Nadia Kim, author of Imperial Citizens Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA, was interviewed recently by New America Media. The book Imperial Citizens examines the origins, nature, and extent of racial ideas about Koreans in relation to White and Black Americans, investigating how immigrants engage these ideas before they depart for the United States, as well as after they arrive. It shows how Korean history has shaped race relations, from interactions with white soldiers in Korea to interactions with Americans in the US.
In her interview with New American Media, Kim addresses the fact that when Koreans enter the US they become part of our distinct way of life. She first addresses the fact that when Koreans enter the United States they are grouped into one large distinction: "Asians." This term is in fact offensive because it lumps all Asian minorities into the same group, some of which have long and complicated histories with each other. The fact that Koreans are indistinguishable from the Japanese is a disturbing fact because of the love/hate relationship between the two cultures as a result of historical colonization.
Koreans became an even less prominent group in the US because their communities were so tightly knit. Because Koreans do not have as extensive a history in the United States as other Asian groups, they can seem a little harder to reach. However, Kim makes it clear that Koreans did not fade into the American background so easily. She talks about what she refers to as "the unrest" or the 1992 riotsand the tensions afterwords. These riots were the point when Koreans became intertwined in the long history of white/black tension in the US. The riots were sensationalized in the US as a battle between Koreans and blacks and popularized as the "black riots" in South Korea. The media flashed pictures of Koreans on their roofs with guns and stores being looted. Though it was a time of great tension, the Unrest actually fostered an alliance between Korean and black churches. Cultural exchanges took place: scholarships were organized, and black pastors were invited on trips to South Korea.
What Kim calls the Unrest shows how the Koreans were thrust into the racial tensions already existing in the United States, and how Koreans are still severely misunderstood here. Kim's book and interview are gateways to understanding Korean racial history, because, as she puts it, Koreans remain an "invisible and foreign minority here."