Our Place in Someone Else’s House: Korean Americans and Gendered Identity in Global/Local Context (Working Paper #91)

Nadia Kim, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS)

Abstract: In recent years, students of gender and migration have established that ethnic immigrant families and communities are sites of both oppression and resistance. Less is known, however, about how immigrant women respond to their “double-edged” lives; how, in light of cultural globalization, their responses are forged in a global/local context; and what these responses reveal about larger processes of assimilation and transnationalism. As Korean immigrants hail from a country that has had long-standing ties to the US via US imperialist projects starting in World War II, they are a fitting case study of the ways immigrant women in particular wrestle with global/local dimensions of “race”/ethnonationality and gender, of “tradition” and modernity. Drawing from indepth, open-ended interviews with 32 non-immigrants in Seoul and 47 immigrants in Los Angeles County, Kim finds that globalized culture and US experience foster the women’s identification with white American marriages and husbands as more “gender-equal.” While the women desire these marital norms in part to approximate American “modernity”/“whiteness,” their Korean nationalism and sense of exclusion in the US foster hybridized identities. In contrast, the men counter women’s changes by clinging to more “traditional” Korean nationalistic identities necessarily rooted in patriarchy.

Working Paper #91»