Korean Immigrants In America

.. hich is still the “melting pot” of the world.Before the World War II era, the smallest Asian community to settle in the United States of America was the Korean American community. Between 1903 and 1905, immigration records show some seven thousand Koreans migrated to Hawaii. Hawaii had been annexed to the United States in 1898 and organized as a territory in 1900 A fraction of those immigrants came to the mainland. After 1905, sizable.

Korean emigration was all but stopped by Japanese overlords. Tens of thousands of Koreans then went or were brought to Japan, but their descendants are still not granted citizenship and other human rights. The early Korean American community differed from the other Asian communities in social characteristics. The Koreans were largely a community of . families, and a majority of them had converted to Christianity before leaving their homeland.

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They saw Christianity as a kind of protection from the brutal Japanese regime. (Encyclopedia of American Social History, Volume II, pages 880-887) (America-A New World Power, Page 107) The changes in the world that were made by World War II opened the golden door of immigration once again. However, Korean immigration to the United States was most greatly influenced by the Korean War and fueled anew by the Immi- gration Act of 1965. Before World War II, Korea had been one country, but in the aftermath of that war, Korea was taken from Japan and occupied by the Soviet Union north of the thirty-eighth parallel, and by the Americans south of that line. After four years of occupation, American forces left South Korea in 1949. North Korea saw this as the chance they had been waiting for, the invasion of South Korea.. (Readers’ Digest, The Story of America, 457) The Korean War began June 25, l950. It was early afternoon in New York, high noon on the West Coast, and four o’clock in the morning in faraway Korea.

The summer monsoons had just begun, and heavy rains were falling, when the North Korean army of seventy thousand men, forty miles of big guns, and Russian T34 tanks crossed the thirty-eighth parallel. Sheet after sheet of flames erupted, and North Korean planes filled the air toward Seoul, less than fifty miles away. As General MacArthur would later state, “North Korea struck like a cobra” that wet morning of June 25, 1950. The Korean Peoples’ Army(KPA) and the North Korean Army captured Seoul on Wednesday, June 29th, 1950. Russian diplomats had been boycotting the United Nations Security Council meetings, because the United Nations had not admitted Red China.

Because of that boycott, President Harry Truman was successful in his appeal to the United Nations for “police action”. For the first time in history, on Sunday, July 3, l950, an international organization voted to intervene against aggression.(“The Glory and the Dream” William Manchester, pages 532, 533, 535) American ground forces successfully landed on Inchon September 15, 1950, and the United Nations forces began to gain the offensive. They retook Seoul, crossed the thirty-eighth parallel and broke through the Pusan perimeter by September 30th. KPA forces began retreating in the second phase of the war. Southern forces were approxi- mately twenty-five miles north of the parallel and had captured Wonson, on the eastern side of North Korea. After the regain of land, the South Korean forces, without much resistance from the North Korean units, marched toward the Yalu River.

The tide of the war was turned once more, by the unexpected decision of China’s entry into the war. United Nations forces were sent retreating again by the North Korean units which included Sino-Korean troops. Pyongyang was retaken by the Communist forces on December 6, who then re-crossed the parallel, and retook Seoul by the end of December. By the end of January, 1951, United Nations forces regained the offensive on the Han River and retook Seoul by March 14. Conditions were of desperation and despair in all of Korea, especially Seoul ,which had changed hands four times. Many Koreans fled their homes to find refugee camps, but did not leave in large numbers until after 1965.

Truce negotiations began July 10, 1951, but dragged on for months and men continued to die. The conflict became an issue in the 1952 U. S. presidential election, and finally, on July 27, 1953, an Armistice was signed at Panmunjom, establishing a demilitarized zone at the thirty-eighth parallel. Neither side claimed victory, but the Communists had been stopped by international forces. (The Story of America, Readers’ Digest, page 457) The Korean Americans who came to the United States after the Korean War came in two separate streams. The first and smaller stream consisted of wives of military personnel and adopted children of middle class Caucasians.

The larger second stream was a post-1965 phenomenon. The 1965 Immigration Act (Public Law 89-326) was signed into law on October 3, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This law ended what President Johnson called “a cruel and enduring wrong”, the National Origins Quota System, which discriminated against Asians and other minorities. President Johnson declared that those who could contribute most to this country in growth, spirit, and strength would now be the first to be admitted to this country.

Family reunification provisions that dominates American immigration law aided the Koreans in achieving a family migration to the United States. The earliest Korean immigrants first settled in Hawaii but only a small percentage remain there. (A History of Multicultural America – Minorities Today, Page 31) Los Angeles, California has the largest concentration of Korean immigrants. Its Koreatown is located just west of the downtown business district, and stretches for miles. Small Korean businesses, often green grocers, also became a fixture in Eastern inner cities. (Encyclopedia of American Social History, Page 887) The American Dream is alive and well with Korean Americans, as proven by the Korean American grocery stores in New York.

Their success is attributed to the same factors that make any group succeed; hard work, strong family ties, and a profound emphasis on education. Some of these factors are uniquely Korean ways. Korean communities form gaes, or communal savings pools, to provide interest free loans to new businessmen. Many Korean children boost their academic skills by attending a prep school after their regular school day, and on weekends. (Articles & Papers – Land Opportunity-“Why Koreans Succeed” by Heather Macdonald, City Journal, Spring 1995) For the Korean 1.5 generation, attainment of bilingualism and biculturalism has not been easy, but they have been willing to pursue success in this society. The Korean family exerts a powerful influence by intelligence, emotional development, and background of prior Korean generations. (American Sociological Review 45 (1980:571-582) For all their ingenuity, the Korean Americans have experienced their times of setbacks.

Their small businesses have almost always been located near downtown areas of large inner cities, on the edges of black and Hispanic neighborhoods. They often have been the flashpoints of friction between the owners and the people they serve. In 1991, the Reverend Al Sharpton led a boycott of Korean grocers in Brooklyn, New York.{American Social History, Page 887) During the Los Angeles riots that occurred after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, Korean merchants were targeted. Over eighteen hundred Korean American businesses worth millions of dollars were burned to the ground and vandalized. That was the largest urban riot in the history of the United States.

Marlin Fitzwater, spokes- man for President George Bush, blamed President Johnson’s “Great Society”, people of color saw it differently, many white people condemned the violence as unjustified. Even Rodney King appealed to the rioters to stop the violence. Despite the hostilities in different areas, Korean entrepreneurs are still committed to building successful businesses. By their successes in New York and Los Angeles, tin low-income neighborhoods, they have spearheaded urban renewal. (Articles and Papers, “Why Koreans Succeed” by Heather MacDonald, City Journal, Spring 1995) Koreans have been such a recent addition to the culture and mainstream of the United States, we cannot make general assessments of validity of their contributions to society. All indications appear to indicate they have made, and will continue to make, a positive, inspiring impact, as they continue to integrate our society. Large numbers of Korean immigrants came to this country as a result of the Korean War.

American armed forces involved in the war, came back to the United States with wives and children. The larger influx of Korean Americans came after 1965, when a new immigration law was passed. Both groups, hardened by wartime and brutality, were filled with dogged determination to succeed. Overcoming prejudice and maltreatment, they are a positive addition to our country, which is still the “melting pot” of the world.


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