Native Americans and Korean-Americans are separated by tens of thousands of years when it comes to immigration to the Americas.
The history of Native Americans and their migration to the Americas was traced between 9000 and 50000 years ago. When tackling the topic of migration of the native Americans, one can go as far as almost 50000 years ago. Searches based on DNA are revealed by Sandro Bonatto and Francisco Salzano who write an article about their analysis of “all available sequences of the first hypervariable segment of the human mitochondrial DNA control region.” They support the theory of one single major migration that led to the formation and spreading across Americas of the Native Americans, coming from East Central Asia first to Beringia and further then through the Alberta corridor to the rest of the Americas. The same corridor is supposed to have separated these people into those who where settled south, in the Amerind and those who remained in Beringia, the ancestors of Na-Dene, Eskimo, and the Siberian Chukchi. (Bonato and Salzano, 1996).
The first Koreans that were to be naturalised Americans found their way to America first when a treaty between the U.S. And Korea was signed 1886 that allowed both countries to have diplomatic exchanges and encourage the friendship between the two countries. So, the history of the Korean-Americans goes back on a much shorter scale of a little over 100 hundred years. Still, statistics are reporting a population of Korean-Americans of around 1 million citizens. According to Young-sik (2003), the first Korean who as naturalised American was Suh Jae-pil (aka Philip Jaisohn). He was the first Korean medical doctor in the U.S. The Koreans have something in common with the Native Americans. They arrived in the U.S. In three different waves. It is true that it happened over 100 years, compared to the much more generous time scale the three waves of Native Americans had to populate the American continent.
In the case of the Korean-Americans, the first wave was very small and formed of diplomats, dissidents and students. The second wave of immigrants was formed of about 7500 people, mostly men that arrived in Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations, after having signed a contract that lasted usually over a period of three years.
Their arrival was mostly due to the constant seeking of the plantation owners of cheap labor and of different ethnic groups that were less likely to unite and declare strikes. The first Korean Immigrants, who were mostly Cristians, arrived in Hawaii after the Chinese and Japanese workers left the plantations and their arrival was the result of the efforts and ideas of Dr. Allen, “the U.S. minister to the court of King Kojong” (Young-sik, 2003). He persuaded the king it was a good move for him to allow Koreans to go to the U.S. In order to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. He also had a major role in finding the suitable Koreans for this assignment. Due to the very difficult working conditions, most of the Koreans preferred going to the mainland and working as farm tenants or opening small businesses while others returned to their homeland.
The second wave of Korean Immigrants arrived in the U.S. during the Korean War in the 1950’s and it involved the Korean wives the American soldiers brought home and the Korean children adopted by American families. There were also some workers and students that were allowed to migrate to the U.S. during the war.
The third and last wave of Korean Immigration began with the passing of the Immigration Act that allowed Koreans among other Asians to come to the U.S. In numbers never reached before.
Looking at the two American ethnic groups, the Native Americans and the Korean-Americans, one can easily see how the history shows two developments that are economically and socially going in opposite directions. The Native Americans were the first to settle and spread across the American continent and till the colonization by the Europeans, in the sixteenth century, they lived here as hunter gatherers first, then started fishing, cultivating the land, building more complex settlements. At the arrival of the European first colonizers, there were around 900.000 Native Americans in North America who spoke over three hundred different languages and around ten million on the entire continent. Sadly, today, the Native Americans are the smallest ethnic minority in the U.S. In 1786 there was established the first reservation for Native Americans and each of the tribes were dealt with as an independent nation. The reservations were theoretically meant to grant these populations the right to preserve their culture and civilization but it led in fact to their inevitable destruction. Today there are many Native Americans, over a half of the entire population who live in poverty and are even reported to live below the level of poverty, compared to the modern American standards of living. (Indian Gaming and Indian Poverty, 1997). The gaming as a major way of supporting life in the twenty first century in the U.S. is not the best way to stay at the same level of living standards most people have today in the U.S.
The reservations that were established as means of preserving traditions functioned as traps for their inhabitants and kept them stuck in a time loop.
The Korean-Americans, on the other hand, even if also discriminated against, fought with the adversities imposed by their differences compared to the white majority and understood the importance of keeping the pace with times. The Korean immigrants were always driven by the hope in a better, economically improved life and especially for a superior way of achieving not only economic wealth but also a social status granted by a superior education to their children. This is especially proper to those who believe that education means everything and the only certain way to escape poverty and move higher onto the social scale. A third of the Korean-American population lives today in California and Los Angeles is the centre of the cultural and business life of the Korean-Americans. They live, work and earn a living today in much pleasant ways their parents and grandfathers did. Even if the latter were educated people, the first generation had enormous difficulties in practising the work they were trained for because of the language. That is why the first generations were mostly condemned to do mostly hard work that required no special preparation and knowledge even if they were trained specialists in many working fields. The situation has changed slowly but in a progressive way for their offspring. “Nationally now Korean-Americans own 20% of all dry-cleaning businesses. In Southern California they own 45% of liquor stores, 46% of small grocery markets, and 45% of one-hour photo shops. A study done of green groceries on a segment of Broadway in Manhattan, New York found that Koreans owned 75% of the groceries, and 78% of the owners had college degrees”(Korean-American, (http://www.msmc.la.edu/ccf/LAC.Korean.html).
Native Americans were playing an important role in history as far as the agriculture is concerned. Not only did they take wild plants and transformed them into domestic crops, bur they also improved them and developed new ones. The whole word owes the presence of corn, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, cocoa bens, pineapple, pumpkins and many other vegetables on our daily menu to the agricultural activities the Native Americans developed.
The Native Americans unlike, the Korean-Americans are split into tribes that have today the right to form governments. There are 561 federally recognized tribal governments” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States#Current_status).The irony of history makes American Indians American citizens first in 1924, by the Indian Citizenship Act. The continuous efforts of the different government policies to engulf and melt into the mainstream of the Native American culture were doomed right from the start and were never successful. Whole tribes were decimated and the imposed new different way of life, regardless of their psychology, history, mentalities, culture and social life only troubled their minds and brought many of those who were forced to forget about their ancestors and civilization and adopt the American way of life as if their ancestor’s never existed came to live unbalanced lives that led to mental illness or disorders and threw them into the land of different kinds of addiction.
The Korean trust in the vital role of education was not abandoned in the sugar fields in Hawaii, at the beginning of the twentieth century and it also travelled with them by the middle of the same Century during the war or afterwards, when the largest wave of Korean immigrants entered the U.S. The result is that they excel, as the numbers show, in various scientific fields or in the business area. Their determination to succeed and trust in the future generations gave them the power to put relentless efforts into the continuous improving of their standards and social status, despite discrimination not only from the part of the white population, but from other minority groups as well.
Their religious beliefs and religious practices helped them not only spiritually, but also in a more practical manner, much ore related to the day-to-day life than other religions. “For Koreans, there exists a strong belief in filial duty – treating parents with respect and obeying them, caring for them when they are old, giving them a proper burial, and even worshipping them with ceremonies after death. All of these are incorporated into the fundamental ideas of strong kinship values and family ties from Confucianism.” (Beller, Pinker, Snapka, Van Dusen). As much as the Koreans transmitted their strong belief in the role of education, proving to have possessed the secret for certain development ahead of many modern society, they also took along the traditional gender roles in the family and society. Their society was fundamentally patriarchal. The father and the sons were making the rules inside the family. Women obey completely to the male members of the family and are responsible for the activities concerning the family life inside and around the house exclusively. There are strict rules that apply for the whole family, everyone man knows his place and role, every woman is aware of her duties and there is a strong emphasis placed on the obeying the rules and discipline and conducting a harmonious life. Confucianism teaches the Koreans to respect their parents to the point of treating them as indisputable spiritual leaders of the family. Due to the differences made between male and female inheritors and their roles inside a family, there is a much higher importance given to the education boys get over the investment in the educational development of girls who leave the house and will be provided for by their husband’s family, anyway. Of course, there are differences between generations of Korean-Americans who were born in the U.S. And their parents and grandparents who came here with the luggage of tradition they were taught according to these conceptions, back in Korea.
If the American Koreans up until the last generations that started to change their life style according to modern standards, were fundamentally living in a patriarchal society, the Native Americans know very different types of societies, depending on the tribes they are coming from. There are matriarchal societies, such as those in the Iroquois and the Cherokee tribes.
The roles of men and women were generally well established and kept as such. Rarely, women interfered with what was normally a man’s activity, joining them in hunting or being trained for fighting. but, usually, women were responsible for the house activities and everything around it and men went to hunt and fight.
In terms of religion, the Native Americans have come to practise something that is the result of mixing the Catholic elements and their own native rituals. The Native American Church is the religion most Native Americans have.
Confucianism, as explained before, is playing an important role in many aspects of a Korean. Not only does Confucianism invite to belief in higher education as a goal in improving one’s life, and stresses the crucial importance of keeping rules and respect authority, but it also leaves a mark on the ways people communicate inside a family and outside it as well. Verbally or nonverbally. “Confucianism teaches that “silence is golden.” Therefore, many Koreans are comfortable with moments of prolonged silence throughout their chores and daily activities.” (Beller, Pinker, Snapka, Van Dusen).
The religion of the American Koreans, like that of other Asian people, contains a mix of several different religions, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shamanism and Christianity. Confucianism, as shown before has left its indistinguishable imprint on many practical aspects of a Korean-American. Marriages are still arranged sometimes, due to the belief that parents’ decisions for their children are sacred, but the new generation is striving more and more to escape these practices and keep up with the modern world they are living in, trying not to damage precious traditions and their ancestor’s culture.
Just as balance is kept in the family and community life of the Koreans, this same rule applies to the traditional cuisine. The dishes, except the royal cuisine, are mostly simple and rice is accompanying every meal as base. There are mostly vegetables that are used to prepare the meals whish are three during the days and there are small amount of meat used, too. The dishes are usually containing pickles. Among the most popular is Kimchee, a hot, fermented cabbage. Beside the fermented vegetables that play the role of pickles, the dishes are seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, the Koreans are known as the being very found of the garlic in their food, among all other Asian nations. There are many common traits from the Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines that can be recognised in the Korean cuisine. The most important meal of the day is considered to be the breakfast. The tradition requires a Korean family to eat in silence and in a respectful manner.
The role rice plays in the Korean cuisine is plaid by the corn in the Native American cuisine. We are dealing with two completely different cuisines, of course. The American society as a whole and at a larger scale, the today’s world is owing its basic ingredients to the plants grown and used to cook by the Native Americans, as previously shown.
The Native Americans used to life in harmony with their environment, with nature and therefore, their meals are not very elaborate, but keep the simplicity nature offers in its resources. Natural resources are also greatly used to manufacture artefacts that are mostly hand made. Native Americans have opened shops that display such items like clothing, ceramics, shoes like the world renowned moccasins, musical instruments, jewellery, all sorts of decorations for interior design etc.
The Korean music, just as the Native American music has its roots in ancient religious rituals. It is influenced by the Buddhist rituals and based on shamanistic beliefs. It can be divided into two big groups: folk and courtly music. There are three categories of instruments: string, wing and percussion instruments. The folk music is very complex and the court music is very rarely performed today. Unlike the Korean traditional music, the music of the Native Americans is based mainly on the voice, although it is also performed with a variety of instruments. The great variety of tribes makes the Native American music greatly vary from one group to another. Just as the cuisine left its imprint on the American cuisine, the music has also influenced the American music, especially the folk music. Music and dancing are performed with a wide range of occasions, in religious rituals, when invoking spirits etc. Dance is also related to the spiritual rituals but also to moments of joy at celebrating marriages and birthdays.
From many points-of-view, the Korean and the Native Americans could be considered fundamentally different in expressing religious beliefs, in culture, civilization, in life in general. Yet, they have some traits in common and this is the respect till worshiping of the elders and the love for a harmonious life. Beside these two, they have a country they inhabit in common where they fought to affirm themselves or to reaffirm a culture that lasted over thousands of years. The Native Americans are the smallest ethnic group in the U.S. And the most ancient inhabitants of the land, while the Korean-Americans are among the largest minorities and the youngest. They could teach each other the lesson of survival and of fighting to the last resources for what they know they have earned to be their rights.
Beller, T., Pinker, M., Snapka, S., Van Dusen, D. Korean-American Health Care Beliefs and Practices. Retrieved 12 November 2007 at http://www3.baylor.edu/~Charles_Kemp/korean.htm
Young-sik, K. (2003). Koreans in America in the late 1800s. Retrieved November 12, 2007 at http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/1506.html
Korean-American History. Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.apa.si.edu/Curriculum%20Guide-Final/unit1.htm
In Observance of Centennial of Korean Immigration to the U.S. A Brief History. Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.naka.org/resources/history.asp
Korean cuisine. Retrieved 11 November 2007 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_cuisine#Korean_table_settings
Native American. Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.indians.org/articles/native-american.html
Music of Korea. Retrieved November 12, 2007 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Korea#Traditional_instruments
Native Americans in the United States. Retrieved 12 November, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_Americans_in_the_United_States#Current_status
Korean-American. History & Current Issues. Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.msmc.la.edu/ccf/LAC.Korean.html
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