Home > News > Jasmine Revolution, Korean style
12:25 | 21/04/2012 | 13778

Jasmine Revolution, Korean style

The real news is the fact that jasmine lee has ― as a result of her background as a transplanted southeast asian woman who came korea after marrying a korean husband...

Jasmine Revolution, Korean style By Jason Lim

Korea has come of age, of sorts. Jasmine Lee, a naturalized Korean citizen originally from the Philippines, became the first foreign-born lawmaker. Granted, she didn’t run for a seat herself, but became a member of the National Assembly as a proportional representation candidate when the Saenuri Party won a majority in the recent parliamentary elections.

This is actually big news. Not necessarily the fact that Jasmine Lee became a rising political star; she was already a minor celebrity in Korea with a complete package of looks, smarts and a compelling narrative. The real news is the fact that Jasmine Lee has ― as a result of her background as a transplanted Southeast Asian woman who came Korea after marrying a Korean husband ― become the face and voice of 210,000 similar women and their 150,000 children who live in Korea today and their struggles to join the mainstream society.

This won’t be an easy task. The insular vein from the “Hermit Kingdom” of old still runs thick beneath modern Korea. After all, the country is probably one of the few that proudly trump the myth that Koreans come from a single bloodline. Granted, every nationality has its own creation myth that tells why it’s unique ― the Korean one just happens to be heavily based on its supposed ethnic purity.

This might have served Koreans well in the last 2,000 years by keeping them intact and coherent as a people. But this self-serving myth has recently come under attack from the influx of foreign-born wives to mostly rural Korean men who bear Korean children who are no longer ethnically “pure”.

As these women and their mixed-blood children come of age and join society to claim their own “Koreanness”, Korea will face the types of debate that will force it to engage in extensive soul-searching that other multicultural societies like the United States has been engaged in for the last 100 years or more.

In a way, this has already started. As soon as Jasmine Lee was elected, some netizens began attacking her with racist remarks that ran the gamut. Some disparaged her by painting her as a mail order bride while others accused her of a conspiracy to unfairly shower multicultural families in Korea with budgetary largess. The only thing that these attacks shared was their xenophobic crassness and an ingrained fear that the formerly invisible “other” is now claiming a spot front and center.

In response to these attacks, Seoul National University law professor Cho Gook, one of the representative liberal thought leaders in Korea, said on Twitter on April 13: “There has been some racially discriminatory denunciation going around Saenuri Party proportional representative Jasmine Lee. Although criticism of her political inclination and qualification may be necessary, racism cannot be allowed”,

Responses from other, more responsible members of Korean society have followed along similar lines. They all quickly denounced the racist attacks and urged Korean society to face multiculturalism with an open mind.

All well and good. But what came to my mind instead was Sidney Poitier in “Who’s Coming to Dinner”, the groundbreaking 1967 film that dealt with interracial marriage in the United States. How would all these high-sounding intellectuals react if their sons or daughters brought home a significant other that looked like Jasmine Lee and wanted permission to marry? Would they still be as noble as they sound today?

I am not too sure. And if they were honest, no one in Korea today, not even the self-proclaimed social progressives, would know 100 percent how they would react. It’s not that they don’t want to be colorblind and judge everyone solely by the “contents of their character”. It’s just that even liberals are subject to the cultural norms and prejudices of their upbringing.

In Time magazine, Toure quotes Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow”, as writing: “Decades of cognitive bias research demonstrates that both unconscious and conscious biases lead to discriminatory actions even when an individual does not want to discriminate. The fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may have black friends and relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias”.

Individuals have cognitive habits. When you scale up an individual’s cognitive habits to a national level, you have an ingrained culture. In short, Korea has a racist culture in the dictionary sense of the word because one of the main pillars of Korea’s national myth is its ethnic homogeneity.

I guess what I am trying to say is that a journey to a pluralistic, multicultural society is not an easy one. High and mighty denunciations against ignorant and anonymous netizens, albeit a good start, doesn’t mean the game is won. In fact, it hasn’t even started.

As in habits, culture is difficult to change. Change will always face resistance. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that Korea will be facing a civil rights struggle of its own in the next few decades. It will demand blood, sacrifice, and, mostly, courage by change agents who will lead the way.

So, here’s to Jasmine Lee. May God watch over you as you lead Korea towards the next generation.

Jason Lim is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant in organizational leadership, culture, and change management. He has been writing for The Korea Times since 2006. Contact him at and on facebook.com/jasonlim2000.

DON'T MISS

[VIDEO] Round Two of g.o.d on AS4U!

[VIDEO] Round Two of g.o.d on AS4U!

To continue the roll that g.o.d has been on, this week was the broadcast of their second episode of KBS’s “A Song For You!” As a continuation of last week’s episode,...
Is digital music on the wrong track?

Is digital music on the wrong track?

“The country”s hourly minimum wage in 2014 is 5,210 won ($5). For a singer to earn that amount, 965 people have to download their song, or if the listeners are...
New Still Cuts of 2PM’s Chansung from Upcoming Movie “Red Carpet” Released

New Still Cuts of 2PM’s Chansung from Upcoming Movie “Red Carpet” Released

Brand new still cuts from the set of the upcoming movie “Red Carpet,” featuring 2PM’s Chansung, have been revealed. These stills were recently released through JYP...
Critics dress down modern hanbok

Critics dress down modern hanbok

Hanbok, or traditional Korean dress, costumes that models from participating countries will wear at the upcoming Incheon Asian Games have ignited a debate about how far...
2PM’s Nichkhun: “I Can Confidently Say ‘I’m Your Man,’” Embarrassed by Question Referring to Tiffany

2PM’s Nichkhun: “I Can Confidently Say ‘I’m Your Man,’” Embarrassed by Question Referring to Tiffany

On the September 20 broadcast of KBS 2TV’s “Entertainment Weekly,” the members of 2PM appeared to take part in the ‘Guerilla Date’ segment of the entertainment...
Lyn and MC the Max’s Lee Soo Tie the Knot, Many Stars in Attendance Including Ailee, SISTAR, and K.Will

Lyn and MC the Max’s Lee Soo Tie the Knot, Many Stars in Attendance Including Ailee, SISTAR, and K.Will

Singer Lyn and MC the Max’s Lee Soo, have released wedding photos after finally tying the knot! The two singers got married on September 19 in the presence of their family,...
Mark Wahlberg shows off a picture of himself and Hangeng from the premiere of “Transformers 4″

Mark Wahlberg shows off a picture of himself and Hangeng from the premiere of “Transformers 4″

On September 20, Mark Wahlberg uploaded a picture of himself with Hangeng on his official Facebook page with the caption: “With Han Geng at the Hong Kong world...
Innovative ceramics master launches 3 exhibits

Innovative ceramics master launches 3 exhibits

Shin Sang-ho poses before his installation “Surface “n Beyond”, which is now on display at the Kumho Museum of Art in central Seoul as part of the ceramic...
Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon Becomes a Hot Topic Following Shocking Results on “Hidden Singer”

Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon Becomes a Hot Topic Following Shocking Results on “Hidden Singer”

The latest episode of JTBC’s “Hidden Singer” featuring Girls’ Generation member Taeyeon has become a hot topic after earning shocking results. Taeyeon became the...
Gov”t plans week to boost tourism

Gov”t plans week to boost tourism

Although the government still offered discounts to travelers, it didn”t push the benefits of the special event in keeping with the national mourning period that began...
2PM Tops Oricon Chart Within 3 Days of New Japanese Single Release

2PM Tops Oricon Chart Within 3 Days of New Japanese Single Release

According to the Oricon Chart on September 20, 2PM’s eighth Japanese single titled “Midaretemina (Go Crazy),” which was released on September 17, has taken charge...
Founding myths of ancient Korea on stamps – Part 1

Founding myths of ancient Korea on stamps – Part 1

Dangun Wanggeom Special Stamp issued in 2008 (Image courtesy of the Korea Post) One of the first stories Korean children come across in life usually include the great founding...
TaeTiSeo’s “Holler” Music Video Reaches 3 Million Views in 3 Days!

TaeTiSeo’s “Holler” Music Video Reaches 3 Million Views in 3 Days!

Girls’ Generation unit group TaeTiSeo once again proved their amazing popularity as the music video uploaded on Youtube for their title song, “Holler,”...
EXO-L congratulate EXO”s Chen on his birthday

EXO-L congratulate EXO”s Chen on his birthday

EXO”s Chen turns 23 (international age: 22) on September 21 and EXO-L from around the world celebrated as soon as the clock struck midnight in Korea. EXO-L celebrated...
Some like it hot

Some like it hot

Summer has arrived, and with it, thoughts of ice cream, ice-cold drinks and exulting under a spray of cool water. In Korea, however, locals embrace a more unorthodox approach:...
Taekwondo group K-Tigers makes dance cover video of BTS” “Danger”

Taekwondo group K-Tigers makes dance cover video of BTS” “Danger”

K-Tigers uploaded their latest dance cover video featuring BTS’ “Danger.” On the video, K-Tigers asks for support and said, ”Please keep loving...
Shinhwa continues representing “Chicken Mania”

Shinhwa continues representing “Chicken Mania”

For the third time, Shinhwa was bestowed the trust of endorsing “Chicken Mania.” On September 18th, “Chicken Mania” announced that Shinhwa will continue...
“Safe Travel in Korea” published for overseas visitors

“Safe Travel in Korea” published for overseas visitors

To help international visitors enjoy a safer and better trip to Korea, a new travel book, “Safe Travel in Korea”, has been recently published. The book contains...
Teen Top”s “EXITO” praised by Stuart Hawkes

Teen Top”s “EXITO” praised by Stuart Hawkes

Teen Top“s newest mini albun “EXITO” received praises from Stuart Hawkes. Teen Top recorded their mini album at Metropolis Studio, a famous recording...
Bangtan Boys” Suga & J-Hope have fun with T-ara”s “Sugar Free”

Bangtan Boys” Suga & J-Hope have fun with T-ara”s “Sugar Free”

BANGTAN TV uploaded a short video showing BTS” Suga and J-Hope while having fun through dancing T-ara“s “Sugar Free.” Bangtan Boys is preparing for...