Friday, April 20, 2012

Jasmine Lee, the First Non-Ethnic Assembly Member (Part I)

Dear Korean, 

I was wondering what the Korean thinks about the election of the first naturalized Korean citizen to the National Assembly as part of the Saenuri Party's proportional list. The views expressed in this article appear to represent a radical fringe. The views in this editorial seem like a reasonable response. Clearly there is a range. However, I am curious how most Koreans feel. Is it seen as an important milestone in the development of Korea as a democratic multiracial society? Do most Koreans view this in a way that would be analogous to the first female/minority/openly gay member of parliament in a non-Korean context?

Also, it seems that the Saenuri Party is making a greater effort than other parties to appeal to immigrants to Korea. From a western perspective, this is perplexing as one would expect a progressive party to be more, well, progressive. Could you help to provide some context on this?

Eric M.

First of all, a bit of background on how the legislature elections work in Korea. Korea's legislature is called the National Assembly [국회]. It has 300 members who serve a four-year term. The election system is slightly complicated. 246 of those seats are given to “regional representatives” — i.e. candidates who win a geographical electoral district on a first-past-the-pole basis. 54 seats are given to “proportional representatives,” namely party representatives. This means that each voter casts two votes — one for the representative for her own electoral district, and the other for the party that she supports.

The “district” votes and the “party” votes are counted separately. The “district” votes are counted to determine the winner of the electoral district. The “party” votes are counted to determine how many seats would be assigned to each party. Each party that wins more than 3% of the “party” votes receives a seat based on the support. For example, if a party won 10% of the “party” votes, the party would receive five seats, or approximately 10% of 54 seats. Each party puts out a proportional representative slate that would take those seats. In this scenario, the first five people on the party’s slate would take those seats.

The National Assembly
The last Assembly election was held on April 11. In the last election, the conservative Saenuri Party (also known as the New Frontier Party, or the NFP) put Jasmine Lee at number 15 on the slate. NFP won 42.8% of the "party" votes in the last election, giving the party 25 proportional representatives -- which means Lee was in, becoming the first naturalized Korean citizen to be an Assembly member.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

Lee's story is quite compelling. Born Jasmine Bacurnay in the Philippines, she married her Korean husband who was a sailor in 1995. She moved to Korea the next year, and in 1998 founded the Waterdrop Society, the first civic organization geared toward assisting marriage-immigrant women to Korea. She was tragically widowed in 2010, when her husband died from heart attack while attempting to save their daughter who was swept in the rapids while they were vacationing. (The daughter survived.) Undeterred, she continued to raise her children and live with her in-laws in Korea. She began appearing in movies in 2010, and gained widespread fame by appearing in the 2011 comedy movie Punch, which drew more than 5.3 million viewers.

New Assembly member Jasmine Lee delivers opening remarks. (source)
How are Koreans receiving Lee? It is probably safe to say that there is no single sentiment which most Koreans feel. Many Koreans certainly see Lee's election as a significant milestone, as Koreans are slowly opening up to the idea of being a multicultural society. But the racist attacks are absolutely real. To be sure, it is important not to overstate the prevalence of those attacks. To give a numerical sense, only about 1 to 2 percent of all tweets referring to Lee contained any racist attacks. Yet, as all racist attacks are, they are shrill, damaging and attention-grabbing. Although proportional representatives generally do not make campaign promises, some Internet troll made up the supposed campaign promises by Lee that included over-the-top welfare benefits in an attempt to stoke xenophobia. Other slanderous attacks claimed that she was sold to her husband through a marriage agency, or that she falsely claimed that she was attending medical school in the Philippines. (She was a pre-med in college, which she did not finish as she followed her husband to move to Korea.)

To her enormous credit, Lee has been a profile of grace. In her first interview as an Assembly member, she said she was more concerned about other multicultural families in Korea getting hurt. She added that although she was hurt by those attacks, it was also an opportunity for Korea to prove its inclusiveness, referring to the Koreans around her who encouraged her to stay strong.

To understand Korea's reaction to Jasmine Lee, one has to understand the larger debate in which Lee fits. Beginning around 10 years ago, Korea was set upon the path of being an immigration destination by virtue of its newly found wealth. As Koreans are more reluctant to work in certain jobs that are more physically difficult, or live in areas that are rural and less-than-interesting (or, more specifically, marry the men who live in those areas,) non-Korean immigrants have been filling that gap. In the last decade, those immigrants are beginning to reach a critical mass.

Remember this truth about racism -- racists are animated only if the minority race is in a position to threaten the majority. (Stated differently: race relation is not an issue if one race is not in a position to affect the other.) This perceived threat can come in a variety of different forms. A minority in a position of power is threatening. A large number of minority is threatening, because of the implied power in the numbers. A minority with an official position is threatening. (It is not a coincidence that racists in America love to bash on African American DMV ladies!) A minority perceived to be crime-prone is threatening. In sufficient numbers, any minority with a job can be threatening. ("Dey terk our jerbs!")

[Aside:  this is the primary reason why the Korean still believes that America is the least racist country in the world. Because of the sheer number and influence of minorities in America, white Americans have the most reason to be (irrationally) hateful toward minorities. Yet, by virtue of its long experience with race relations, America handles race relations better than any other country, if that country were placed in a similar demographical situation.]

With non-ethnic Koreans comprising approximately 2 percent of the population, Korea is slowly coming to a point were the minority race can begin to pose a threat to the majority. It is not a coincidence that racist attacks on Lee happened around the same time as the gory murder of a young woman by a Chinese-Korean, who raped, killed and dismembered the victim. Sensationalistic newspapers did not fail to mention that the murderer was an immigrant, which drove the xenophobes in Korean Internet into a frenzy. In this context, the election of Jasmine Lee is particularly threatening to racists in Korea. It did not help that she was elected through the conservative NFP, which claimed a gutty win over the progressives in a closely fought election. As progressive voters are better represented on the Internet, the racist attacks against Lee on the Internet were particularly shrill. (More on this in Part II.)

By having Jasmine Lee front and center in the news, Koreans are facing up to the choice -- is Korea going to be an immigrant-friendly, multicultural country going forward? The no-brainer answer should be a yes. Like all advanced industrial countries, Korea has less native-born people who are willing to do the jobs that immigrants from poorer countries are more willing to do. In fact, Korea has less native-born people, period, because Korea's birthrate has plummet in the last decade to a degree that it is headed for a demographic disaster in 20 years if the situation does not improve soon. Facing this situation, Korea's elites -- regardless of their political persuasion -- are more or less unified behind their support for multiculturalism in Korea. (Prominent progressive personalities, like Professors Chin Jungkwon or Cho Kuk, have been quick to denounce the racist attacks against Lee.)

Ordinary Koreans, however, remain to be persuaded. It is important to note that the scale of racist attacks against Lee has been somewhat overstated, as the conservative media (who tend to be more influential in the traditional media outlets, i.e. newspapers and television) pounced on those attacks as a chance to claim that the progressives, who usually brand themselves as friends of the weak, were ugly hypocrites. But even if Koreans were not engaged in racist attacks against Lee, there is no question that a solid majority of Koreans are not yet sold on the goal of multicultural Korea. They remember the race riots of Los Angeles 20 years ago, the riots that roiled London last year, and German chancellor Angela Merkel declaring that multiculturalism in Germany utterly failed.

But more than anything else, Koreans simply have zero experience in dealing with someone from a different ethnic background, with different-colored skin, eating different food and speaking a different language. The Korean has never met a non-Korean in person until he was 15 -- and that was only because, at the time, the Korean Father was in the business of dealing with a lot of non-Koreans, who were invited to our house. Even today, overwhelming majority of Koreans have never had any meaningful interaction with non-Koreans. This alone will be a significant hurdle toward Korea's inevitable march toward a multicultural society.

Part II will deal with the second part of Eric's question, and give an overview of Korea's politics.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I would like to be cautious about this. Remember that the German Chancellor said that "Multiculturalism has failed" not too long ago.

    1. I think the way it was done in most European countries was actually not multiculturalism. That's why it failed.

    2. This is perhaps the least convincing argument for Multiculturalism I've ever heard. You could say this about many ideas.

    3. I'm a German who is actually living in a neighbourhood with a huge Muslim population. I usually just have to laugh about comments like "Germany is an example for the evils of Multiculturalism". Merkel and Friedrich (current Interior Minister, who said something similar stupid) can proclaim the failure of Multiculturalism as much as they want - it still doesn't change the fact that for example kebab is the most popular fast food in Germany, even more popular than McDonald's and other American brands. And anyway: Multiculturalism isn't an option you can chose or reject - it's fact you have to deal with whether you like it or not. This is ture for Germany and it will be true for Korea someday and this will not depend on what Koreans want or do not want.

  2. Diversity is unnatural, unhealthy and unsustainable.

    But since modernity as a collective whole eschewed any sort of unifying cultural and familial values in favor of commerce, I would have to agree with the Korean in answering the question "is Korea going to be an immigrant-friendly, multicultural country going forward?" with a yes.

    I must be neurotic. But aren't we all?

    1. "Diversity is unnatural, unhealthy and unsustainable."
      Is this a fact or a random statement by a brain damaged individual?
      It is so insulting...

    2. Diversity comes naturally on Earth and in our whole universe, and that's what make it sustainable for us. Diversity brings life, uniformity kills it.

    3. Goulip: I believe you misunderstood my definition of "diversity." For clarification purposes, please equate it with globalism, which I shall now use in place of the previously-used term diversity.

      You are absolutely correct. Nature and time are greater than any human, and it is important to live in harmony with the natural order of things.

      For that very reason, globalism is unnatural. An ideal society should be more like a huge, extended family. This type of society would have an organic values system arising from culture in the form of shared values, customs, language, heritage and beliefs.

      Of course, that does not bode well for commerce, because we need people to buy stuff. Facilitation of economic activity is the foremost goal of globalism, with everything else either being done in pursuit of it, or arising as auxiliary byproducts.

      Instead, what we are headed towards is a society where people have nothing in common except a desire to make money and not get murdered. Globalism turns people into uniform drones who require control in the form of incessant commerce, government and media.



      One thing that conservatives often fail to recognize is that we can never go back. We can only learn from our past and try to play it best with the cards in our hands. This is why I tentatively agree with the Korean in saying Korea is going to become a multicultural society.

      There is no way out...for the time being.

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    5. So diversity wipes out everything we have in common by turning us all into *uniform* drones? You might want to go back and start that argument over again. You might have something there once you choose a side. Also, if you think that immigration prevents a society from having a common culture or values, then I'd have to assert that your experience of multicultural societies might be a little limited. Americans come from many different backgrounds, but most, if not all, display aspects of American culture and values. Cultural identity is not in our DNA -- it's pretty fluid, in fact.

      And since people are not born with inherent culture or values already in tact, while having community is certainly important, having options within the community becomes important when you find yourself diverging from the mainstream, for whatever reason. Learning to be tolerant of people who have different values than you do is not something I would consider to be negative. But maybe that's my American value system talking.

      And yes, I realize you've now changed "diversity" to "globalism", but in that case, it's a little hard to understand why this is the article you've chosen to respond to, since it isn't really about anything even remotely resembling globalism.

    6. It is evident you did not grasp the point of my comment, which was that diversity and globalism are the same thing. Allow me to clarify once and for all.
      My definition of diversity: the idea that people of different ethnic backgrounds can coexist in harmony alongside one another with shared values and goals to better the collective whole.

      Please reread.

  3. Outstanding! You seem to be very intelligent and wise beyond your years.

  4. I applaud your reasonable economic approach to race relations. I agree that racism is a rarer thing in the US that assumed by viewing media outlets. I think the way money and interest group intersect in American politics and media has more to do with the heated rhetoric than racism. What you see as an opportunity for immigrants to Korea to fill 3-D jobs also plays a role in the States, along with competition from women. But, as in Europe, can you really be so sanguine when nationalism is linked to language and race? The US, as Hamilton called it, is an empire where he hoped local interests would dissolve. A man like Hamilton himself would never have become a leading figure in Korea, as he would have continued to struggle in the British empire he was born. Korea in 2012 is still aristocratic at its core.

    The way to test this is to wait and see if minority communities in Korea are allowed to continue education in their native languages or exercise other customs, or if they assimlate fully.

  5. I welcome this important milestone in Korean society. Half a century ago you couldn't pay people to move to Korea, and now people from other countries are looking for a piece of their own Korean Dream. It's a wonderful sign of Korea's progress and a tribute to the hard work and determination of its people. It should not be forgotten, though, that immigration is first and foremost for the benefit of the host nation; other than a reasonably small number of humanitarian admissions, the primary criterion for admission to Korean society should be How will the applicant benefit Korea, not vice versa. Certain European nations seem to have laid aside that motto and engaged in a competition to see who could accept the most immigrants from alien cultures, and look what's happening.

  6. Immigration might be beneficial for immigrants seeking employment or fleeing persecution in their home countries. But, let's not project a rosy picture for what is a means for countries to inject competition into their labor markets where there might be rigid laws, aggressive a/o corrupt unions, or demographic problems, such as TK talks about. Not every country encourages immigration as a labor policy, but many do. A counter-example is Norway, which relies on income redistribution. I hope Seoul made this decision with its eyes open, because liberal immigration, as the US knows, has deleterious consequences and requires political wisdom.

  7. In Europe, it was pretty darn simple: cheap labor in order to compete with Asia and some instant fuel for their pension systems.

    Of course, it is about what the immigrant can do for Korea! By the virtue of applying for immigrant status, the applicants have indicated an interest in some aspect of Korea which they found appealing. The process is not much different than college admissions or dating.

    The problem will significantly worsen when the foreigner population balloons due to reproduction. Not only because there will be greater number of minorities (thus becoming a bigger threat to Koreans, both perceptively and actually) but also because the kids themselves will be of a different mold than their parents, without having attained the "in-status" given to Koreans as a birth right. It will produce a generation of children who will reject their parents' culture as being anachronistic and unfitting, while despising the Korean culture for not giving them "equality" and "opportunity." This is the seed from which most minority dissents occur in multicultural societies.

    Big changes don't show up overnight; they slowly manifest themselves in gradual steps. Right now, 안산시 원곡동 is to 경기도 what Mexican ghettos are to California. And we're just getting started.

    1. Why "equality" and "opportunity" in scare quotes? If they are Korean citizens, they deserve the same kind of opportunity that any other Koreans receive. And if they do not, they are right to resent the racist system that keeps them down.

    2. I agree with you. However, it should not have to be a problem in the first place if 다문화 never happened in the first place.
      Granting these rights will never actually solve the root of the problem, but will keep adding to the social and economic burden.

    3. Giving equality and opportunity to citizens add to social and economic burden? Explain please.

    4. These disadvantaged, non-ethnically Korean citizens need to be given equality and opportunity.
      Ok, well...why?
      Because they are Koreans.
      But if they are, why does the process have to happen artificially?
      Let's take America as an example.
      The quickest and surest method of making any service cost more is to regulate it because you add a whole layer of employees who do nothing but bureaucracy conformance.
      Go to the budget summary. I see way too many "citizen-benefit" programs that cannot be eliminated without looking like they are dispossessing somebody. This leads to the aforementioned bureaucratic management, which passes the costs onto everybody else.

    5. Why do you not consider the other side of the ledger? Is there no benefit in equality and opportunity that offset the cost?

      Because they are Koreans. But if they are, why does the process have to happen artificially?

      I believe the answer is obvious.

    6. The answer is obvious indeed: because they are Koreans strictly and exclusively in regards to legal nationality.
      The "what does it mean to be (nationality X)" question is going on in France, where the country is divided over the issue of whether the French...want to remain French.

      You cannot take a generic person and truly turn them French, or Korean with the right education classes, clothes and how-to-guides.
      As for your first question, there is nothing better I can do than to direct you to this article. That is, unless you've already seen it.

      Should I give out an answer, I would liken it to going for a stroll in a shady neighborhood and finding $10 on the floor.

    7. The answer is obvious indeed: because they are Koreans strictly and exclusively in regards to legal nationality.

      And not in regards to race, right?

      The process of giving non-ethnic Korean citizens equal rights has to happen artificially because, in the state of nature, racists will deny those non-ethnic Korean citizens their rights. And you are fine with this state of nature, because non-ethnic Korean citizens do not deserve that right anyway, because they are not Koreans in any way other than legal nationality.

      As for your first question, there is nothing better I can do than to direct you to this article. That is, unless you've already seen it.

      I have seen that article many times -- it's a favorite among racists.

    8. No, it has to happen artificially because their primary motive for immigration to Korea has everything to do with climbing the social ladder and not much to do with Korea's intrinsic cultural values. This is an example of the tragedy of the commons, except the damage to the collective whole is being done on a massive scale.

      But that is not why I am responding.

      I had hoped to get a more comprehensive response, but given the time frame in which you responded and the nature of your writing, I am inclined to believe you resorted to knee-jerk reactions. I will try to elaborate.

      I am a nationalist. Nationalism is not about disliking religion X, political group Y, or ethnicity Z.
      It is the idea that for the greater good of humanity, we should divide ourselves by heritage (a biological record of culture) so that each nation has its own values system and self-rule. It does not address the question of superior/inferior, but is opposed to one world government for any reason.

      Let's look at Japan. This time, please read.
      I look at this and see ethnic homogeneity leading to strong cultural values and identity. Of course, the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese as well as their high average IQ surely helped.
      A racist guy would see this and respond: "Ok, that wasn't what happened when Hurricane Katrina struck. It's clearly the black people, I fucking knew it!"

      A good rule of thumb I use to define racism goes like this: person X is a racist if he refuses to marry (or approve of his offspring marrying) a person of race Y because of the belief that race Y is incorrigibly marred with inferiority.
      As for the nationalist version: person X is a nationalist if he refuses to marry (or approve of his offspring marrying) a person of race Y because he believes the inherent differences between the respective cultures pose problems that would otherwise not exist in ethnically homogeneous relationships, and thus chooses to avoid that path altogether. Personally, I would consider long term consequences, especially with respect to the resultant child.

      I hope I'm clear.

    9. Let's not confuse the definition of "nationalism," for I too am a nationalist -- "ethno-nationalist" would be a better description of your stance.

      My bottom line is this: you are not supposed to racially discriminate, no matter what the circumstance. See, you have it backwards: it is as if you are trying to eliminate rape by ensuring that women stay as far away as possible from (straight) men. One could also say for that solution that it deals with "problems that would otherwise not exist in sexually homogeneous groups." But this is a contemptible solution, because it confuses the priorities. Men are not supposed to rape, period, and it should not matter where the women are.

      Likewise, the majority is not supposed to discriminate, period, and it should not matter the size, culture, or any characteristic of the minority community. That is not only the legally correct result, but also a morally correct one. The "problems that would otherwise not exist in ethnically homogeneous relationships" of which you speak is the result of such discrimination, something that is not supposed to happen at any rate. (The same goes for the so-called "downside of diversity.")

      In fact, your stance belies your underlying assumption: you think racial discrimination as an inevitable and acceptable condition, instead of an evil that must be combated and minimized, if not eliminated. The assumption must precede before you conclude that racism must be dealt with by minimizing interactions with those of another race. It is because of this endorsement of racism that I am comfortable concluding that your stance is racist, notwithstanding your fancy word games.

      This is about as comprehensive as I will get, as I have very low tolerance for racism. Feel free to have the last word, if you want.

    10. Thanks for the reply. It was a nice read, aside from the absence of your definition of nationalism in spite of my version's dismissal.

      I believe this is a good read for many people, including your busy self.

      I am waiting to read part 2.

  8. The Korean are you aware of some of the 역차별 benefits that people promote for multicultural families, such as 특례입학 for universities? Some institutions prefer multicultural Korean for their workers, as evidenced by 하나 bank's job ad that was online a while ago.
    Busan did an event a while ago to do a free plane ride for SE Asian women-Korean men families to visit their home countries. Not to say that they should not visit their families, but I know tons of Koreans in the US who have not visited their home country for a long time because of money issues.
    I would love for Korea to have some diversity, but do the immigrants really deserve more benefits than the locals for just being different? Is it right to keep separating them from Koreans by labeling them as "다문화" every single time?
    it is a racist system not only because it does not give them the equality they deserve, but it also blows up the type of benefits they receive and competes them against low-income Korean families (since multicultural families get benefits regardless of their financial status).
    Also, what do you think about the whole "매매혼" issue? For me I've never seen a developed nation allow something where a man pays money to marry a women they have never met, who do not know each other's language or culture, and bring them over to their country. Often times these women are 10-20 yrs younger than the men, and are in poor socioeconomic status and poorly educated.
    I believe Korea needs to set their immigration policy straight if they're going to continue, because a maemaehon multiculturalism is definitely not what I think should be a part of a making a multicultural nation.

    1. I would love for Korea to have some diversity, but do the immigrants really deserve more benefits than the locals for just being different? Is it right to keep separating them from Koreans by labeling them as "다문화" every single time?

      As long as discrimination happens to them in Korea, yes. Living as a minority in Korea is not a picnic, and no plane rides, easier entrance to college or affirmative hiring will fully compensate for the difficulty that they go through.

      Also, what do you think about the whole "매매혼" issue?

      I think it's vile.

  9. Hopefully Jasmine Lee will be the LAST as well. Korea doesn't need to have vietnamese, filipino, indonesian, and other SE Asian wannabes who want to be korean just because they are addicted to kpop and kdrama and try to copy everything korean. Jasmine Lee has no right to dictate and determine Korea's future. She's filipino. She should go to the Philippines and try and improve their situation since their country is crap and full of poor people who have to be migrant workers in korea for jobs. She should go home, help her country and people as they need 100x more help than Koreans do. Who is Jasmine Lee to judge Korea and Korean society as being racist or too closed, and needs to be more multicultural? Take your multicultural bullshit and shove it up your u know what and send it back to the Philippines. Here's a FACT for you Jasmine Lee: Korea has 1.5 million registered foreigners (or 2% of korea's population are foreigners), this does not include the illegals which you could add another 200,000 or so. Now look at the Philippines. They have only 200,000 foreigners living there with a population of 90 million, this comes to 0.02%!!!!!!! Korea is 2% , Philippines is 0.2%!! Who the hell are racists now BIATCH? If anyone should be judged and criticized as being xenophobic, it's the Philipppines. Only 0.2% are foreigners. So pack your bags, go to your own filthy country and preach multiculturalism. Until then, keep your trap shut about Korea and stop judging Koreans to bow down to your multicultural agenda just because it benefits YOU since you are a filipino. Jasmine Lee is full of shit. She has nothing in her korean other than the fact that she was married to one and has a kid. If anything, Korea saved your ass from your poor filthy country and now you got a great life in Korea. So what do you do to show your thanks? Condemn korean society and pressure them to be more multicultural. HAHAHA..

  10. Also, most of you suckers don't know what racism is. It's a tool used to get ANY society to destroy itself via miscegenation and transformation of it's culture, identity, and peoples. Racism originally had a front of being a justice seeking mission to treat people with equality and fairness, and not less because of how they look or the color of their skin. Well not anymore. Today, racism is used to help the special interest groups in carrying out and establishing exactly what they want in this world, a one world. They don't want any nation to be homogeneous anymore. Their mission to make sure that anyone who doesn't surrender and give into race mixing will be branded as racists and evil hitlers of the world. You don't see this happening?? Here's proof. How can we eliminate racism? You can't. Not unless every single person has become mixed and then that's how you eliminate racism, because there won't be anything to differentiate anymore. Everyone will be brown. So what you people don't understand is that racism is not about equality and justice anymore. It's about forcing everyone to mix cultures, mix ethnicities, and become a singular group of human beings thereby being scattered, and up rooted....easier to control, easier to govern, easier to manipulate. The less people are nationalistic and proud of their history and ethnicity, the easier it will be for them to control the population. So if you think there will ever be EQUALITY in a society where there are multi-ethnic groups, you are dreaming a lie. It won't happen and can't happen. The only way it will happen is for there to be about 50 to 100 years of pain and fighting, but after that, once the 3rd and 4th generations of children arrive, they will 90% be all mixed and those people will no longer have to deal with racism since there won't be any "races" left...only one giant mix of peoples who just identify themselves with a corporation, citizenship, or religion. Don't you see this? Are you really that dumb and dense to not see this??? This is why I'm against multiculturalism (not in all places, but in the homogenous shouldn't force it on them or try to pressure them into "diversfication" of races).


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