Korea’s Multicultural Growing Pains
Image Credit: KOREA-BRIDES REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Korea’s Multicultural Growing Pains

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With his song “Gangnam Style” performer Psy became a global phenomenon. Perhaps less known overseas, 9-year-old Hwang Min-woo, known as “Little Psy” for his role in the “Gangnam Style” music video, has also earned considerable popularity in Korea, even releasing his own music album.

However, as Hwang became recognizable in Korea, he also became a target for the same kind of malicious online comments that have plagued other celebrities. The difference in Hwang’s case is that people are attacking him for having a multiracial background. 

The Internet bullying of Hwang, who has a Korean father and a Vietnamese mother, has been so severe that his family finally decided to initiate legal action against his attackers.

As South Korea rapidly becomes more multicultural, with growing racial and cultural diversity, incidents of harassment targeting people with different backgrounds like Hwang are rising. Some observers are beginning to see it as becoming a severe social problem. 

According to the Ministry of Justice, about 932,000 foreign citizens from 184 countries were classified as long-term residents in 2012. The number rises to 1.42 million when short-term visitors are included. Those deemed long-term residents account for around 1.8 percent of South Korea’s total population of roughly 50 million. In a survey conducted by Sogang Institute of Political Studies, 82.9 percent of respondents answered that they thought Korea had become a multicultural society.

Yet the South Korean self-identity of racial homogeneity dies hard, and the concept of multiculturalism has yet to reach the stage where people can discuss how to integrate different cultural groups into a harmonious society and benefit from the diversity. According to the study conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), 41.3 percent of multicultural families in Korea said that they had experienced discrimination in 2012, up from 36.4 in 2009.

“Korean people usually have a negative attitude toward people with a multicultural background. As the number of immigrants from emerging countries increases, Koreans tend to think of those foreigners as poor people who came to Korea to make money.” Kim Nho-young, an official at Yangpyeong Multicultural Family Support Center told The Diplomat.

Explicit discrimination is not the only problem confronting people with a multicultural background. Other difficulties include “difficulty of communication,” “cultural differences,” and “loneliness,” according to the MOGEF study in 2012.

Among those difficulties, language is the biggest initial obstacle for newcomers when they first come to Korea.

Sun Ke Hui, a 36-year-old Chinese housewife who came to Korea in 2008 and is now fluent in Korean, recalls that when she first arrived in Korea, she had to face various difficulties due to her lack of Korean language skills. “Since I was not able to express my feelings and opinions, I was not only frustrated, but it caused a lot of misunderstanding,” she said.  

Her difficulties with the Korean language also caused issues in her relationship with her Korean husband. The couple was not able to deal with problems between them because Hui could not express herself fully in Korean.

Remembers Hui, “There were so many times when I could not understand my husband’s or my mother-in-law’s behavior. Now, I realized it was a cultural thing, and I can understand it now. I’ve arrived at this point as I studied the Korean language diligently.”

Comments
12
CJ
September 11, 2013 at 04:31

Well, Koreans do not keep the same racist attitudes overseas as well. Perhaps some are racist, but never the majority. 

Gary John
August 23, 2013 at 22:00

Mutticulturalism = communism in disguise. If the whole world embraces diversity, there will be no diversity left. Racially diverse societies are an enormous source of tension and conflict. Not every race is capable of building and maintaining a 1st world nation. Most immigrants to Korea have far lower average IQ's than Koreans. Science 101. Science is not racist.

Kim's Uncle
August 23, 2013 at 14:06

"Why must Korea blindly follow the failed social/immigration policies of Europe, the US, and the West"?

 

Why don't you ask Koreans why they come to the US and set up towns like Koreatown in LA if the US is such a failure?  Think about it let me know.

Cyrus
August 22, 2013 at 01:54

They should not forget that they themselves migrated after the Korean War… Also they should not forget it was due to the multicultural UN that they are now enjoying their freedom and economic success. 

Otherwise, they are likely to be the same as NoKor if UN didn't help.

papabonnar
August 22, 2013 at 01:10

  You don't, now saying that they will come anyway even if it is not the legal way. Just ask anyone that lives in the states along the Mexico border. So yes it is going to happen people will always move to where it seems better you can't stop it. At best you can slow it down.

TV Monitor
August 22, 2013 at 00:46

Children of Japanese mothers are a subject of controversey in Korea's race policy, because their children are entitled to same extra social benefits that the children of Chinese and Southeast Asian mothers get even though research and statistics show that Japanese mother's children aren't disadvantaged in school achievement and test scores at all. But the government agency insists that the children of Japanese mothers can't be excluded from benefits because that would be a racial discrimination.

TV Monitor
August 22, 2013 at 00:41

@ Evan

Well, Koreans keep that same racist attitudes overseas as well.

TV Monitor
August 22, 2013 at 00:39

This is not the case. The research on multiracial children is finding that multiracial children born to Southeastern and Chinese mothers aren't keeping up with children born to Korean and Japanese mothers(Yes, there are tones of Japanese wives in Korea nowadays) in school, ensuring that they would form the underclass of the Korean society when they grow up. Children born to Japanese mothers are the only multiracial children escaping this fate.

Mars
August 21, 2013 at 16:28

Hmm, so who were those Koreans who went to Western countries for work and education? 

Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were uneducated. Maybe they were both. Who cares?

Why is it wrong to view some foreigners as "poor people" who come to "make money"? In Korea, that is actually generally the case among foreigners.

The problem lies not that we view some people as poor or uneducated. The issue is with humane treatment of all peoples, regardless of race, social class or status.

 

 

Mars
August 21, 2013 at 16:23

“Multiculturalism is now an inevitable phenomenon in Korea,” says Lee Ra, the head of the Association for Multicultural Women.

 

Why is multiculturalism, so-called, inevitable?

Why must Korea blindly follow the failed social/immigration policies of Europe, the US, and the West?

 

ka
August 21, 2013 at 02:11

one day – immigration people will control Korea -

Evan
August 21, 2013 at 00:22

“Korean people usually have a negative attitude toward people with a multicultural background. As the number of immigrants from emerging countries increases, Koreans tend to think of those foreigners as poor people who came to Korea to make money.” 

Hmm, so who were those Koreans who went to Western countries for work and education? 

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