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.





5 comments:

  1. Really interesting to see this coming up in countries and contexts other than the US. I saw a piece on interracial relationships in South Korea recently, not sure where. Wonder why they're getting so much press about this issue...

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  2. "...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."

    Thanks for this, Phillipe. It gives me new food for thought in my own marriage. You also said something early on in the post: that "we are moving towards a swirled world." This really caught my imagination. As more and more people are shifted around the globe by a variety of forces (e.g. moving from small island nations increasingly threatened by climate change, fleeing as refugees from war-torn countries, etc.) more of these sorts of stories may emerge.

    The community Negin and I live in has been shaped and re-shaped by global social reality as new groups of immigrants arrive. At one time from Cambodia, at another from Puerto Rico or Dominica. As a result, families where one partner is Latino and the other is Cambodian, children who are swirls of culture and language and ethnicity, etc. are perhaps inevitable. In a way, it is as if the struggles that the world goes through are leading us toward this new reality.

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  3. Lev, eloquently stated as always. Sounds like you're living in an area that will make for interesting reflection about these issues. I'm curious to hear more about how this relates to your marriage if you're willing to share.

    Allison, good question. There has been a lot in the press recently about interracial relationships in Asian countries. May be the topic in general is becoming more interesting to people as the swirling accelerates?

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  4. It just gets me thinking about all the different sorts of swirls, I guess. As a White male in the U.S., I live in a country that has traditionally not tried very hard to distinguish between Asian ethnic and national identities. So I'll admit to being a bit surprised when I read about, e.g., Chinese-Korean babies as 'swirled'. It was outside of my familiar understanding of diversity. And that got me thinking about our marriage.

    Racially, Negin and I are both considered White. But we certainly have an inter-ethnic marriage. We come from different kinds of immigrant experiences, although both our families were fleeing religious violence when they came to this country. We come from different economic classes. These are all real distinctions that make our marriage a unique kind of swirl.

    The U.S.' willingness to receive refugees and immigrants in the early 1900s and in the 1980s definitely played a role in the fact that we ever met and fell in love. So do the pogroms in Eastern Europe and the religious and political violence in Iran both before and after 1979. I never thought about our marriage as being shaped by these forces before.

    Day-to-day, Negin and I are members of our immediate community - that's the more salient identity. That's where we have an obligation and a responsibility to work alongside our neighbors to transform where we live. But it's good to be reminded that we are shaped by all this history. Even if racial and national lines don't have a spiritual reality, they do impact social reality - and that has an effect on each of us.

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  5. Thanks for this, Phillipe. It gives me new food for thought in my own marriage. You also said something early on in the post: that "we are moving towards a swirled world." This really caught my imagination. As more and more people are shifted around the globe by a variety of forces (e.g. moving from small island nations increasingly threatened by climate change, fleeing as refugees from war-torn countries, etc.) more of these sorts of stories may emerge.
    Life Experience Degree

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