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Korean Americans

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BOX 2053
PRINCETON, NJ 08543-2053

Reviewed by Jessica Stowell

This video explores the immigrant experience of Korean Americans and the challenges they face in adjusting to America. Compelling images of the Los Angeles riot and racist acts are the loom framing some of the problems confronting Koreans in the U.S. The viewer experiences the complex fabric woven of the warp and weft of narratives by five Koreans who immigrated to the U.S.

One of the valuable aspects of the video is that the five professionals speak not only from their intellectual experience, but also from their own human experience as the oppressed. Moments such as the professor of Ethnic Studies who cites the subtle discrimination of his daughter’s kindergarten teacher and the implications for the child’s self image and ultimately her ability to compete in an American world linger with the viewer. Skillfully woven into the questions posed by the narrator are experiential narratives by the professor, a social worker, two clergymen, and the executive director of the Korean American Coalition; some are poignant, some gently amusing, but all are insightful.

The questions concern issues such as the extent to which Confucian thought affects Korean Americans; the kinds of problems Korean Americans experience; whether Korean Americans will ultimately assimilate and blend into the mainstream of society; what attitudes Korean Americans have toward other races; and what the future holds for Korean Americans. The scope of topics makes this video accessible to, and applicable for, a variety of disciplines: sociology, psychology, modern history, Asian survey courses, ethnic studies, interpersonal and intercultural communication courses in college settings, as well as honors or AP classes in secondary schools.

One interviewee’s thought-provoking response in answer to a question about cultural conflicts that lead to personal and family problems explores interpersonal challenges of gender and generational clashes, mixed identities, and self esteem. This segment sheds light on how the first generation of Korean Americans, still influenced by traditional Confucian thought, comes to grips with the second generation, born in the U.S. and taught individualism at school. A new metaphor is introduced describing the 1.5 generation—those who came to the U.S. as children with their parents, and now have a mixed identity because of the influence of both cultures.

The concept of han (unresolved feelings of pain and anger) is introduced, and the viewer sees a clip of Korean Masked Dance which gives expression to han. Although better views of masks are shown at other junctures, the camera angles do not reveal the masks clearly, and the clip is poorly lighted.  Indeed, the primary weakness of the video is that the videography is not as sophisticated as some. The interviews are shot with one camera, with some hollow sound in one of the narratives and without customary music underlying the segments.

But don’t let the simple editing, sound, and lighting put you off; think instead of having five excellent guest speakers in your classroom, speakers who will impart new insights on Korean Americans to your students. Comments of my students who have seen the video are favorable; they cite believability and lack of bias as strong points of the video, since Koreans are telling their own story. Korean Americans will stimulate productive class discussion.