AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 298

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Session 298: Korean Women Abroad: Shifting Modes of Transnational Identity

Organizer and Chair: Jackie J. Kim-Wachutka, University of Tuebingen, Japan

Discussant: Sue Sohng, University of Washington, USA

Korean women’s movement across boundaries of nation-states invokes lives and experiences that reflect class, gender, hierarchy and patriarchy. The notion of Korean women abroad has undergone a vivid transformation provoking the question, “What constitutes Korean womanhood in a transnational context?” Undoubtedly their identities are constantly evolving, an on-going process of construction and reconstruction in the milieu of multi-cultural, hybrid and hyphenated identities, and situational ethnicities. Many situate themselves in more than one nation-state, displaying intricacies of multiple selves. This panel examines lives of Korean-American women, Korean trans-migrants from Japan and Argentina to the U.S., and Korean women in Japan, postulating the following questions: What are the dynamics of multiplicity, diversity, malleability, and/ or resistance that Korean women employ in positioning and defining themselves within their own community and society? What are the commonalities and differences of Korean women’s experiences in varying nation-states and their cultural settings? What are the discursive frameworks of adjustment and settlement, flux and change, unyielding and stable structures and strategies articulated in relation to work, family, children, and social ties? How do Korean women abroad juxtapose their homeland’s “traditional” value system with new cultural and social encounters? In what way does acceptance, negation, negotiation, and agency affect their identity and legitimacy in society? How do they articulate the spatial imaginaries of “home” and the emotional embodiment of nostalgia, longing, belonging, displacement, and alienation? The panel’s comparative analysis within the context of diasporic history, memory, trauma, narrative, and imagined nostalgia attempts to contextualize Korean women’s transnational identities.

Remembering Multiple Displacements, Embodying Memories of (Lost) Homeland(s)
Kyung Hee Ha, University of California, San Diego, USA

As former colonial subjects, Koreans have continued to experience political, social and cultural inequality and marginalization in post-war Japan to the present day. This led some of the Japan-born Koreans to remigrate to the U.S., which they believed to be “a country of freedom.” This study examines the ways in which those Korean immigrants from Japan and their descendants in the U.S. deal with their multiple displacement experiences. J is a “hapa” Korean whose mother - a second generation Zainichi Korean (Korean in Japan) - immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980’s. Today, J strongly identifies herself as “Zainichi Korean” although she has never experienced “being a Zainichi Korean” in a literal sense. This study explores what it means to (continue to) “be Zainichi” and live “Zainichi-ness” when one is actually transplanted outside of Japan. Specifically, I ask how memories of the lingering legacy of colonialism, war, racism, division of Korea and migration haunt Zainichi Korean immigrants and their children, transcending spatial and temporal boundaries. J transforms her body - through the act of tattooing - to a site of “home-making” (Espiritu, 2003) in which she actively remembers and stitches the histories of three women in her family on her own terms. By (re)uniting the stories of J’s grandmother originally from today’s DPRK (North Korea), J’s mother from Japan and J from the U.S., J attempts to recover, reclaim and embody the trans-national/ generational memories whose connections have been obscured, fragmented and distorted due to the spatial, temporal, linguistic, ideological and cultural discontinuity.

Postcolonial Feminist Activism by KoreanDiaspora Women in Japan
Akwi Seo, Ochanomizu University, Japan


Women and Migrations: Korean Migrant Women in Argentina and the United States
Lili M. Kim, Harvard University, USA

My paper examines the history of Korean immigrant women who migrated to Argentina beginning in 1965 and who subsequently remigrated to the United States beginning in the early 1990s. Thus, this paper addresses how multiple migrants in the age of globalization, such as Korean Argentine Americans, have negotiated and constructed their identity in the twentieth-century United States given their multiple loci of belonging and cultural identifications. By examining the history of Korean women’s migration to Argentina beginning in 1965 and their remigration to the United States, my paper will discuss the gendered nature of labor that Korean women “in transit” performed in their multiple sites of global migrations. Korean women, both in Argentina and the United States, have worked in family-owned garment-related businesses that simultaneously bettered their economic situations and provided means for their multiple migrations. Given their many loci of belonging and cultural identifications, Korean Argentine American women necessarily force us to rethink the traditional framework of acculturation and diasporas that poses binary categories of old and new cultures, and homeland and new adopted country. By focusing on the life and labor of Korean women in Argentina and the United States, I will examine the accumulation and movement of cultural, social, and economic capital in the age of globalization that transcend multiple national boundaries.

Identities in Transition: Korean Women in Japan
Jackie J. Kim-Wachutka, University of Tuebingen, Japan

First-generation Korean women who came to Japan before WWII narrated their lives through a discourse of kosaeng (‘life of turmoil’). Their utterances of suffering captured a myriad of experiences as women vis-a-vis colonialism, migration, poverty, wars, and division of their homeland. Their narratives articulated a transformation from the restrictive boundaries of traditional and immigrant womanhood to negotiating agents who chose to accept or negate elements of two worlds as a means of survival.  I argue that these women’s multifaceted narratives’ are a form of self-validation and legitimization in contrast to a male-centered ‘authoritative’ zainichi history that regards women’s experiences as inconsequential. The narratives juxtapose the dominant discourse of politics and policies with another aspect of the zainichi experience. They elucidate the personal and subjective as a means to relay to the consecutive generation that their transnational lives were a result of “fate”, but their choices of routes taken an act of conscious sacrifice.  How have second-generation Korean women internalized the previous generation’s stories in their own utterances and expressions of who they are as women? What prominent themes emerge within second-generation women’s narratives that constitute individual consciousness and memory in distinction to the dominant discourse of the collective community? How does the first generation’s projection of self and the second generation’s interpretation, reflection, critique, acceptance, or negation of it affect their own views of themselves? This paper attempts to present a comparative transgenerational articulation of selves and emerging identities of women, their stories, and meaning within a transnational context.

Communist Korean Women in China and Japan, 1940s and 1950s
Ji-Yeon Yuh, Northwestern University, USA