In this course we explore the phenomenon of the Korean diaspora. The ethnic Koreans outside of Korea number upwards of seven million, with most of them residing in the United States, China, Japan, and Central Asia. Most Americans have caught glimpses of this Korean diaspora in the unforgettable footage of Korean stores going up in flames in South Central L.A.; in the performances of Korean-American musicians like Kyung-Hwa Chung or Sarah Chang; and the Korean-American comedienne, Margaret Cho. But there is still no intellectual framework for understanding this diaspora. The Korean diaspora is different from other ethnic diasporas – Jewish, Chinese, Armenian, African, etc. – in that it is essentially a modern phenomenon, tracing back to the mid nineteenth century. The ancient commingling of the peoples in East Asia notwithstanding, the Korean diaspora is a byproduct of disruptions caused by capitalism, colonialism, war, as well as the opportunities that opened up, for example, after the mid-1960s revision of the immigration law in the United States. Compressed in time as the Korean diaspora is, in nonetheless girdles the world – to put it differently, Koreans are really everywhere, driving cabs in Havana, singing in La Scala, writing poems in Almaty, herding sheep in Ulan Bator, and making millions in the Silicon Valley. So, how does one study a phenomenon that is as geographically dispersed, as socio-economically diverse, and as culturally and linguistically complex, as the Korean diaspora?
Our purpose in studying the Korean diaspora is two-fold. First, we want to contribute to theory-building in the study of comparative diasporas. We will use the case material of the Korean diasporic population to understand the larger issues that affect immigrants, refugees and diasporic communities everywhere. We will focus on law, economics, inter-ethnic relations, labor relations, and problems of acculturation and assimilation, as they affect the diasporic communities. Second, we focus on the sweep of the Korean diaspora around the world, to provide a larger context in which a regional diaspora (e.g., Korean-Americans, Sino-Koreans, Koryo Saram) may be understood.
This course is being offered as part and parcel of the year long “Citizenship” theme semester, sponsored by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.