Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: "There is No Hines Ward in Korea"

Last month, this blog featured a Wiki post about how a biracial Korean fared in Korea. One of the most informative comments came via email from Mr. Sajin Kwok, who was the project leader for the National Human Rights Commission's 2003 study on biracial Koreans who were born between American soldiers stationed in Korea and Korean women through rape, prostitution or consensual dating.

While searching for the report (which is available online here,) the Korean came across a feature article that nicely summarized the background of how the report came to be, and gave a more vivid description of the discrimination that biracial Koreans have faced in Korea. Below is the translation.

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THERE IS NO HINES WARD IN KOREA
["대한민국에 하인즈 워드는 없다", May 23, 2006 on Kyunghyang Weekly]

At 5:40 a.m., 47-year-old Park Myeong-Su, a biracial person who live in gijichon [TK: neighborhood near the U.S. base in Seoul] leave his small room of about 35 square feet to visit a construction company's office for day labor jobs. He waits all day, but there is no job for him. Even setting aside his Caucasian looks that he inherited from his American G.I. father, there is no place for him here, where jobs are doled out based on how close you are with the office manager. Park, who has always been discriminated as a biracial, says his personality does not let him make friends very easily. Because of the discrimination that followed his entire life, he developed a sharp edge.

Better Atmosphere, but Nothing Changed

(Above) Park Myeong-Su
(Below) Hines Ward and
then-Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun
If he whiffs at the office, he begins drinking -- even in the morning. He has nowhere to go, so he comes back to his small room. He would turn on the TV and drink silently, only to have the memories of discrimination that he has received his entire life bubbles up in his mind. He can only knock back the glass, not knowing how, where to pour out his swelling anger.

This is Park's life, as can be seen in the documentary "There Is", filmed for two years by director Park Gyeong-Tae. The audience who screened the documentary at a small theater near Hong-Ik University could feel the rage held in Park Myeong-Su's heart.

When the biracial hero Hines Ward visited Korea last month, Korean society roiled with attention toward biracial Koreans. The legislature proposed policies to assist biracial Koreans every day, and the government presented a comprehensive plan for biracial Koreans by the end of April. Although the fad had passed at this point, but it is a very positive phenomenon that the society recognized the issue.

However, the fundamental problem remains unsolved. Director Park says each time the biracial Korean issue emerged for the last 50 years, there was a policy to assist them -- and asks what changed. He notes that the issue of biracial Koreans at gijichon was always missing an important element. This is the point at which the director presents the issue -- the importance of tracing the origin of Park Myeong-Su's reality, his persecution complex and his anger. Director Park focuses on how the results of discrimination manifest themselves, and asks what went wrong.

Perhaps because the society changed, or perhaps because Mr. Park has gotten older, there is no one who actively discriminates against him now. But that does not erase away the discrimination that Korean society imposed upon him for decades. When he was younger, Park was frequently beaten for his looks, with ridicules of "twigi" [TK: "mixed breed"] and "yangnom" [TK: "yankee"]. He could not attend school, nor could he find a job. The pains of the past is connected to Park's present. He could not find work even if he wanted to; he barely survives in his 35-square feet hole.

If he happens to meet the eyes of a passerby, he torments himself with a persecution complex. The person might not think of anything, but Park thinks to himself, "That person is looking at me funny." Each time that happens, he reminds himself of his identity: "I am a Korean." When he drinks, the pent up anger in his heart explodes, usually in a violent form.

He was not this bad while living in America. Thanks to Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982, he moved to America in 1986 and lived for a decade. He briefly visited Korea, and found himself unable to return to America. In America, no one looked at him funny. Park says he could not communicate, but his heart was easy. He wants to return to America if he could.

(More after the jump)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Scars of Discrimination

Most biracial Koreans suffer the effects of discrimination. When working for Duraebang, a nonprofit organization that assisted the women of gijichon, Director Park conducted a survey of the biracial Koreans of gijichon by meeting more than 50 biracial Koreans located all over Korea. One of them was living in a mountain hut in Paju, Gyeonggi-do, avoiding all human contact. One Caucasian-Korean biracial in his 40s was in prison. He would beat the guards or swallow a fistful of nails to be put in a solitary confinement, away from other people.

Director Park Gyeong-Tae

Mr. Park misses other people. In the documentary, he constantly says "I miss you" to his friends and the director. The friends he made in his teens while shining shoes are no longer friendly to him. They found a real job, formed families and moved on -- but Park is at the same place. Tired of being lonely, Mr. Park wishes for a family-like relationship wtih Director Park. He would call the director in the middle of the night, demanding that the director visit from his house in the suburb. Despite Mr. Park's wishes, Director Park cannot be next to him all the time. When Director Park says no, Mr. Park threatens to commit suicide. Without the experience of being with other people, he does not know how to calibrate his reactions.

How would Mr. Park's life have changed had he been able to have normal education and normal relationships since his childhood? His life would have probably been very different if the country implemented a policy to integrate its people. This is the story that Director Park wishes to tell in his documentary.

Director Park welcomes the recent wave of governmental policies. But he also believes that they cannot be a fundamental solution, because the government is still blaming the social trend that considers important the "one people" concept, without reflecting on its own responsibility. Korean government previously was engaged in a policy that abandoned biracial Koreans and separated them from the rest of the society. In fact, it was the government that strengthened the "one people" ideology.

Syngman Rhee, the first president of Korea, attempted to resolve the biracial Korean issue, which began to emerge in the 1950s, by American adoption. President Rhee directed his government to find a way to adopt the biracial children to America as much as possible, taking the easy path instead of attempting to integrate the country.

Such policy did not change after President Park Chung-Hee came into power. President Park condoned the emergence of gijichon, from which biracial Koreans appeared. But biracial Koreans were abandoned under the Park regime. The government established a different set of policies when the special law for immigration to America expired in 1962. One of the policies was education. In 1962, the government announced the plan to establish a public school for biracial children -- evidencing the mindset that biracial Koreans must be separately educated. The school did not survive for long at any rate. This is in contrast to Japan, which provided integrated education such that now there is an elected local representative who is biracial.

As biracial Koreans reached their 20s in the 1970s, the government implemented a plan to transfer abroad all biracial Koreans who could not adjust in Korea, by exempting them from the military duty (which was a barrier for immigration) and providing them technical training. This policy, however, was ineffectual, as most foreign nations did not recognize the training certificates. The government soon closed the technical school, believing that the school was unnecessary if it was not conducive to sending biracial Koreans abroad.

Korean government's dilemma soon worked itself out. Thanks to a petition filed by a biracial Korean in 1981, the Untied States passed a law accepting biracial Koreans. Many biracial Koreans moved to America, and those who stayed were forgotten.

For some, this may be a natural conclusion. But Director Park does not intend to stop with his documentary; he is planning to make Korean government face its responsibility. He will petition to National Human Rights Committee regarding the governmental policy to separate and discriminate against biracial Koreans. If the result is positive, he will sue the government. The legal team is already prepared. He will also bring the issue to the United Nations and the United States. If successful, the biracial Koreans could not only receive reparation, but a tremendous consolation for their injustice.

Petition to NHRC, Litigation Against the Government Planned

The reparation will not be costly -- there are only 300-odd biracial gijichon-born Koreans left in Korea. The important part is that the government recognize its responsibility and provide the environment in which they may rest easy and work.

The country's apology will serve as a significant mental relief. Director Park cannot forget what Mr. Park said: "It is unfair enough that I was born this way, but it will be even more unfair if I killed myself." If biracial Koreans disappear without a trace, so will their pain, discirimination and the societal responsibility. Mr. Park cannot commit suicide for the society to recognize the lives of biracial Koreans.

Why are they in this situation, and how must it be resolved? Director Park delayed the screening of his documentary because, in order to calmly ask and answer these questions, he believed that he could not jump on the bandwagon of sympathetic public opinion caused by the Hines Ward fad.

Two Years, 47 Hours of Filming

Director Park first got involved with gijichon issues in 1999, when he visited Duraebang to help out his friend. To Director Park who was not familiar with the neighborhood, gijichon was a curiosity. He lived in the neighborhood for three months, assisting and befriending the women of gijichon. The women were quite different from how they were generally known. Based on his experience, Director Park made a documentary "The Owl and Me", about the lives of the women of gijichon.

In 2002, while Director Park was producing the documentary, he came to meet Kwok Sajin, a biracial Korean American who visited Duraebang to study the state of biracial Koreans in gijichon. At the time, Director Park was unfamiliar with biracial Koreans, as he had not had a chance to meet them. This was also the case in Duraebang, which focused on assisting the women of gijichon. Kwok said he wanted to start a project regarding biracial Koreans.

Thanks to Kwok, Duraebang jumped into biracial Koreans project by conducting a research regarding the human rights of biracial Koreans from gijichon on behalf of the NHRC. Director Park met approximately 50 biracial Koreans located all over Korea to discuss their lives and history. He was surprised to find that biracial Koreans never became a social issue, nor was there any social movement to resolve the problems they faced.

After the research, Director Park began producing a documentary about biracial Koreans. Other than the day laborer Park Myeong-Su, the plan was to feature five people in different occupations, including a nightclub singer James Lee and a regular office worker Johnny Kim. As he was filming, however, two of his subjects -- one who had his own business and one who was jobless -- were imprisoned. As such, the final documentary features Mr. Park as the main character.

Director Park met Mr. Park at least once a week for two years, roaming the streets, listening to his stories and filming them for the total of 47 hours. The two years were not comfortable for Director Park. Although they knew each other for a year before filming, Mr. Park still carries the habit of responding with violence to others as a result of the discrimination and violence that he faced. Director Park once had to visit the police station in the middle of the night to bail out Mr. Park, who was arrested after a fight. It was also not easy to interact with Mr. Park, who demanded an impossible amount of love and attention.

But Director Park said the difficulties were nothing considering Mr. Park, who would be left alone after the filming. Director Park says he feels a greater responsibility now that the documentary is finished -- because without the continued effort to hold the government responsible and demand reparation, nothing will change in the lives of biracial Koreans.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

12 comments:

  1. what about the emerging biracials of children born in rural Korea? A lot of the children have Southeast Asian mothers/mail-order bride mothers. I have seen a couple of donation petitons in Daum Agora website for biracial children with South East Asian mothers since they are not very fluent in Korean nor in their mother's native language and need speech therapy to improve their Korean before going to public school.

    I know that a lot of biracial children born from one caucasian parent often goes to International school or go to US/Canada to study. There are biracial children that show up on TVN show: Real Kids Rainbow show and most of the children are biracial. For some of these children, their Korean parent has expressed their wish on their blogs on sending the children to International school or go back to US to study.

    I personally think that the biracial children of this generation can really change the way Korean society view them, but if they do not wish to stay in Korea or integrate into Korean society by experiencing public education, military service and etc, things will continue to be this way.

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  2. LOL.. that's a polite translation of "yangnom!"

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  3. @Charles - Wouldn't yankee bastard be more correct. lol

    @Unknown - biracial = two races, not two nationalities.

    I think the whole Korean "blood purity" thing has almost come to a close, but it depends upon the generation. I think the younger generations are more and more open minded so this will no longer be an issue later on.

    My daughter's dad is Korean. I will be going to Korea for a year or so at least to check things out to see if it's okay for her. If it's not I'll happily return to America.

    I find that in talking to people with older half-Korean half-other race/nationality children that they prefer to raise them in a foreign country. But I wonder how long this will be necessary?

    Anyway, I speak both Korean and English to her, so I think the language barrier will not be there.

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  4. @ Periwinkletoes

    people have different ideas of race. I still don't consider Koreans and Japanese as the same race because of their ethnic makeup difference and the difference in physical characteristics and culture.
    I don't really believe in "blood-purity" either. I moreso believe in nation-hood or minjok idea. and I don't know how that relates to what I was talking about.

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  5. @Unknown -

    Well, there are only so many races.
    Asian
    Causasian
    Latino
    African
    Native Indigenious peoples

    You can say international children, which is what Koreans usually care about (nationality and not race), but interracial children is different from international.

    At least in English.
    I'm not sure about in the Korean language. Maybe that is the confusion? Koreans tend to look at the world from the position of us vs them. So it could be that the term is broader. I'm not sure?

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  6. @Periwinkletoes: Latino is not a race. It is an ethnic group comprised of several races (mostly European, African & Native peoples).

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  7. Guaria - I know they are a mix of others historically, but they typically are of their own "category" now so I included them. I was just going off the ones they list on the forms, my apologies.

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  8. @periwinkletoes Well I was actually educated in Canada for high school so that's what I got aside from my influences from living in Korea. Our Social Studies teacher told us that different countries had different ideas about race. Nationalism might also have to do with this.
    Now in Korea, interracial children + biracial children are called "damunhwa children" by proper terms. It means "multicultural child."Some people still use the term "hone-hyul" meaning mixed blood but it's practically the same as the English term "mixed" but it has been used for a while

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  9. Are Afro-Koreans more harshly treated than the Anglo mixes?

    This whole "Amerasian Immigration" act thing is BS. When will we start importing all global half-breeds just because white man likes the brown and yellow woman?

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  10. A very interesting read. Thank you for posting.

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  11. You just can't expect a mostly homogeneous country with a history of constant unwanted foreign meddling and invasion to simply embrace biracial children fathered by foreign men. I don't think that is possible. Whether its fair or not in the past the biracial people in Korea ended up paying for the sins of their foreign fathers. However the treatment of biracial people in Korea is getting better because Korea has become rich and Korean fathers of these children are now demanding that Korea change its attitude towards biracial people. As for Hines Ward I think Korean people's attitude and feelings towards him and his accomplishments are a lot more complicated than you think. Its not as simple as Koreans trying to claim Ward because of his accomplishments and ethnic makeup. Only an idiot foreigner who does not have a deep understanding of Hines Ward's background and Korea would think that way. First of all he is from a stereotypical broken relationship between a Korean woman and a irresponsible foreign man (African American in this case) where the man basically abandoned the Korean woman and she had to work her ass off to provide for her son. Ward's background basically gives Koreans the idea that he owes his career and accomplishments to his Korean side. Ward himself gives all the credit for his success towards his Korean mother while never mentioning his black father who abandoned him and his mother. This gives the Koreans the feeling that Hines Ward and his accomplishments are a product of Korea. As for the new generation of mixed Koreans. Indeed they will have a far better life than the previous generation simply because they will have fathers who are gonna fight and protect them unlike the US military men who bailed on the previous generation.

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