CONVERGING PATHS-KOREAN AND U.S. WOMEN
1900 TO 1980s
The Asian immigrants arriving in the United States faced a considerably different experience than the European immigrants. Where as the Europeans generally went to work in industry on the east coast, the Asians mostly were employed as farm workers on the west coast or Hawaii. They also faced a culture radically different from their own, in which the patriarchal domination was fading and individualism was stressed over family and community. The women, who generally came after the male immigrants, came for many different reasons depending on where and when they came from; the early groups of Chinese and Japanese women came primarily as prostitutes while the later groups were mainly picture brides. The Korean women who immigrated to America can be broken down into five different periods; the first group, from 1903 to 1910 were mainly urban wives and students, the next wave, from 1910 to 1924 were picture brides, the third wave in the 1950¡¯s came as wives of U.S. servicemen and were generally poor, the fourth wave in the late 1960¡¯s consisted of educated professionals and the final group, after 1974, includes single and married urban women from diverse backgrounds.
THE FIRST WAVE: 1903 TO 1910
In the early 1900¡¯s American-born women were expected to work and began entering the labor force in large numbers, though they mostly worked in low pay low skilled jobs and turned most of their income over to their families they were still able to achieve increased independence. The Korean wives of this period, while not expected to, did end up working out of necessity. The low wages their husbands earned forced them to take jobs as housekeepers, laundresses and the like. While the strict hierarchical society from which they came had placed them in a subordinate position to men and urged them to stay in the home, their new situation called for them to leave the house in order to contribute to the family¡¯s economic support.
THE SECOND WAVE: 1910 TO 1924
This wave of Korean women came as picture brides for the men who had immigrated mostly to Hawaii and the west coast to work on farms. This group was younger and better educated than the previous group and many had experience as teachers [one historian has suggested that these women chose the picture bride route because they had failed in love previously and were either divorced or simply disillusioned]. Due to their higher level of education and a heightened sense of nationalism many among this group formed organizations which supported women¡¯s rights, fought poverty and the Japanese annexation of Korea.
THE THIRD WAVE: KOREAN WAR BRIDES
The Korean War devastated the countryside and tied the Korean economy to that of the U.S. and U.N. forces. During and after the war poor, uneducated, rural women, war orphans, North Korean refugees and low-income urban residents came to ¡°G.I. towns¡± to find work in the industry which had sprung up around the U.N. forces [the author claims these towns spawned the sex-tourism industry in Asia]. These poorer women constituted the third wave of immigrants and differed from the earlier groups in that they did not live in Korean communities but were isolated and had to adjust to their new culture without community support. American-born women were experiencing more and more freedom in the 50¡¯s yet were still limited in the power they held outside the home, the Korean war brides exercised less personal freedom than the American-born women but were still a step up from their peers back in Korea.
THE FOURTH WAVE: LATE 60¡¯s
The women finishing school in the 60¡¯s were the first Korean women to have an uninterrupted modern education. This group of immigrants came at a time when U.S. immigration laws permitted greater numbers of foreign professionals, especially those in the health care industry, into the United States and it was also a period of increasing women¡¯s participation in the U.S. labor force. More American-born women entering the labor force and discrimination had the effect of forcing the Korean immigrants into lower level jobs or completely new jobs that didn¡¯t require higher education. This demotion of the majority of this group of Korean women led them to try to raise their positions in society through their children by demanding from them even higher levels of education than they had achieved.
THE FIFTH WAVE: POST 1973
As the growing industrialization of Korea forced many rural women to become more mobile in their search for work the changing U.S. immigration laws were allowing a broader range of immigrants into the U.S. The new arrivals encountered a different society than their earlier counterparts had. The second feminist movement was urging more women into the workplace and women at home, Korean women included, were no longer accepting their roles as obedient wives, the divorce rate jumped accordingly. These changes did not drastically affect the Korean families in the U.S. Korean wives still did not rely on their husbands for help in the home and sons were still preferred over daughters.
With the exception of the war brides, the Korean women who have immigrated to the United states since 1900 have not fully accepted the role of the American-born women. Although progress has been made in the areas of personal freedoms, job opportunities and over all equality, they have only reached a state of compromise which lies far ahead of the women in Korea but falls short of the limited equality which women in America now possess.