United States is the land of opportunities. With open society offering freedom and liberty, United States has always been an attractive place for immigrants from through out the world. The influx of people having diverse culture and background in one society on one hand has been benefiting and on the other hand, it has been posing serious problems as well. New people take some time to adjust in new environment. The inter-cultural and ethnic confrontations are major impediments in their growth.
But time allows the dust to settle down. Same is the story of Korean immigrants coming to this large hearted country, who began their journey almost hundred years ago. They found tough resistance but had high ambitions. Through their sheer hard work and docile nature, Korean immigrants are now considered as an integral string of US societal fiber. This paper aims at scrutinizing the history of Korean immigrants to United States specially in California, highlighting the start of their journey, problems they encountered, reasons for their coming to America, their present state, current issues faced by them, and their business activities.
History of Korean Immigration
Koreans are one of the largest, fastest growing Asian groups in the United States. Their immigration to the U.S. started between 1902 and 1905 when a total of 7,200 Koreans arrived in Hawaii as sugar plantation workers (Lee 21). The difficult working conditions on the plantations motivated some Korean Americans to move to the mainland where many continued in agricultural work. Since their initial numbers were limited therefore they did not formed groups and rather stayed fairly dispersed. After the abolishment of the Immigration Act in 1965, large numbers of Koreans, including some from the North that have come via South Korea, have been immigrating ever since, putting Korea in the top five countries of origin of immigrants to the United States since 1975.
Initial Problems Faced by Korean Immigrants
In the beginning, Koreans experienced the same kinds of discrimination that other Asian groups encountered including being prohibited from attending school with whites in San Francisco, being unable to intermarry with whites (California Anti-Miscegenation Law, 1901) and being unable to own land in California (1913 Alien Land Law). The years from 1910-1940, were particularly difficult for many Korean Americans as they thought of themselves more as exiles than immigrants and felt they were without a country. They had problems in getting jobs, and even were restricted from going to public places (Takaki 10-25).
Reasons for Korean Immigrations to US
Koreans came to America for a variety of reasons like family reunions, fleeing from military regimes or the threat of war, better employment opportunities, and a good education for their children. Besides that the other reasons for immigration include their desire for increased freedom, especially for women, and the hope for better economic conditions. In short, they came here to realize their own “American dream.”
The Present State of Korean Immigrants
Today there are over a million Korean Americans. They have continued their early patterns of not being as concentrated as other Asian groups in particular locations. Currently 44% live in the West, 23% in the Northeast, 19% in the South, and 14% in the Midwest. The state with the largest population is California with 33% of the total; New York is second with 12%.
Even in California the population is scattered with only 20% of the Koreans in Southern California living in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Korea town is located about five miles west of City Hall and is roughly bounded by Beverly Boulevard and Pico Boulevard to the north and south and Hoover and Crenshaw on the east and west. In Southern California they own 45% of liquor stores, 46% of small grocery markets, and 45% of one-hour photo shops (Takaki, 40-50).
The Current Issue Faced by Korean Immigrants
The 1992 Los Angeles incidents have left many marks in the memory of Korean Americans. The Korean community is yet to recover from the aftermath of Rodney King verdicts. Much of the destruction was caused to many Korean markets and businesses which were located in those areas of the inner city (South Central and Korea town) which were burnt down. According to estimates 50% of Korean American property was lost. At that time there was little or no police presence in those areas and Koreans were left at their own. The frustration still continues due to lack of due support of the state, and 40% of the Korean businesses lost have not been able to reopen. The Koreans business in those areas still struggle to fight high rate of crime, violence, and interethnic tension (Hwangbo 1-2).
Like America, Koreans are tough, resilient, and sincere. They know how to survive through crises. As with most other Asian groups, California is increasingly preferred by new Korean immigrants as a permanent place to settle down. As community, they are peace loving, and they strongly believe in Confucian teaching of family culture. They had tough times in California and faced discriminations, but they stuck to their aim of creating harmony and striving for a better future. They are still confronted with ethnic challenges but are successful in negotiating the problems as and when they arise.
Hwangbo, Kay. “Human Dramas in The Their Own Voices.” LA Times, April 4, 1996: 1-2 .
Lee, Lauren. Korean Americans. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1995.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. NY: Penguin, 1989.