As you all know by now, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout and Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward is in Korea, where he is being given a hero’s welcome.
The visit has prompted the JoongAng Ilbo to go absolutely buck-wild with pieces dealing with the issue of multiracial Koreans. And probably none too soon, if some of the statistics are to be believed. In Jeollanam-do, 18.5 percent of all marriages are international marriages. In Seoul, international marriages account for 18.2 of all marriages, and in Jeollabuk-do, 17.6 percent. In 22 cities, districts and counties across the nation (not including metropolitan regions like Seoul and Busan), the international marriage rate surpassed 30 percent last year.
International marriages are increasing particularly in industrial areas. In Seoul’s Guro-gu, the international marriage rate climbed from 9.7 percent in 2003 to 16.4 percent in 2005. In Ansan, it went from 6.4 percent to 11.6 percent. On the other hand, international marriages in Dongducheon, a major U.S. base town, decreased from 25.7 percent in 2004 to 22.5 percent in 2005. An official from a group assisting women in U.S. base towns said that with women nowadays leaving the base towns, the number of international marriages and Amerasian births is on the decline.
Needless to say this, these trends are leading to major changes in Korean society, especially in rural regions where the ratio of international marriages is remarkably high. Some rural villages are becoming virtual bastions of globalization, with a true mixture of faces, cultures and languages. And as the number of foreign-born brides increases, they are becoming much more socially active, forming clubs and, as in the case of Boeun-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do, trying to make their voices heard politically.
The school yard is also changing. In Jeollabuk-do, there are some 755 multiracial students enrolled in area schools. In the case of Mupung Elementary School in Muju-gun, four of the incoming eight first graders are multiracial.
In the old days, when the bulk of international marriages were between Koreans and ethnic Koreans from China, this led to few problems as the children were physically no different from their classmates. In fact, the teachers of Gwanchon Elementary School of Imsil-gun didn’t even know that 12 of their students, who were born to mothers who were either Chinese or Japanese nationals, had foreign moms. The increasing number of children born to Filipino and Vietnamese mothers (see photos in link), however, have experienced teasing and bullying at the hands of other students, although in the case of at least one school, this was rectified by putting the multiracial students together in one class.
The number of international marriages shows no sign of leveling off. Last year, the county office of Yecheon-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do arranging 16 marriages between rural bachelors and Vietnamese women as part of a project to promote the building of families in their agricultural town. Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do plan to provide free tutoring in Korean and math to some 200 multiracial students from this month. Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do, has gotten positive reviews from residents for employing nine Filipino wives as English teachers in 14 local elementary schools.
Stick a fork in the “one race” ideology
Things may be changing so drastically, says the JoongAng, that it says–only half-jokingly–that the nation may have to include a box for ethnicity on its next census. According to a 2000 UN report on replacement migration, Korea is going to need 6.4 million foreign workers between 2020 and 2050 to keep its economically active population at 36.6 million. This will lead to an explosion in the multiracial population, and will probably necessitate changes in the way Korea’s textbooks teach the Korean identity. Currently, Korean history and ethics textbooks emphasize that Korea is an ethnically homogeneous nation (Korean: danil minjok). This leads multiracial students to feel like foreigners even in their own classrooms. Said one half-white Korean high school girl, “Every time I see the word danil minjok, it’s like I’m being stamped as a stranger.” A high school teacher, noting how current textbooks simply stress the homogeneous nature of the Korea people without examining first whether it’s actually the case, said textbooks needed to teach multiracial Koreans to be proud members of the society.
Political power and building bridges?
Coincidentally, the multiracial population of Korea is expected to be somewhere in the number of 1.67 million by 2020 (more than the population of Gangwon-do). By that year, one in five Koreans under the age of 20 will be multiracial, as will be one in three newborns. With this, some expect Korea’s foreign-born and multiracial population to become a political force like the Hispanic population in the United States, especially if they come together as a political interest group. One professor predicted that Vietnamese wives, for example, might group together to pressure politicians to increase foreign aid to Hanoi. Another said the multiracial population could become a bridge between Korea and the developing economies of Southeast Asia.
Another interesting feature (and there are a lot of them) of this potential change is that it’s likely to spread to the cities as rural farmers, their foreign wives and their multiracial children move to urban areas. This could smash the concept, widely held in Korea, that you’re supposed to marry only “within the tribe.” It’s also likely to make “hyphenation” (i.e., Filipino-Koreans, Vietnamese-Koreans, etc.) a universal practice in Korea.
Not all roses
The JoongAng warned that while the racial diversification of Korean society carried with it a lot of positives (including broadening the society’s international understanding and sparking greater artistic and imaginative creativity), it could also lead to serious problems, especially if the society was not prepared and foreign-born and multiracial Koreans were ostracized by mainstream society. One professor warned that if Korean society cannot embrace its pigmentationally different members, violent youth riots not unlike those that took place last year in France could happen in Korea.
Back to Mr. Ward
The JoongAng has a ton of other stuff on this issue, none of which I’m really in the mood to summarize at the moment. In much more important news, Ward and his mom got to meet President Roh at Cheong Wa Dae. Obviously for Ward’s mother, she’s come a long way since Koreans were spitting on her in the streets.
Ward also held a press conference–which I’m sure the Korea Times or Korea Herald will run in full tonight–during which the NFL star noted he was proud to be Korean.
Unfortunately, according to a survey of 30 teen-aged multiracial students in the Seoul-Gyeonggi-do region conducted by the Korea Youth Counseling Institute, about half of multiracial teens sneer at success stories like Hines Wards. About half have experienced depression due to their lot in life, one-third have been teased because of their skin color, and one-fourth have been beaten on account of it. Only 32.2 percent of the multiracial teens surveyed though of themselves as Koreans. And among those of black descent, not a single one said he or she thought of himself or herself as Korean. Likewise, none of those multiracial teens enrolled in alternative schools thought of themselves as Korean. Some 71.4 percent wanted to emigrate, while all those of black extraction wanted to emigrate.
About Hines Ward, 46.4 percent said they didn’t care. Another 20.3 percent said they were envious of his success, but his story was different from theirs. Likewise, few of the teens thought social interest in Hines Ward would do any good. But don’t tell that to any of the tots Hines got to meet on his first day here.
Last, but not least
KTF has released an ad featuring yet unreleased personal photos of multiracial singer Insooni. The ad is part of a KTF campaign to improve the public’s perceptions of multiracial Koreans. Feel free to download it from KTF’s webpage.
And with that, I bring you half-black, half-Korean singer Amerie Rogers, who is not only hot, but a G’town grad.