Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swirled in South Korea

Inspired by a cute T-shirt that my son wears emblazoned with the phrase, "I'm Swirled", I adopted the concept of swirled as a fun way to describe so-called, "mixed" kids and their multicultural families. A fascinating piece in today's New York Times about "mixed" South Korean kids supports the notion that we are moving towards a swirled world:

YEONGGWANG, South Korea — Just a few years ago, the number of pregnant women in this city had declined so much that the sparsely equipped two-room maternity ward at Yeonggwang General Hospital was close to shutting down. But these days it is busy again.

More surprising than the fact of this miniature baby-boom is its composition: children of mixed ethnic backgrounds, the offspring of Korean fathers and mothers from China, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. These families have suddenly become so numerous that the nurses say they have had to learn how to say “push” in four languages.

It is a similar story across South Korea, where hundreds of thousands of foreign women have been immigrating in recent years, often in marriages arranged by brokers. They have been making up for a shortage of eligible Korean women, particularly in underdeveloped rural areas like this one in the nation’s southwest.

Now, these unions are bearing large numbers of mixed children, confronting this proudly homogeneous nation with the difficult challenge of smoothly absorbing them.

South Korea is generally more open to ethnic diversity than other Asian nations with relatively small minority populations, like neighboring Japan. Nevertheless, it is far from welcoming to these children, who are widely known here pejoratively as Kosians, a compound of Korean and Asian.“We bring these children into the world, but sometimes I worry,” said Kwak Ock-ja, 48, head maternity nurse at Yeonggwang General, where a third of the 132 births so far this year have been of children of mixed background, up from almost none a decade ago. “Prejudice against these families is something society must resolve.” (Read the whole thing here)

This story raises some really interesting issues related to how patterns of interracial/intercultural marriage can be influenced as much by the sociology of gender and class as by romantic love. A review I read today of the new Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog" touches on similar themes.

It also reminds me that some of the dynamics related to forming families across the color-line are universal while others are unique to the racial and ethnic histories of different countries.

Whatever the growing pains South Koreans will face in the years ahead, as a Baha'i I believe that forming families across the color line is an embodiment of God's will for a humanity aware of its oneness:

"He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body. Haste ye to win your share of God's good grace and mercy in this Day that eclipseth all other created Days." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 213)

These families are challenging antiquated notions of biologically distinct races and homogeneous nationalities. Like it or not this world is becoming increasingly swirled. It's a beautiful thing.