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[Feature]Korean Immigrants In America③

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작성자 minjok 작성일02-01-18 00:00 조회1,764회 댓글0건

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Chapter Three: SOCIAL MOTIVATIONS


sunwoohakwon.jpg No one can deny the fact that the vast majority of the Korean immigrants in America left Korea for America due to the Japanese invasion of Korea. Nevertheless, there are some that felt their motivations for leaving Korea was for very personal reasons. They wanted personal freedom. This was more strongly expressed among the women immigrants who came as picture brides seeking personal liberation. They wanted to get away from the laceration of a dying feudalistic social system which had no regard for women"s natural rights.

The socio-political system of traditional Korea involves the Confucian feudal philosophy. It inherited this Confucian ideological system which dates far back into the Koryu Dynasty, 936-1392, where the growing ascendancy of Confucianism had been deeply rooted in the Korean mind. Koreans maintained the belief that Confucian ideology was far superior to any other ideologies and that it should remain the basis for Korean society. It was most convenient for the Yi Dynasty, 1392-1910, to adopt the theory of harmony and obedience which is the most basic ideas of Confucianism. They understood fully that the ruler should enforce absolute obedience of his subjects through the office of the "scholar-gentry" bureaucracy. It meant that the Confucian theory of personal government by the bureaucracy justified the monopoly of power by the privileged few elites.

Traditional patterns of life based on Confucian teachings had no room for independent thought and teaching, and the subjects were to obey absolutely the rules and laws that the elites happened to consider appropriate for that society. Thus the members of the bureaucracy gained fame, position, and above all, wealth by holding their official position. Once they gained these privileges, they wanted to preserve what they had. They were not much interested in progress and changes which would threaten their security and position. The Confucian virtues of obedience, authority, righteousness, and harmony were taught while the poor peasants, the majority of the people, were being exploited. Above all, the treatment of women was inhuman and brutal. Under the circumstances women sought a new life with courage and determination. They tore themselves away from the debilitating system and dared to defy the Confucian traditions of the day.

According to our taped findings, Mrs. Park Ke-yul was the first example of a woman who left Korea because feudalistic life was so oppressive and sought personal liberation at any cost. She was 75 years old at the time of our interview in 1977. She had vivid recollections of her teenage rebellion against such a feudalistic tradition.

I was only 14 years old. I recalled what I heard my older brother often repeat; "Our young Korean women should have a chance to go abroad and not be content like frogs, just croaking inside a deep well and limited to knowing only that the heavens are high. They should learn about the breath of society." It didn"t mean much to me then, but as I approached 15, I began to feel more and more restless and dwelled upon brother"s saying. (Kim Warren y. Koreans in America, p. 87)

Her father was a teacher and her mother used to sew to supplement his earnings. The family was indeed poor. Her friends and she heard about opportunities for wealth in America.

"You don"t need to work in America. There"s just piles of money. If you can get someone to send for you from America, there"s cash enough for fare and enough to help out your family." Those were the kinds of stories they heard. Who would want to doubt them? Such stories filled their young minds with ideas for escape to a better life in a new world. After reaching puberty, trips outside her home gates became restricted and almost forbidden according to Confucian teachings. Her brother"s remarks made an even greater impact and the restrictions and taboos put upon her adolescent life became increasingly intolerable. Her sole source of information of the world outside her home gates opened up to her during the frequent trips to the market place accompanied by a servant girl. It was there that she first heard of "picture brides."

"Ah, marriage! Then I could get to America! The land of freedom with streets paved of gold: Becoming a picture bridge, whatever that was." She possessed with this single idea.

One day, a woman from Hawaii came who was seeking candidates for picture brides. Mrs. Park recalled, "naturally, I hung around for whatever news was being told. She impressed me as an angel in her sheer and flowing summer dress." The woman had gone to Hawaii as a picture bride herself and was taken to work on the sugar plantations. She told of how the bugs crawled up her legs and infected her whole body and caused abscesses. That was a revolting story. But that was in Hawaii, and the young lady wanted to go to America. Mrs. Park was only 15, but she determined to find a way to go to America as a picture bride.

She was informed that there was an old woman in Pusan City who had a bunch of photos of would-be husbands in America. The source also told her to take the old lady a photo of herself, pick a man, then the woman would make the arrangements. Her brother went off to study in Japan at the Meiji University. There was not anyone to guide her. Her brother, like most of the Korean students in Japan, worked his way through school. She was the only child left with her parents.

This young teenager made a contact in Pusan City some 30 miles away from home. By the time she made her second exciting and thrilling rendezvous, she had picked out her "husband" from among four photographs from America. She was advised to wait for a letter notifying her that money for passage would soon arrive from her "husband-to-be." She told all this as vividly and enthusiastically as if it were a recent experience.

According to Mrs. Park, her "husband" was a contract laborer for three years in Hawaii. He was only free after three years of laboring in sugar plantations. It was not only her "husband", but everyone in his ship from Korea was under the same contract. After three years, he went to Spokane, Washington to farm. Of course, the young teenager had no idea what Mr. Park was talking about when he described this and other experiences in America when they got together. She revealed that their correspondence became regular once they got "engaged."

Considering the oppressive feudalistic society in which she was struggling, her thought and what she actually promised at such an early age was indeed courageous and downright brazen. She told of the heavy burden of guilt and responsibility she had felt in the deviousness of her activities. Yet, she realized that she had no other choice if she was to liberate herself from the social environment which she had grown to detest.

All of a sudden, there were no letters. She waited to hear from her "husband" for almost two years. Finally, he wrote that he had crop failure and would be unable to return to Korea to marry her. It was a time when "picture brides" were no longer admitted. He told her that he could not be "engaged" to her any longer, and she should look to another man. It was like requesting a "divorce." How could that happen? "Divorce" or even "engagement" was not permitted in a feudalistic Korean society. How can she reveal that story to her parents? How could she survive the Hell she was certain to face? She related that she was as good as "murdered" by her narrow-minded family for she had "...ruined the entire family lineage, disgraced the family name so that none could hold up his or her head anywhere, etc..." She was humiliated and physically and emotionally chastised from morning to night by all members of her family. She could not endure the punishment from her home and cruel family and go to the family of her "in-laws", whom she had never met, but only known through her "husband"s" correspondence.

She relates, "I wrote and told my "father-in-law" that I was coming to live with them. Of course, I waited to see what would happen. Oh, and if my family knew I had written such a letter, I am sure they would have poisoned me: Anyway, I was determined to go there even if I should die and turn into a devil: A few days later, a servant announced the arrival of a traveler to our home. I recognized the name to be that of my "father-in-law." He did not identify as such to my parents, but I knew who he was immediately. I was overjoyed. He had come to get me. I immediately went to my room and got my few possessions together and tied it neatly in a cloth bundle."

"It was customary in those days to take in weary travelers, put them up and then let them continue after they had been refreshed and rested. When my "father-in-law" was ready to leave, so was I. My cloth bundle balanced on my head, my long braided hair reaching to my ankles with a red ribbon trailing behind, I stood ready behind him at the gate. That was the last my family saw me." She had nothing to say to her parents, but she remembers that they were shocked and surprised as she left, and the echoes of their scolding voices.

The young teenager"s amount of relief and happiness was, however, very short-lived. For unfortunately, her life was full of hardship and misfortune even before she left Korea. Just when she received word that her "husband" would be able to send for her, her "father-in-law" passed away. Her unrelenting "mother-in-law" and village elders decided that in the absence of their elder son, his "wife" should carry on the duties of their chief mourner and carry out all the mourning rituals according to Confucian teachings. Every detail of hairdo and dress had to be exactly as traditions dictated. In those days, one mourned three years for the father. There was no way the young woman could possibly escape her rigid feudalistic Confucian duty.

"After three years of formal mourning, I was to continue the mourning by changing to a white hair ribbon; my "mother-in-law" finally permitted me to join my "husband" if I would return before the pumkin leaves fell to the ground," she said. But that was 60 years ago.

The young Korean "bride-to-be" arrived in Seattle in 1919. After six long years of waiting, she was married immediately to Mr. Park who has been waiting all those years as anxious as she was.

We asked her:

Q. Were there other Koreans in Seattle when you came?
A. No. I was the only Korean woman there at that time.
Q. Were there other Korean mean besides your "husband-to-be"?
A. They were "tens of miles" away. Transportation was by horse-
drawn wagon then, and people didn"t do that much travelling.
Q. How did you feel when you first met your husband?
A. I gave him a quick once over, and he was similar to his
picture. He was all right.

Q. How old was he?

A. He was 19 years older than I. We slept the first night in hotel. The next day we went to Spokane. I came in the winter. Must have been around January. It was just before the Mansei Movement of 1919. Mansei Patriotic Movement on March First was the time when Korean blood was bubbling and boiling. My man subscribed to The New Korea. To this day, I continue the subscription. The account of the anti-Japanese sentiment was big news, and for one whose body was coursing with Korean blood, we couldn"t possibly rent from a farm from a Japanese. My husband was renting a farm from him.

As soon as she arrived in Spokane, she was whisked off to a farm in Montana where she toiled side by side with her husband, except she was heavy with child or taking care of them at home. There were quite a number of Koreans in Montana besides the Parks. From time to time her husband went to a place in Wyoming to work in the coal mines for more cash earnings, but they stayed on the farm longest. They farmed in Montana for 38 years. They rented the farms since they couldn"t buy land in those days. The Orientals were not allowed to buy farm lands in America.

She was freed from the feudalistic society that she found so very stifling, but she never did see the streets paved of gold as she had been told. She raised ten children alone after her husband passed away just one month after the tenth baby was born in 1939. She now depended on her oldest son to do the man"s work at the farm, and the young man joined the United States Army when the war broke out. Her son became one of the early American casualties of the war. She recalled:

Can you imagine the tortured heart of a mother who receives a box of her son"s remains when just three months ago he was full of life? I wanted to "eat up" any Japanese in sight. In physical appearance we have no difference. We were called "Japs" or "Dirty Japs".
Of all places, we lived off Highway 10. We were stoned and our windows broken so many times by passing motorists who took us for Japanese. More than fear of my life, I feared for the life of my children. In school, the children were teased and called "Japs." My children used to come home crying and refused to go to school.

Not only the school children, but a teacher called the Park"s children "you dirty Jap kids." Mrs. Park took up the case to the school authority, and the teacher was expelled from school. She remembers to say:

God protects us, but what the Korean National Association did for us in our time of dire need I can never repay. I felt closer in protection by the KNA than any own parents. To this day, I feel respect and allegiance to the KNA.

After I put my poster in the window, would-be mobsters and passerbys would say, "oh little Korean house". "Oh Joe Korean" they would say to my older son.

Mrs. Park, weighing less than a hundred pounds, laments, "All I"ve left is tears and sorrows ... I look forward to the day when God calls me to His Heavenly abode so that I can be reunited with my two sons. This is my wish."

Here is another teenager who left Korea at the age of 16 who claimed that he came to the United States for personal liberation. In his case, he had help from his father to leave the country. His mother, however, didn"t agree with his father on the matter. She wanted to marry the young son off at the tender age of 15, but his father didn"t approve of such early marriage; yet in the matter of marriage, the father had very little to say even though Jin-sung was his oldest son.

In those days, Jin-sung recalled, when a child gets to be 14-15 years old, the mother usually thinks of marriage. So there were matchmakers coming in and out of this teenager"s house. He said that these matchmakers were "going the back door while another would coming in the front door. My gosh, all lined up like that. My father found out about the situation, and he didn"t like what was going on at home. Yet, my father didn"t like to argue with my mother. Besides, she was the "boss" on the son"s marriage." There was nothing Jin-sung"s father could do to stop the continual procession of matchmakers to the house, but he could do something about his son, so the father sent Jin-sung away to America, or at least, he helped him to leave the country.

Mr. Kin Jin-sung was 77 years old when we interviewed him. He told the story of his early life with enthusiasm unlike Mrs. Kim who was more reluctant to reveal their past. As the interview progressed, Mrs. Kim, too, was relaxed and contributed to our conversation-interview.

The young teenager landed in San Francisco in 1916 from China with a group of other Korean immigrants. No one waited for him in San Francisco except that the Korean National Association helped him to land. He said; "I was pretty lucky that there was the KNA." He went to Los Angeles with another Korean immigrant because; "I didn"t know where to go? Where to head to and I didn"t have any money." The other Korean immigrant had an uncle who came to America earlier and lived in Los Angeles.

The young immigrant needed a job. Of course, he couldn"t speak a word of English and no one to help him to find a job. How could this young lad who came to America in short pants be able to find a job? He moved out to Upland where a Korean had an employment agency. Mr. Lim Jun-ki, the owner of the employment agency, found jobs for the Korean farm workers, and also operated a boarding house. Mr. Lim charged $6 a month for food--three meals a day and housing. The young immigrant found a job on a farm picking oranges. Mr. Kim described the housing situation in Upland at that time:
They had old wooden beds. We had cotton mattress, but I still had to buy myself some sheets, a pillow, blankets, work clothes. I didn"t have money, but Mr. Lim said, "oh, don"t worry about it. I"ll take you to the store, and charge whatever you buy to my account." I went and bought those items.

Mr. Kim had never seen oranges in Korea. He learned to pick them and earned his living there, not only by picking oranges, but he also picked tomatoes which he was familiar with in Korea. But he had never picked them. As a matter of fact, the young lad had had no experience doing anything in the field. Four Korean farm laborers were picking tomatoes in Chico about five miles south of Upland near Ontario, and he went to join them.

We asked him about his first experience in farm works:
Q. How did you go there in first place?
A. With a buggy and horse. I took all my supplies and it seemed to take forever to get there.

Q. What did they pay you for picking tomatoes in those days?

A. Prevailing price was $2 for 9 hours work.

Q. That wasn"t too bad. Better than in Hawaii?

A. I think so, but you don"t have this job every day. That"s the drawback. I went and the old people there were very nice to me. The next morning I went to pick tomatoes. The farm belonged to a white man. He looked at me, and I looked pretty young. He asked my age. I told him "I"m sixteen." He kind of understood, and went to another Korean who understood better English than I. Anyway, the boss told me "I cannot pay you full wages, what I"m going to do is pay you half." I thought, "Half wages is nothing. Only a dollar a day. You can"t live on dollar a day." Mr. Lim said, "we"ll try him, and if he does as much work as the rest of them, will you pay him full wages? Well, what do you say?" The boss said, "Well, yes, I"ll do that." Mr. Lim coached me and said, "You had better work hard, and follow us. Then, you"ll be paid full." When you"re young you can do better than older people because your back is stronger. I had no problem. I did just as much as the others. The boss came around and said, "Pretty nice. Good boy. I"m gonna pay you full wages."

After all the tomatoes were picked, he went back to the camp in Upland. It was December, and it was windy, cold winter. Mr. Kim found another job for the young lad. This time, it was to pick red grain which they feed chickens. The job was more difficult than picking tomatoes. He had to cut off the top of the grain stalk with pruning scissors. He cut them off, put them in a sack, and lined them up in a wagon. It was hard work, because when one cuts off the stalk with scissors his hands blister because the stalks are pretty tough. His hands blistered for a week or two. But this was only the beginning of his new life in America.

He recalled a sand storm experience while he was picking red grain in Upland. A group of the Korean farm-laborers lived out in a remote place where a great big old barn in the middle of the field. The place was so big that it could accommodate a team of fifty horses. At that time, there were no horses nor cows. When they went out there to work, that was the place where they lived. They cooked inside, but the smoke did not bother them because it was such a big place. In the evening when they looked up, they could see the stars and moon through holes in the roof, and it became cold at night.

One evening, the wind started blowing. There was one big door--about twelve feet wide. Of course, there was no running water or toilet. They had to carry water from outside. Six of them lived there at that time. That evening the wind blew and blew in sand and dust all night. There was no place to go, no one had a car, not even a horse and buggy, and they were about twenty miles away from civilization.

In the morning, they tried to get out of the place, found that about ten feet of sand was piled against the gate which was the only one. They couldn"t open the gate. They were stranded and left there without any contact with the outside. They waited all day inside. The next thing they found was that the wind had blown the sand away, and the door "swung open itself.

Life of the young immigrant was not easy but he stayed on. He was homesick, too, but as he said, "what can you do?" He missed his parents and the rest of the family, but said to himself, "No matter how hard it is, I have to make it." He couldn"t go home. If he did go back, he said to himself, his father wouldn"t welcome him back, because he promised his father he would make good.

The young immigrant came into a town to study English after a hard life on the farm. He enrolled in Dr. Kang"s English class in Claremont and stayed in a boarding house. There were sixteen Korean youngsters in the winter of 1917. He stayed there through June 1918. Beside Dr. Kang, who was an early immigrant and earned his doctorate degree in law, Miss Case was also teaching English to these young Korean immigrants. Mr. Kim said that she was a student from Pomona College and taught them English one hour a day.

It took about ten years for Mr. Kim to settle down and find a business. Once he started his first grocery business in 1928, he was looking for a girl to marry. He found a girl from Hawaii and married her. They have now a son and daughter. Both of the children are married and have children of their own.

Mr. and Mrs. Kim returned to Korea for a visit in 1935 and stayed with his parents for six months before they came back to their home in Los Angeles. How about their personal liberation? They have no question in their minds that they are far better off in the present situation than they could have been in Korea all these years in spite of all their pains and sufferings in the early days.

Our third case of personal liberation is a woman who left Korea with her mother, her two brothers, and a sister-in-law in 1904. Mrs. Kim Hei-won was 90 years old when we interviewed her in Los Angeles in 1975. She was nineteen years old at the time she left Pyongyang. Her mother was a women of the aristocracy and her father was a high official which entitled him to acquire a concubine. In fact, men of high office were expected to do so in the feudalistic Korean society. Her mother was deeply hurt and saddened that her husband would not leave his concubine who was a former kisang girl. One day her mother defied him and announced, "I am no longer to live with you. I am going to take my three children to America and educate them. I shall become a wonderful person! You shall be disgraced and you will remain as you are!"

The young mother had had a very restricted and protected life because of her wealthy background, both before and after he marriage. She had conformed very well to the feudalistic system until she suddenly felt personal humiliation and denigration in the realization that her husband was retaining a concubine. It was a tremendous blow to his pride when she finally took possession of all his offspring--especially the two sons who bore his name. She now sought means to carry out her threat, and get "free" passage to "America" for herself, her two sons, a daughter, and a daughter-in-law. Little did she know that she had signed up the group as contract laborers to the Hawaii Sugar Plantation Association!

Mrs. Kim said, "At first, we were unaware that we had been sold as laborers... we thought Hawaii was America in those days." She continued:

We were told that money was unnecessary so my mother exchanged the money for gold pieces before we left for "America".... When we arrived we were immediately sent to a labor camp on a sugar plantation in Maui. My mother, sister-in-law, and older brother were sent to the field, while my younger brother was sent to school. In as much as I was a teenager, I was told to stay away from the "bad" plantation workers.

This resolute mother and family continued to labor in the sugar plantation until they earned enough to repay their passage, after which they sailed to Honolulu. None of them had ever touched dirt before for they were trained to be Confucian scholars, while the women of aristocracy had always been dressed in silken gowns and had servants available at their beck and call. Yet, in defiance of an odious decaying feudal system, as well as their personal liberation, these people struggled and labored long hours under the most wretched living and working conditions in order to become free persons. Mrs. Kim recalled:

If all of us worked hard and pooled together our total earnings, it came to about $50 a month, barely enough to feed and clothe the five of us. We cooked on the porch, using coal oil and when we cooked in the fields, I gathered the wood. We had to carry water in vessels from water faucets scattered here and there in the camp area.

The young teenager was not happy with the situation, and Mrs. Kim demanded that she be sent to school. She had dreamed of education for herself as her goal and was saddened by their poverty and meager existence despite the long hours of toil and hardship. Somehow she managed to get a sewing machine and earned some extra money as a seamstress. She made custom shirts with hand-bound button holes for 25 cents, of course, customers brought their own fabric. Her mother and sister-in-law took in laundry. They scrubbed, ironed and mended shirts for a nickel each. It was pitiful! Their knuckles became swollen and raw from using the harsh yellow laundry soap.

Mrs. Kim was sent to an adult boarding school. She was thrilled, but she wasn"t prepared to study. Not only that she didn"t have enough savings to pay $50 for a year"s board and tuition. After a year or so, she had to give it up. Instead of her own education, she joined together with her mother and sister-in-law and began to concentrate on the education of the younger brother. They all worked from early dawn until late at night just to prove to the father in Korea that her brother would be educated to the "highest degree." Through their combined efforts and sacrifices over a period of ten years, her brother, who was sent to the mainland to be educated, did finally earn a doctorate degree in law. The three women were satisfied that they had succeeded in their goal, and his wife was finally able to join him for the first time in ten years.

The efforts and sacrifices made by these women in order to free themselves from the inhuman ordeals of life under the feudalistic system is fantastic. Women, it seemed, had stamina that surpassed the men, especially when it was a matter of personal liberation as exemplified by these three women in this episode.

All of these three stories of Mrs. park, Mrs. Kim, and Kim Jin-sung has had one thing in common--personal liberation from their social environment. To them, it was a worthwhile struggle and none of them regretted about their adventurous livings in America. It was first time, all of them, revealed their past for the purpose of sharing with others including their own immediate families.
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