Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Multiculturalism and Korea: a challenge

Following my post on Giordano, here’s an interesting conversation I had with my colleague at AFI. During lunch, she was briefing me a little on the coming AFI projects. AFI’s working currently with a writer who’s got two projects.
The first project is related to peace building. This writer wants to build a library in Iraq for children. Library as a place for peace. The mouse, addicted to reading, is of course appealed by such a project, though it may sound utopian in the first place (but it seems that a lot of projects at AFI start like a dream and then become effective, so, let’s wait and see). Apparently, he has been quite active in implementing libraries in Korea as Korean people and children have very few access points to libraries (and books are quite pricey here). In these situations, I feel thankful towards French cultural policy/Welfare policy, that enables everyone to access to knowledge through a large network of libraries nationwide. Of course, I have dutifully vampirised libraries from Paris or Lille hehe. So, when I tell my Korean colleagues about the number of libraries/networks, they envy France.
The second project consists in editing a book for children in Korea. The aimed population is peculiar. These books aim children whose parents are not Korean. The books will be given on the 5th May –which is the Children’s day in Korea. They will be originally Korean children books translated in foreign languages targeting these children, so, mainly, I guess, Philippino children or Vietnamese children, as far as I know. Of course, this triggered questions for me. It is said that these mixed-blooded children (as you may infer, the father is Korean and the mother is foreign) are often bullied at school and badly integrated in the Korean society. So the most urgent goal would be certainly to enable a better integration of these kids, and I was not that sure that focusing on their difference was the best way to do so, as they are Koreans. In France, I’m sure the approach would have been totally the reverse, as France is a society that faces multiculturalism de facto thanks to its traditions, in spite of a certain crisis there. So, what then? Then, I remembered how important it is not to forget one’s roots. Trivial to say, but noteworthy, diversity makes wealth. And these kids need to remember who they are. I remembered having this chat with Ha, a Vietnamese friend met during my workshop in Gwangju. She was telling me roughly the story of her cousin that married a Korean. Needless to say that it was not really a love marriage, and that there were some economic stakes behind that. Which may explain why her cousin’s kids do not speak Vietnamese, though their mom is Vietnamese. The Korean husband of course does not speak Vietname, or does not try to learn about Vietnamese culture, and avoids contact with Vietnamese relatives. I was so angry, so furious, so sad when I heard this story (though my friend told me that her cousin was finding her way towards happiness by living there). How can this Vietnamese woman throw away her past, erase her identity in front of this Korean husband that she did not really choose? How come this man cannot respect his wife, and her culture? I’m convinced these Korean-Vietnamese kids will certainly regret not knowing more about the other side of their identity. These are the somehow sad stories I can hear there. Is that wishful thinking to hope that things will change some day? Let’s hope so.
This is, of course, related to how things go on the matrimonial market in Korea. Partaking of a market may sound weird, I guess, but it is true. A. Pingol, one of the fellows at my workshop in Gwangju, started her paper with this market approach analysis. Her paper tackles the issue of Philippino wives married to Korean men. Her starting point is there’s a surplus of loving body (Korean men) and a lack of support for this love (the women). Who’s the culprit, who is to blame for such an unbalanced situation? I suggest the Confucian philosophy might be harmful for the contemporary/post-modern Korean society in the long term perspective, in a globalised world. Confucian traditions, as you may know, privileges the role of sons in a family. The son was designed to take care of the elders in the family, letting him play a key role in the family. Out, yee damn’d spot (the daughter)(which often led to abortion in the old times. That's why Korean doctors tend to refuse to say the baby's sex before the babies is born). Hence a certain form of machismo in Korea. Though, I witness a kind of girl’s power emerging in the streets of Seoul (to be continued in a coming post). I am not a fervent feminist, as you may know, but living in Korea for a while may make things change (lol).
I also know how education can shape you, and how important the role of parents is in the transmission of cultures and roots. Regarding this, I can but be so thankful to my parents, who devoted time, energy and money to let my sister and I enjoy, appreciate and embody both cultures. It took us time, my Japanese is not perfect, but it is certainly a wealth I have in me that shapes my identity. That’s why I always kind of get angry when the mother in a multicultural couple “surrenders” in front of the husband in terms of cultural transmission. So important that both cultures are acknowledged by the children.
I guess this post will bring about a few comments. Looking forward to them.

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