Sunday, November 29, 2009

More Mixin'

The NY Times has an interesting story about mixed race families here.

As I mentioned before, there is a huge influx of women, mostly from China, Vietnam (which now has a shortage of women), and the Philippines, that have come here through marriage brokers to marry Korean men. Most of the men live in rural areas and many are older. The men have difficulties finding wives because women generally prefer to live in urban centers, do not want the harsh farming life, and there is a growing gender imbalance with eligible males significantly outnumbering females.

A few of the more interesting quotes are:
"Among farming households, 49 percent of all children will be multicultural by 2020"
"the dropout rate of mixed-background children from elementary school is 15.4 percent, 22 times the national average."
"Compounding the risk is the fact that most of the foreign women marry older farmers or manual laborers. Some 53 percent of mixed families live on earnings at or below the national minimum hourly wage of 4,000 won, or less than $3.50"

The focus of the article is the effect on the children and notes there are derogatory names for these children "Kosians" or Korean Asians. Some of the kids want to hide their ethnicity to avoid the teasing. One mother from the Philippines thought it would be better if nobody saw her because then they might think her daughter was pure Korean.

Like everything in Korea, things are changing quickly, mostly for the better. There were very few of these mixed race children 10 years ago and now a massive wave of them are starting to enter elementary school. Koreans have traditionally been a homogenous people and quite proud of their heritage. How are they going to deal with this enormous societal change?

As the article notes, there are multi-cultural family support centers to help these families. The article does not note the TV and radio shows that are available that both give support to foreigners and try to help Koreans understand other cultures and, ultimately, embrace the positive aspects that diversity brings.

When Naoko, a friend from Japan, was visiting we were riding on a train and chatting. A woman heard us speaking English and asked us to sit down and chat. She told us of her life...she was from the Philippines and met her husband through a marriage broker. She had a couple of children with him. She was poor in the Philippines and came here for a better life. She really missed her family and had not been back for years because it was too expensive. She said it is a bit difficult, she has few Korean friends, but there are some other women from the Phillipines that she is friends with.

I suppose that this is normal in any country, you seek out those who you have something in common with. Koreans in America tend to be more friendly with other Koreans, not because Americans are not open to foreigners, but because it is normal to be more comfortable with those who you share a common experience.

I do not know what I think. I see desperation on both sides. Men, who desperately want to be married and have children, have few choices. They seek out a woman they do not know to make a life with. Women, who are desperate to escape the poverty of their homeland, are willing to risk leaving their families, culture and are willing to roll the dice on a better life. Hard for me to imagine.

Both parties have the freedom of choice to make this agreement or not, so it is not trafficking. On the other hand, the man has much more power because he has the money, and knows the culture. In addition, there are many stories in the papers about foreign brides being abused by Korean husbands. The courts do not seem to not take these cases of spousal abuse as seriously as they do in other developed countries.

Korea (and other countries) can not continue to import brides forever. The impact on their home countries must be devastating...losing tens of thousands of women a year is just not healthy for any culture. The Philippines has a law against it (not sure it is enforced too much). At some point, all countries will probably outlaw these brokered marriages. The bottom line is the mail order bride thing is just a band-aid.

The real solution seems to be in promoting gender equality, and eliminating the preference for males something that most Asian countries, including Korea, need to work on. When girls and women are valued more by society, the numbers will come into balance. Strangely, eliminating a tradition (preference for males) is the only way to keep Korean culture.

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