.
<! - - - - Temporary Break - - - - - - - > Working from an acculturation framework, professors Kim and Hurh suggest that the mode of adaptation serves as an adhesive for Korean Americans, enabling immigrants to stick together and incorporate American culture into their indigenous culture. Adhesive adaptation is a particular mode of adaptation in which certain aspects of the new culture and social relations with members of the host society are added to the immigrants' traditional culture and social networks, without replacing or modifying any significant part of the old [my emphasis] (Hurh and Kim 1984). However, unless one imagines that culture is static, holistic, autonomous or integrated, it is not easy to add American culture, while keeping Korean culture intact.
At the same time, one should avoid essentializing or totalizing Korean or American culture. The process of acculturation/assimilation doesn't necessarily mean a linear evolutionary process from the immigrant culture to host culture. Moreover, Korean and U.S. culture are interlocked since the Korean war, and therefore Koreans are exposed to the hegemonic U.S. culture before their immigration.
Another related problem is defining what immigrants mean by "America." "American" culture is composed of so many cultural elements from racial minorities that there is no "pure white" American culture.
According to my interviewees, the making of Korean American culture is a gradual process--but more importantly, a moral and political process. Koreans often comment on the gradual process of Americanization when referring to their eating habits . For instance, an immigrant who enjoys a sour grapefruit is said to be more Americanized than an immigrant with the preference for the Korean taste of a sweet mandarin orange. Similarly, an immigrant who drinks coffee without sugar or milk is more Americanized than an immigrant who drinks coffee with milk and sugar. In these cases, the process of Americanization is thought to be accompanied by bitterness as well as unfamiliarity. On the other hand, an immigrant who is said to be "smelling butter" is defined as being Americanized, carrying the connotation of forgetting his Korean culture.
Thus, the making of Korean American culture in the U.S. turns out to be a complex, selective, contradictory, and ambiguous process, encompassing a broad spectrum of change. I submit that there is great heterogeneity in the way each Korean American performs, practices, or interprets Korean and American culture. Often it is said that men do not change from the way they behaved in Korea greatly, whereas women change a lot in America. It is often said that the speed and quantity of Americanization in the Korean immigrant family is 3 (for children); 2 (for the wife); and 1 (for the husband). To this extent, the younger generation and women tend to Americanize much faster than the older generation and men . Perhaps educational level, particularly U.S. education, occupational category, and length of residence in the U.S. make a further difference. However, heterogeneity in the way Koreans are Americanized is not limited to these factors.
I propose three important angles to study the cultural production and reproduction of Korean American culture. The first angle is generation change: from immigrant parents to children, from an immigrant community to ethnic Americans. The second angle, which is the major concern of this article, is the way immigrants in their daily lives tear apart "Korean culture" and reconstruct it. In other words, they constantly use Korean culture as their cultural reference for digesting American culture. The third angle is identifying contradiction, confusion, and struggle. As immigrants understand implications of American culture, they develop a fear for their future. As a consequence, they constantly critique both American and Korean culture as a way of producing the third alternative, Korean immigrant culture. The only way to overcome this contradiction is in creating this new alternative. In other words, they will have to redefine Korean as well as American culture.
With these angles in mind and based on my interviewees' responses, I identify four main types of value judgments by immigrants about Korean American culture. These value judgments occur over a wide spectrum of daily life: in aesthetics; virtues/morals/ethics/righteousness; concepts of time and space; language and speech patterns; behaviors and mannerisms; work relations; social and human relations; gender relations and sexuality; experiences with state agencies such as school, police, court, and government; patterns of consumption, leisure, and customs, etc. In undertaking this redefinition, Korean immigrants employ moral discourse as a strategy to make sense of aspects of both culture. Douglas (1966) shows that classificatory systems are not only for organizing things into an orderly reality but also putting them into a moral framework. For Korean immigrants, what does not fit into existing rules or classificatory systems is described as wrong, bad, dirty or dangerous. For instance, for some Korean immigrant men "Americanized Korean women" imply loose sex moral.
Korean immigrants often refer to "drinking different water," when they change their residence. Accordingly, they view their new life in the U.S. as "drinking American water" (mikukmulul masida). However, they also distinguish between good or foul water. If one develops the reputation of "drinking foul water," it implies that one is not properly Americanized.
It is also apparent that immigrants focus on the negative aspects of U.S. culture when they speak of those who are "thinly Americanized," compared with "truly deeply Americanized." Similarly when they call someone a "true Korean," compared with someone who is "thinly Koreanized," they refer to the negative aspects of Korean culture.
Furthermore, many Korean immigrants talk about the making of Korean American culture as "grafting," chobmok. A Korean immigrant woman, an art therapist, wrote:
In my hometown, there were many fruit trees, particularly persimmon trees, "kam namu." Early morning on summer days, I used to gather all the fallen persimmon flowers and wear it as a necklace. Later I used to eat one after another. A persimmon tree is not originally a persimmon tree. First, one should find a young koyom namu (a kind of persimmon tree, but considered inferior in quality to a true persimmon tree). Three years later, often in early spring, one cuts the stem of the young tree and grafts it the real persimmon tree. I found the whole process to be poetic and mysterious, and it used to appear often in my drawings. Our immigrant life is exactly this process of grafting, chobmok (Korean American Women for Action, "Yosong Ch'ongu" 3 (spring) 1986).Korean immigrants see a persimmon tree and Koyom tree as equivalent to Korean or American cultures, which through grafting can ultimately produce delicious persimmons. The underlying message is that one has got to be careful to select good trees in order to complete the grafting process.
In the grafting process, some immigrants (i) add negative aspects of American culture to negative aspects of Korean culture; (ii) others adopt negative aspects of American culture, but keep positive aspects of Korean culture; (iii) still others adopt positive aspects of American culture, but lose positive attributes of Korean culture; and (iv) others adopt positive aspects of American culture and also keep positive aspects of Korean culture. Here, this moralistic and aesthetic discourse can also include dimensions of affirming/negating or adding/forgetting each culture. As seen in Figure 1, the last type can be called the "cosmopolitan outlook," while the first category refers to the "estranger" (i.e., marginal people). Cosmopolitanism means a willingness to put the future of every culture at risk through the critical, sympathetic scrutiny of other cultures, and the willingness to contemplate the creation of new affiliations (Hollinger 1992:83).
As seen in Figure 2, by measuring the frequency of positive and negative attributes of Korean and American culture, we come up with a four-way classification. These categories stem from Korean immigrants' efforts to make sense of their host culture, American culture, with references to their prior Korean experience. Like the Hegelian system of dialectics, they identify a thesis (Korean culture); an anti-thesis (American culture); and the synthesis (Korean American culture). However, my research shows that this process does not occur smoothly. Immigrants are often torn apart by conflicting cultural repertoires. In addition, they often find these cultures contradictory to each other.
Four-Way Classification of the Formation of Korean American Culture and "Grafting"
bearing delicious fruit
/ (+,+) \
/ | \
weak branches | infirm roots
Americanized negative | Americanized positive
Koreanized positive - - - | - - - Koreanized negative
(-, +) | (+, -)
\ | /
\ | /
bearing inedible fruit
Here, it is important to note that most immigrants remain at the intermediate levels, half-way, yolch'igi: Americanized positive and Koreanized negative; or Americanized negative and Koreanized positive  Although there are different levels of maturity, the developmental process is a continuum, evolving continuously. More importantly, it is fluid, moving in different directions at different times . It might be expected that all immigrants move toward Americanization. However, this direction is contingent on political and economic factors relating to the status of Koreans in American society.
For Koreans, becoming American has a special meaning, more than holding U.S. citizenship. Many speak about their dream of material success in the idiom of Americanization. They see this as a synthetic and dialectical process: joining the best parts of Korean culture with the best parts of American culture. The person who is "truly deeply Americanized" belongs to the highest stage of development. These idealized individuals have moved beyond the individualistic and selfish attitudes that many see in thinly Americanized immigrants.
Immigrants' criticisms of fellow Koreans' behavior, and their contradictory views about positive and negative aspects of "American" behavior lead to an interesting social commentary about life in America.
Bearing Inedible Fruit. At worst, an immigrant loses, denies, or forgets the good aspects of Korean culture and adopts the bad aspects of American culture. For example, there are Koreans who are not able to speak either English or Korean fluently. Mrs. Kwon who runs a Korean dress shop sees this trend, particularly in young people:
Young ladies smoke and young guys have long hair and assume loose attitudes, adopting the American way. I wish that these were not identified as traits in Koreans by other ethnic groups. I want Koreans to keep their own culture. It remains a major concern of many Koreans to retain their cultural tradition, including language and proper behavior between generations. Some immigrants fear that if they adopt some aspects of American culture, they will lose Korean culture in the process.Weak Branches, "yakhan kaji." At the intermediate level of Americanization, Mr. Chun, a fish market owner, explains how some Koreans tend to adopt only bad, egotistical, individualistic, and materialistic aspects of American culture:
Some Koreans tend to be Americanized too soon. They pretend to be American as soon as they arrive in America, adopting an arrogant attitude. Without considering any obligations to other Koreans, once they make some money, they try to isolate themselves by living in the suburbs. They do not think of the well-being of the second- or third-generation Koreans. That's why, despite my ten-year residence in America, I am reluctant to be Americanized.Here, Mr. Chun suggests that even Americanized Koreans should be concerned about the future of Korean American community. Similarly, Mr. Kim recognizes other Koreans' thin Americanization as he struggles to select only good aspects of the American culture for himself:
As Koreans live longer in America, they also become individualistic. If someone is robbed, now Korean onlookers, like Americans, neither call the police nor help the person. While I was shopping yesterday, I thought about the serious competition among Koreans. This is sad; there were too many green groceries all on the same block. In my analysis, Koreans seem to become inhumane. As they live in a difficult situation, they learn to satisfy only their own accumulated wants.It should be noted that individualism, materialism, and competition have been relegated to "Americanization." What is the implication of invoking such references in terms of Americanization and Koreanization? Moreover, the more that immigrants pursue their dream of owning small businesses, the more likely they become materialistic, competitive, and individualistic--traits that conflict with their ideal of true Americanization.
Meanwhile, other immigrants strive to retain some positive elements from Korean culture. In the following statement, Mr. Pai, a Yellow Cab driver, critiques American society:
What is negative about American society is the dependence on government. Whereas Americans seem to be content with their lives, Koreans always try to have a better life, focusing on savings. In that sense, I want to keep working hard. I plan to run a grocery in two or three years.His statement reflects Koreans unfamiliarity with the welfare state. South Korea has no such concept. Similarly, Ms. Hong, a 23-year-old, college student wrote:
I am proud of my three siblings. I am not saying that I have no conflict at all with them. Since I left Korea for Brazil at the age of eight, my younger sisters remember little about Korea. In addition, they made many friends with Americans, mikuk saramdul , so they became more Americanized. Therefore, I often try to talk to them after seeing movies together. "We are forever Koreans. Tradition or customs might change but never disappear. To remember and respect our hard work and the suffering of our parents, we need to be careful. Don't ever forget Korean etiquette and manners. Do you understand?" Then, my 16 and 19 year old sisters say, "Older sister, we are aware. Don't worry" (Korean American Women for Action, "Yosong Ch'ongu" 3 (spring) 1986)To Ms. Choi, who works at a coffee shop, Americanization is just a term, not a realistic goal. She points to racial and ethnic discrimination against Korean Americans and the American notion of privacy and private property as major stumbling blocks to Koreans' Americanization.
No matter how long one has been in America, there seems to be a barrier in terms of race and culture. It is difficult for a Korean to go beyond this barrier. For instance, if one ignores our customs--if one kisses a lover in public, or if one eats in public without sharing food with others--one usually gets criticism. When Americans eat in public--and they often offer you some of their food--I am sure that they have a clear notion of "my food" and "your food," which we do not have.To her, Koreans neither can nor should be fully Americanized. They retain their Korean cultural baggage. Even if they try, they will not be accepted easily by Americans. She adds:
If Americans treat them (Koreans) as a new sort of American, it is only when it is in their interest, and no more. Many second-generation Korean Americans have problems when they enter college. They are not regarded as American, but they are not accepted by Koreans either.Infirm Roots, "hundulinun ppuri." My interviewees were constantly comparing different social systems and cultures, assessing pros and cons. In this typology, they are able to find some positive elements from the American culture while discarding some bad elements in Korean culture. Mr. Kwon, who arrived in America ten years ago, says,
...The quality of education itself, I think, is better here. In Korea, emphasis is given to cramming; in America, although students don't listen to their teachers, there is more emphasis on creativity and using a different method of teaching.Others agree that American culture has positive values, often associated with rational and liberal values, while Korean culture needs some reform. Aiming at becoming "truly deeply Americanized," Mr. Park states that he will lead a more American life in the future while discarding bad aspects of Korean culture:
I want to adopt the way of life Americans live, but more so internally than externally . I came here with an understanding of Korean culture, having been educated in Korea. This would be a chance for me to correct the bad aspects of Korean culture, such as excessive formalism and Korean time [failure to be punctual]. For instance, in the past, if my nephew here ate food alone, I felt unsettled, because in Korea food should be shared, never eaten alone. But now I understand it well. Also, I now object if someone is not punctual.As far as the American family is concerned, many immigrants are struck by the difference in gender and generation relationships. To Mr. Nam, American family life is epitomized by its high divorce rate. Yet, he feels that depending on their level of income, many American husbands and wives seem to enjoy life together a great deal. He also sees less discrimination between the sexes. "American women seem to make many important decisions--at least 60 percent of family decisions."
Bearing Delicious Fruit. To many Korean immigrants "true Americanization" is multifaceted. They mean a state where one holds on to the positive aspects of Korean culture and, at the same time, incorporates the best aspects of American culture. As a goal, true Americanization comes after the realization of the economic dream of establishment of a small business. However, the quest for this dream brings out both negative aspects of Korean and American culture, especially individualism, materialism, and other traits. Only if one adopts American values selectively and critically can one be said to be truly Americanized.
I also want to emphasize that this creative process will not be complete until Korean immigrants are able to be critical of both Korean and American cultures. It is not easy to add American culture to Korean culture. Only when they critically review Korean culture and decide which aspects to keep and which to radically remove is there room for American culture. Here, the Buddhist concept of "emptiness" can be helpful . In other words, in order to gain something, one first has to empty oneself. So, only after a critical review of both Korean and American cultures can we imagine the creation of a new Korean immigrant culture. However, it remains a challenge to develop a new consciousness that is critical of both Korean and American culture.
Therefore, my interviewees consider the political dimension crucial in their making of Korean American culture. For them, Americanization means becoming familiar with the American social structure, particularly the legal system--in other words, becoming integrated into the American system . James, a Certified Public Accountant, observes:
(Initially) Koreans seem to be obsessed with the idea that they should not pay taxes in America. They thought of America as a free country, and, if at all possible, they want to avoid paying taxes. However, as children grow up and get educated, they realize their mistake, and are ready to pay taxes fully.Mr. Hwang, a bakery owner, holds what is perhaps the most widespread view among established Korean immigrants. What Americanization means to him is a blend of the best values of each culture, striving for the ideal, "true Americanization."
In addition to understanding the laws here, we have to try to learn the language and the culture. For instance, if we do not do so, our children will not listen to what their parents say, and will become too individualistic. But we must not forget our own cultural tradition. We should not do any shameful things, and not forget Asian pride and virtues. However, as long as we live in America, we must also try to adapt ourselves to this new environment.Moreover, a second generation Korean American wrote:
...My renewed love for Korean culture has simplified my life because I can focus my efforts on carving out a new bicultural identity. My new awareness of Korean American issues causes many internal conflicts. I have become overtly sensitive to the second-class treatment all minorities seem to tolerate...I assert myself against misconceptions others have about Asian American males and, I begrudgingly let others know I am Asian and American...I am always homesick. Despite my American citizenship, my disappearing Korean accent, and all my late-night humor derived from David Letterman, I did not feel like I was American. I wanted to go home, but I felt like I had no homeland. Korea was no longer home. I knew I was a foreigner the moment I was charged more for taxi fare. I realized I had to make America my home...(Bobby Kim, Koream Journal, Sept./1993:20).Some definitely feel that Korean immigrants should be more interested in political life beyond their individual economic concerns. Mr. Pyo, a medical technician, worries about the lack of unity in the Korean community, especially compared to Chinatown, or to the Jewish and Italian communities. But he notes some progress in Haninhoe.
The Korean Association of Greater New York, we knew at first only for its name. After going through a period of transition, now it is getting in better shape, working on juvenile delinquency, senior citizen problems, and for contact with other ethnic groups.
Korean immigrants' postcolonial world is an interconnected social space in which everyday they travel back and forth between Korea and the U.S. Korea/U.S. borderless social space emerged as a result of transnational capitalism, rather than geographical contiguity in this era of Pacific Rim affluence.
Within this setting, Korean immigrants see establishment of their own small businesses as a short-cut to realize the American dream. In pursuit of "anjong"--as far as a cultural form of economic arrangement is concerned-- immigrants mobilize kin networks, participate in voluntary associations, and organize home life. Korean culture is retained and reconfigured, selectively, in relation to historical, political and economic conditions in the U.S.
Thus, "Korean immigrant culture-making" is historically situated, politically charged, and creative. Immigrants visualize this process in terms of tree grafting. As Taussig (1992) notes, many of our cultural explanations are based on body and biology. For immigrants, Korean culture is selectively, and contradictorily remembered and forgotten, transformed and reconfigured. Therefore, Korean immigrant cultural formation involves contradiction, hybridity, and heterogeneity--all aimed at creating a creole culture. As their main strategy, Korean immigrants rely on cultural and ideological criticism of both Korean and American cultures. Their strategy results in four different outcomes: bearing inedible fruit; grafting good Korean tree on to a bad American tree; grafting a bad Korean tree on to a good American tree; and bearing tasty fruit.
However, the process of grafting doesn't tell much about immigrants' conceptions of morality and historicity. Here, perhaps, we need to shift our metaphor by referring to two different kinds of surgery: imbricating and suturing . Imbricating implies having the edges overlapping in a regular arrangement like the scales of a fish or sewing pieces of cloth, emphasizing plausible appearance only, regardless of function. In contrast, suturing (or articulating) is the process of joining by means of sutures. Jacques-Alain Miller, a Lacanian, defines suture as that moment when the subject inserts itself into the symbolic register in the guise of a signifier, and in so doing gains meaning at the expense of being (qtd in Silverman 1983:200). The theoreticians of suture agree that it provides the agency whereby the subject emerges within discourse, and (at least ideally) takes up a position congruent with the existing cultural order (Ibid:236). The process of grafting seems to be more similar to imbricating than to suturing. Korean immigrants see culture making in terms of grafting, although this scheme lacks a sense of historicity. However, their construction of culture also involves struggle, confusion, and contradiction in a creative, heterogeneous and dynamic process.
Why do we talk about Korean or American culture at all? Why is culture important? As Rosaldo (1989) notes, North American notions of the "melting pot" make immigration a site of cultural stripping . Moreover, for racial minorities, including Korean immigrants, culture represents their economic and political power in the United States, and, hence, culture becomes a weapon in helping them struggle to attain self-esteem and empowerment.
Unlike Korea, in the multicultural society of America, Korean norms are consistently questioned and challenged. Korean immigrants have to change and adapt, and a new Korean American culture emerges in the process. Korean American culture is also greatly influenced by other cultures and will also eventually influence other cultures in America. Who knows? Perhaps one day Korean American culture may integrate elements from Latino and African American culture, and vice versa. By that time, we may envision Korean American culture as only having its origins in the Korean peninsula. Its development and elaboration will be in America.
Acknowledgments.Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Conference on Korean Ethnics, organized by the Academy of Korean Studies, Seoul, Korea, September 17-24, 1993; and at Korean Culture Night at the University of Colorado in April 1993. Portions of the research data came from my doctoral dissertation research on Korean immigrants. This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation and was conducted as part of The New Immigrants and Old Americans project, directed by Professor Roger Sanjek at Queens College. I am grateful to Alessandro Duranti, Russell Leong, and Moon Okpyo for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Also, I thank Glenn Omatsu for editing and suggestions, and Helen Na for help with manuscript preparation.
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