[Feature]Korean Immigrants In America⑧ > 특집

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[Feature]Korean Immigrants In America⑧

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작성자 minjok 작성일02-01-18 00:00 조회2,168회 댓글0건

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Chapter Eight: THE EARLY IMMIGRANT FAMILY LIFE


sunwoohakwon.jpg The early Korean immigrant family came about through the system of the “picture bride.” Hundreds of young Korean women picked their future husband from the photographs of many of the Korean men in America which were presented to them. Interestingly enough, the majority of these young women came from the southern part of Kyongsang province while the vast majority of the early Korean male immigrants were from Pyongan province of northern Korea. The process of picking a husband was simple, but the process of the immigration to America was complicated.

The family is the most important social unit in Asia. The family assumed and maintained a typical form: patriarchal, patrilineal, patrilocal, extended, located within the broader social organization form of clan and integrated within a system of ethico-religious beliefs centering around ancestor worship. Yet, these young brave women were willing to divorce themselves from such traditional practice and came to America to marry men whom they never had seen before.

Seldom does any man, woman, or child think of himself or herself or another person apart from his role or her role as a member of his or her household. The family looms above the individual identities of its members to a degree that is hard to overstress. The early Korean immigrant family had many difficult problems, for instance, the arranged marriage through the picture, existence of continuous poverty, and little or no expectation of social change to effect their future. Yet, the “picture bride” came with anticipation of a bright future in a new land with a new man. Their outlooks were very optimistic.
We asked Mrs. Lee Ke-man a question about her coming to America.

Q. Why did you leave Korea?
A. To get married. I became a picture bride.
79-years old Mrs. Lee answered with twinkles in her eyes. Mrs. Lee, like many other “picture brides” whom we have interviewed, she revealed to us that it was the women’s choice to pick their own husbands and they came to America willingly. None of them was pressured by their families or friends. It was her choice. Mrs. Lee said that they picked their husbands from among photographs. She remembered that her husband was just 20, and “I got filled with a desire to marry and I volunteered myself.” Soon, she got letters from her future husband in America. A distant uncle of hers heard of this affair and put up a violent opposition saying, “We’re not going to have any woman in our family sold to prostitution:” He objected to the money she had received from her “husband” for her fare to America.

She continued to correspond in readiness to join her “husband.” She started in earnest in March, and arrived in Seattle in December. She was detained like other immigrants, but released by making the statement that she was “Mrs. Lee.” She had to be married in order not to be detained. There were over hundreds of Japanese “picture brides,” but she was the only Korean.

Those Korean immigrants including Mr. Lee were cannery workers in Alaska. They worked for six months and were off six months. At the time Mr. and Mrs. Lee were married, they were all off. Those men were not able to have wives as their jobs were considered as a part time. So Mr. Lee Yoon-kyong changed to farming from cannery work in order to bring his bride to America. Farm workers with long term jobs qualified for having a wife. Mr. Lee came as an immigrant to Hawaii in 1904, and then years later, he was able to bring his bride from Korea.

The first nine years of their married life was like a honeymoon although the farm life was not an easy one. They had five children and the sixth child was on its way when she became terribly homesick. Mr. Lee let her go back to Korea with the children to visit her mother. Her mother kept them there for three years. Meanwhile, her husband became an alcoholic. She described her husband: “I returned to find an inhuman person. ...he became a dehumanized person. He kept running off, hid, and chased another woman. I tried in all ways to keep him and the family together.”

Often the family would go hungry and the kids without lunch. The family lived on a farm near Butte, Montana for over 30 years and reared ten kids there. “I struggled to set my husband straight, but as I look back, now I know it was an impossible task,” she said sadly.

Her husband died a few years later leaving ten kids with the young widow. She left the farm and moved to Los Angeles. There were neither jobs nor a place to rent there. She left the city when her friend informed her that there was a farm labor shortage. By now, most of the children were grown, were married. She picked fruit and climbed trees to prune them. She said: “I worked so hard and the next thing that happened was I was stricken with this darn arthritis. So I returned to Los Angeles again alone.”

There was sadness in her face. “When Mr. Lee was sober, was he okay?” we asked her. “He was never sober,” she said. “His mind was only on alcohol--nothing else in this world mattered. That’s how it was. Even in the toilet box he’d hide his bottles, just anywhere and everywhere--there wasn’t a spot he would overlook.” She said rather reluctantly:

Because of his drinking, we became completely bankrupt. No matter how hard I tried to economize to make ends meet, I couldn’t manage. How could I? I couldn’t even make $8 a day for 10 hours long, back-breaking labor on the farm. He was completely unable to work, and what I made wasn’t enough to support a sick husband and the family. My arthritis got to my back and I was flat on my back.

We asked her about her sufferings due to racial prejudice. Her comment was that it wasn’t too bad for her family because they were identified as a Korean family and lived over 30 years in Montana. But for those poor Japanese, the police were after them and told them to get out in “24 hours.” She said: “There were some bad people who hanged some of the Japanese.”

After her husband died, there wasn’t anyone to help her family. “It was only because we lived on the farm that we were able to raise ten children.” She said, “If it were today, how could we possibly afford all those children? We raised our children with little expense.”

“Our hardships and struggles are unmentionable.” She commented, “If you need clothes, it can be had nowdays, but we were barely able to clothe ourselves. As for me, I thought I’d apply for welfare, but my kids gave me ‘hell’.”

The traditional Korean marriage system is indeed severe and young people do not dare to select his or her spouse. The marriage is arranged by the parents through the matchmakers. Any romance between the partners is considered not only undesirable but a family disgrace. There are many conditions and restrictions about marriages. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lee came to America with a romantic idea in her young mind, more with America than with Mr. Lee, and lived faithfully for the sake of the family. Her total parental responsibility for her ten children is remarkable when her husband failed to do his duty as the family head.

Sometimes, it is difficult to comprehend why a woman stays with the family and suffers so much when her husband abandons his duty as the family head according to the traditional system in Asia. No one would expect such behavior from the second or the third generations of Korean Americans. Of course, the economic factor is very important, but she is free to secure her own job in America. Yet, we found again and again that these “picture brides” refused to leave their husband and families even when they had unmentionable sufferings and pains in their early experiences. We believe the main reason that they were not able to free themselves from such hardships and painful life was due to the traditional system which they claimed to be liberated from it. Their family ties are consolidated by family emphasis on duty and responsibility based on Confucian teachings.

The authoritarian Confucian family represented a Confucian state in miniature. There is awe for the father and also for the elder brother. Wife and children, servants and concubines are like the common people, serfs and underlings. The hierarchy in the family into consideration generation, age, and sex. People of the elder generation were superior to the younger; within each generation the eldest had the preference over the youngest; the men were superior to the women.

The chief control within the family rested with parental authority. The father, as the family head, had the right to dispose of the family property, to punish, to reward, and to give orders to the family members as well as the responsibility to guide them and provide for them. However, parental authority did not reside with the father alone. The mother, whose status was next only to the father, shared his authority to a certain extent or by his delegation. Her role was to assist him generally in domestic matters and especially in rearing children.

Parental control, to be effective and lasting, demanded from the children the virtue of filial piety which is more than a mere passive obedience but an active devotion to the parents. The concept of filial piety is first cultivated by discipline from the mother, who makes it clear to the child that the ultimate authority in the family rested with the father. A boy soon came under the direct control of his father. He learned to please his parents, especially his father, in exchange for security and reward. But this is not filial piety; it is only submission based on fear. Filial piety must be self-control by which the children respect their parents with deep, voluntary and lasting affection. It relies essentially upon “ritual-ethics.” Confucianism taught that as soon as a child became old enough to grasp the meaning of social relations, he should be taught the proper rituals and their moral justifications. The child then learned to respect the superior status of his parents, to assume his proper roles toward them, and to derive satisfaction in doing so.

As in all patriarchal families, Korean mothers expressed their love for their children more than did the fathers. The mother was the symbol of kindness; the father was symbol of dignity and sternness. The father had more affection for the most worthy of his sons, and placed on a lower level those who did not show ability. The mother loved the worthy too, but she also pitied those who did not show ability. The mother dealt with them on the ground of affection and not of showing them honor; the father, on the ground of showing them honor and not affection.

A mother’s position becomes especially strong and responsible after her husband’s death as we have witnessed with Mrs. Lee who became the head of the family after Mr. Lee died.

According to our taped interviews, Mrs. Roh’s case was somewhat different from Mrs. Lee. Mrs. Roh, too, was a “picture bride” but Mr. Roh went to Korea to get married rather than had her come to America to get married. Mr. Roh worked on farms for about three years in Sacramento while Mrs. Roh stayed home with the children. Then, they moved to Oakland because farm labor was too hard for him, and since he followed the crops he was away from the family for long periods of time. Mrs. Roh suggested to her husband that he should learn a trade rather than being a farm laborer. He decided to learn barbering.

Why barbering? Mrs. Roh recalled that she got the idea from seeing barbers get rich in Korea. She wanted her husband to think of the family’s future. In three months Mr. Roh finished and graduated. Mr. Roh didn’t like the idea of being a barber, but she urged him. There were already three Korean barbers in Oakland and the Korean community didn’t need another barber. At his wife’s insistence, Mr. Roh apprenticed for two months at Mr. Shin’s shop in Oakland and then started his own shop on 7th Street in Oakland. He received only 25 cents for a haircut and shave but some of the customers were cranky that he was a new barber. He had a hard time for the first three years after he opened the shop. They barely paid the utilities and often were unable to pay the $35 a month house rent. They were on welfare for awhile. Welfare was primarily for children’s milk, and no more. Mr. Roh stayed in barber business all his life.

In order to help her husband financially, Mrs. Roh started the “bath tub” business. Their customers were mostly the Asians in both his barber shop and her bath tubs, and later date--after World War II, non-Asians traded with them. Her bath tub business became prosperous and the business had to be expanded. There were now 9 bath rooms, 3 showers and 6 bath tubs. She also took in laundry but had the clothes sent out to be “finished.” She charged ten cents for a bath, including soap and towels; 15 cents for a shower. She claimed that people used more water for the shower. She said that some people would come in and stand with the water running in the shower for one hour. But in a tub bath, “it took just the tub full. That’s all.” She commented.

As we found out from her in our interviews, she was more ambitious and enterprising than her husband, besides she wanted to have the family together. It was her idea to have her husband at home with the growing children instead of him following the crops and away from home. It was true that her husband had to work from six in the morning to midnight at the barber shop and she and her children had to run the bath, shower, and laundry shop business all day, but she said: “At least we had the night together and ate meals together. His barber shop was down and across the street from her bath and laundry. "We used to look across the street at each other. When I needed to do marketing, he’d come across the street and take over. Since he was alone, he’d just close shop. It was a great help and thus during the war time we were able to earn and save.” They saved enough to buy the building which they had rented from an Irish woman. They made a $500 down payment and the owner agreed to: take $35 a month payment. They had no payment problem thereafter. As a matter of fact, they were able to pay off their debts in just three years. She remembered that: “Anything left over after our groceries, we poured into payment of the building. Sometimes it would be $500, sometimes $700, just whatever we had left over.” The entire cost of the building was “something like $9,500.” After they bought the building and paid off everything, she said, “We gave allowances for each of our children.”

Mrs. Roh had no formal schooling either in Korea or in America. Nevertheless, her children went to college and now are doing very well. She had no knowledge of the English language and could not communicate with English speaking people. Yet she was not unhappy with her life in America. She was afraid to step outside when she first came since she could not communicate with the people except the Koreans.

Q. How did you feel when you met your first Americans?
A. I was afraid. They were so tall, their clothing strange. It was no fun to be out. If I did, it would be to visit another Korean. I couldn’t understand the language. There was nothing to interest me when I first arrived.

Q. What you were told about America?

A. That it was wonderful. That American kitchens were nice. You would be able to cook inside a room.

Q. Have you ever returned to Korea?

A. Never. I didn’t have money to go even if I wanted to. Now I am not in the mood.

The 80 year old Korean, American by naturalization, was still working hard to keep her apartment building in order. The hard work had been her second nature. Her children keep asking her to travel and see her relatives and friends, but she said: “I have to take care of these apartments. I have to clean some of them and take care of the tenants and the yard.” Her husband died in 1963 and she continued her business alone until 1968. Her windows had been bashed in, and the neighborhood was in transition. Her children became “scared” for her. Her son sold the building without her knowledge in order to move her out from the place. But she maintained her independence even after she closed her business. She has lived in America so long, she has become Americanized without realizing it herself, and her ethnic world has become a part of the larger American community.

Father is the king of the family but the eldest son of the family is next only to the father. Only second to filial piety is the relationship between brothers, one of the most crucial relations in the ideal type of traditional family. As we have seen the ideal was to keep as many generations as possible living together and, since the family was patrilineal and patrilocal, all the male interrelationships were necessarily of great concern. The position of an elder brother to a younger brother was a highly cooperative one. There is reason to believe that the obedience of the younger to the older brother was only considerably less important than the united front that brothers were expected to present to all other persons not their parents. Only the interests of parents or other older generation members in the direct line justified a breach in the mutual support of brothers.

Brothers expected to be able to consult and confide anything and everything to one another. Companionship between brothers was a prominent feature of their relationship. The relationship was much like that of close friends in the West. The institutionalized strength of the relation was considerably less than that of the father-son relations and the brothers had an institutionally approved right to demand an economic basis for themselves independent of the authority of the eldest brother.

The relationship between sisters was not one of long duration. In the ordinary core it was terminated at marriage. After marriage the sisters might meet on visits home, but such visits were relatively rare and by no means certain. The relationship between sisters was not nearly so well defined as that between brothers, nor was it so vital to the family. Like the relationship between brothers, that between sisters was cooperative and intimate, a sort of institutionally rather than individually selected friendship. The sister relationship was usually quite affectionate and intimate and, although the strength of the relationship was relatively slight, its intensity, so long as the sisters lived together, was generally great. The relationship was so completely severed at marriage, however, and the separation of women from independent control as the economic basis for power was so complete that the intensity of the relationship had no chance to be reflected in strength; at every turn the society gave priority to other relationships.

We find an ideal type of such traditional family relationship among our taped interviews. Mr. Paik Myong-son came to America at the age of 7 with his parents from Pyong-yang in 1905. He does not remember much of Korea. “I only remember joyful time in Korea when I was young. We lived next door to grandparents and they spoiled me and my sister.” He commented. The family arrived in Hawaii and went out to the sugar cane plantations like the rest of the Korean immigrants at those days. But they didn’t have to stay there too long because his father had training in the missionary field and the church wanted him to be a traveling missionary among the Korean plantation workers in the Islands. His father served as a travelling minister for about a year but decided to move on to the mainland.

They had heard of unlimited opportunities on the mainland so the Paik family arranged a loan for steamship fare and landed in San Francisco in 1906 right after the earthquake. They could not find jobs in the city so they moved to Needles where the father found work on a railroad and his mother cooked for the workers. It was very hard work for the father who had had no work experience. Besides the wages were too low to support the family. The Paik family moved to Riverside to find a job picking orange and citrus fruits there. They lived in Riverside from 1908 to 1912.

According to Myong-son, his parents started to run a boarding house since most of the Korean immigrants were single. They had anywhere from 30-40 men in the house. The business was profitable. They were able to pay off the money they borrowed for steamship fare from the Hawaiian Islands.

Answering why the family came to America, Myong-son made a point which his father told him before they left Korea: “No more opportunities in Korea so in order to better ourselves and protect our children’s future we will go to a free country.” That’s why the Paik family left Korea for America. The objectives of the early Korean immigrants were basically not too different among them. Their parents, however, refused to leave the familiar land and go with the family. They were too old and they stayed. Then when they wanted to join the family, it was too late. The Japanese clamped down and restricted Korean immigration to America. So the grandparents died in Korea.

Myong-son explained about his father’s adventure to America:

My grandparents worshipped idols, but after the missionaries converted them, they threw away the idols. My Dad personally studied the Bible and became a Christian. He was one of the early Koreans to teach the Korean language to missionaries; he taught Dr. Underwood. My Dad couldn’t be ordained minister, but he had to make money to support his family, ten children, as well as all the aunts and cousins, etc.

The Paik family stayed in Riverside for 4 years. Myong-son was growing and wanted to go to school. He said: “I wanted to get as much education as possible and go back to Korea to help them get modernized. I did have such thoughts.” But that was not possible. As the oldest son in the family, he had to help his father. He first helped at home with their boarding house business. He had to go and do the shopping for all the meats and the vegetables. Myong-son was the outside contact person for the parents since he was the only one who could speak English.

They left California and went to Washington, but only stayed there 7 months when all the Korean workers lost their jobs. They could not lease farmland anymore because of anti-alien law. So the family moved to Utah. Two Korean families lived in Utah, and invited the Paik family there. The father went first to get a location for a sugar beet farm, then he arranged a loan to transport the entire family from Washington to Utah. By that time there were ten children in the family. Myong-son was old enough to pack everything while the father took off and the family came to Utah by train. As the eldest son, he had to set an example for the rest of the children to do likewise. On the farm in Utah, Myong-son had to see that all the children did their assignments. On the Utah farm, they raised alfalfa, hay, sugar beets, pigs, milk cows, and, of course, chickens. They lived on different farms from 1922 to 1939. They made a living and raised the children.

Myong-son left for a city--Ogden--to earn more cash. There wasn’t enough to do on the farm for him. Seven boys were not needed on a little farm. So he went to find a job in the city.

Q. What kind of job?

A. Anything, working in the street. They were putting in new pipe lines. I dig ditch and they had trouble with water in the trench and they had trouble keeping the engine running and I told them I could keep it going and keep the water pumped. So I got a job tending it. And then I went to Garfield Smelter in southern Utah near Salt Lake City. They got copper ore from Bingham Canyon Mine and brought them over to the Garfield Smelter which was on the shore of Salt Lake. Stayed there over three years.

Q. Were there other Koreans there?

A. No. But lots of Japanese.

Q. Did you feel racial prejudices when you looked for work?

A. Yes, very prejudiced. You couldn’t go to any restaurant. You got sit on the seat, no one would come to serve you so you just had to walk out and go to one that would serve you. Go to some run-down place where they couldn’t discriminate.

One of the major problems among these young immigrants was finding a partner to marry. Due to their parents’ insistence, the partner had to be a Korean. There were very few Korean girls who could be a match for Myong-son. However, his luck arrived. Information came from his family while Myong-son was working in Los Angeles that there was an 18 year old girl in Idaho. He was 32. Myong-son returned to Utah andhe with his father visited Boise, Idaho where Rosie lived.

Q. When you met Rosie, you were very happy with what you saw.

A. Just what I wanted. She was young and attractive looking, and healthy. What more can you ask? And she was willing, so we got married immediately.

Myong-son and Rosie had six children. The sixth child was their only son. Everyone of the children are well and now living their own interesting lives. Irvin specialized in drama and electronics for sound and stage productions. He is now working for Universal Studios as a film editor.

Fortunately for the family, the father was a very creative man. One day he and some of his friends went to some hills and got two sandstones. With a chisel and a hammer made a grind stone. It was about 16 inches in diameter, large enough for a woman to grind grains by hand. In those days, that was the only way they could grind food. Another of his inventions was sod irons. Myong-son explained that “You put the iron on the stove--it was made of iron--gets hot, you use it until it gets cool, then pick up another hot one. They lived in the house without running water when they came first it was Myong-son’s job to get the water for his mother. Where did he get the water supply? He explained:

I solved it by digging a well. It happened that wherever we went, there was plenty of water near the surface. So every place we went, every place that didn’t have running water, first thing we did was to put in a well and put in a pump--we pumped by hand. Always had pumped water for my mother. This was one thing I always insisted on. Some people didn’t put it in, it amazed me. They made their children or women go down to the irrigated ditch and bring it in by the bucket.

His father, as well as his mother, wanted to educate their sons and daughters. That was their main goal. Myong-son was not very fortunate in going to school, but some of the other children made it. He remembered that he had to work hard all his life just to support his parents and his brothers and sisters. But once he got married, he vowed to put all his children at least through high school. However, most of them went to the university. He remembered that his son, Irvin, was attending UCLA and needed a car to commute, so he paid the insurance of $350 a year. He said: “It took all my savings to do that. Yeh, a dollar a day--that’s what it amounted to. We did that four years, it was necessary.”

As the oldest son of the family, Myong-son contributed so much to his family since his childhood. He also raised his own children successfully, now he is happily retired in sunny California. What made him a successful family man? How was he able to perform his duty as the eldest son” How did he become a model for his brothers and sisters, and his own children? He simply said that there are a few conditions one must observe in order to achieve what he considered a happy family life. In the first place, he said, “You have to have good health.” Then, Myong-son paused for a minute and said, “You have to have an aim in life.” In order to achieve something in life, he suggested that one must receive a good education.

Q. What is the secret to your good health?
A. When I first hit the Hawaiian Islands and went to school, the teacher says, “you got to have good health. Don’t use tobacco, alcohol, don’t drink coffee, things like that.” She gave a little lecture on health and nutrition. It made an impression on me so I never drink coffee or tea and never touch tobacco and alcohol, except medicinal, of course.

Myson-son was 78 in 1976, but didn’t have a wrinkle on his face. His mind was alert, with no health problems except he had had cataract operation a couple years ago. He watches his favorite programs on TV as long as his eyes hold out, then listens to his Hi-Fi. He likes classical and singing music. He said, “I like to hear a man and a woman sing romantic songs.” Myong-son presented us a photo of his seven brothers and three sisters which was taken at the time of his mother’s funeral a few years ago. Again, it was a reflection of eldest son who has carried out his duty well.
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