Feature

South Korea: Our hypocrisy about immigration

Koreans love the story of an immigrant who makes good—as long as it’s an ethnic Korean immigrant.

Lee Ha-wonChosun Ilbo Koreans love the story of an immigrant who makes good—as long as it’s an ethnic Korean immigrant, said Lee Ha-won. The whole country has been basking in the reflected glory of native son Jim Yong Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. at age 5, became president of Dartmouth College, and has just been chosen to head the World Bank. Americans have also been congratulating Kim, and nobody in the U.S. seems to have “any problem with his ethnic background.” But when an immigrant to Korea gets elected to the parliament here, the floodgates of racism suddenly open wide. Philippine-born Jasmine Lee, a naturalized citizen, became politically active after her Korean husband died and she formed a group to help foreign wives of Korean men. Since her election on a party list last month, she has been the target of racist insults and false rumors on the Internet, including that she plans somehow to divert taxpayer money to foreign brides. How can we rejoice in the achievements of an American who comes from Korea but “react with hostility to an immigrant who achieves something here”? Such double standards are unbecoming—and “unacceptable.”

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