MR. KIM and Mrs. Kim came to America in 1976. Suffering from social
inequalities and restrictions in their own country, they decided to leave their
home town and move to America, the land of opportunities and freedom. However,
the unfamiliar environment, racial discrimination, and the lack of English
ability kept pulling them back from joining the society. Giving up on their own
future dreams, they started to work hard to earn money for another dream, so
gaining wealth in order to make their children a huge success became a new goal
of their life. Now, they are the owners of a Korean market and their two
children went off to college to study as they have always wanted. However, as
their children flew away to live their own lives, they feel helpless more than
ever. Although their children became a success, they feel mutual distance
between their children and themselves.
This is a story of a typical Korean family in America.
Although living in the same house, they seem to have some differences that cause
disagreements. Let's take a look into these families and see what we are missing
The history of immigration
Koreans had moved over to America from the very beginning of the 20th
century. At that time, Korea was under the Japanese rule. Therefore, Koreans,
usually males, had to immigrate to America to work for Japanese farms. Coming to
the 1950s, when the Korean War occurred, more Koreans went over to America.
These immigrants were usually Korean women who married American soldiers or
orphans from the war.
When the war was over, which was about the same time the
World WarⅡ was over, America legislated a law concerning immigrants. According
to the law, only the relatives of those who were already in the States were
allowed to go to America. This limitation on immigrants in the law completely
disappeared in the 1960s, and this encouraged many Koreans to flood to America.
At first, wealthy people who could afford to study in the States were the
mainstream. However, as time went by, those who dreamt the "American dream"
could also go. As Korean immigrants settled in their new homes, they began to
work hard for their new future, the second generation.
The Korean family
The Koreans who went over to
America under Japanese rule were primarily called the first
generation. However, it is common to say that people who
immigrated to America in the 1970s or 80s are the first generation. The second
generation are the children of this first generation. They are people who were
born in the States and have American citizenship.
Although having different citizenships, the
first and second generations have a lot in common since they are families. From
the moment the second generation members are born, they encounter the culture of
their parents. As a child, they accept the basic spirit of Korea and various
Korean cultures such as food and family culture. They eat rice and kimchi just
like their parents and learn how to behave in a Korean way. Usually, these
childhood experiences form the roots of the second generation. These roots never
go away, although they might be invisible sometimes.
Going different directions
As the second generation gets old enough to attend school without their
parents and have more contact with the outside world, they become more and more
different from their parents. "Frankly, I barely remember my childhood days
before I went to school. I am sure there would be a lot of memories with my
parents, but what I remember the most is going to school to meet my friends and
playing with them." says Lydia Kim (an alias).
Although parents and the child had spent a lot
of time together before the child went to school, the memories that take charge
of the child's mind are events that occurred while he/she was at school. "While
the second generation is busy going out with their friends and doing various
social activities such as rendering public services, the first generation is
busy working all weekday long." says Prof.
Sussette Min, UC
(University of California) Davis. Even on weekends the teenage second generation
members seldom stay at home with their parents. Thus, the only thing that the
first and second generation do together is going to church or sometimes
vacationing, which is not that often.
As the life patterns of these two
generations vary, the values of each generation also disagree. The most
important and common value disagreement is work ethic value. Most of the parents
hope that their daughters and sons will have jobs that could be recognized by
the society as well as earn a lot of money such as lawyers or doctors. As they
could not be recognized by the American society, they want their children to be
fully recognized instead of them. With this dream, they work hard to earn money
to sent their children to Harvard, Yale or other universities that have a good
reputation. However, the second generation disagrees with this idea. They are
more aware that there are plenty of other ways to succeed in the country in
which they are living. For them, the interests of individuals come first. That
is why there are more and more Koreans working everyday in various
The main example of a second generation member who has an exceptional
job would be Margaret Cho, a popular comedian in the States. She tells us how it
was hard for an Asian to become a comedian not only because of the racial
discrimination, but also due to the opposition of her parents. She says she had
a very hard time both mentally and physically to go against her parents'
also many Koreans that has various jobs besides Michael Cho. Although they are
not that successful or famous, they struggle hard to make their dreams come
true. These days, some first generation Koreans try to understand their children
and support them, but still the majority of second generation members have
difficulty dealing with the first generation.
Troubles on the way
It is inevitable that the first
and second generations have certain differences thus, difficulties.
However, why do these problems only become
bigger instead of getting smaller like other normal problems? Prof. Kim
Chang-ho, Pusan Univ. of Foreign Studies has the answer. "About ten years ago,
when I was living in California, I visited a Korean friend of mine living
nearby. However, I was so surprised at the way he and his children talked to
each other. When the children could not understand what my friend was talking to
them in Korean, he just gave up and said 'Ahhh... Never mind!' Also, when he and
his wife could not understand what the children were speaking in English, the
children merely waved their heads and said 'Never mind' just like their father!"
As can be seen in the example, the different thoughts between the first and
second generations are not what causes the problem to intensify. Lack of
communication is the main reason. As the second generations become more
comfortable with English, it is harder for them to communicate with their
"When they were very young, it was easier to speak to them since the
only conversation he had were basic things like 'Eat your onions', 'Brush your
teeth', or 'Clean your room'. However, as our children became teenagers, they
began to have a lot of things to think about, usually mental issues such as love
and life. Sometimes, they needed our help to deal with those matters, but we
were not able to answer those kind of deep questions in English." says a parent
of two daughters. The situation of the first generation is very understandable.
However, have they done anything to reduce the conflict? To this question, none
of the parents said confidently that they did. Concerning this problem, Grace
Kim, a former president of the Korean society in the U.S., speaks up. "I have
seen many Korean families fall apart due to their different language abilities.
It is very hard to solve this problem since it is not anybody's fault. However,
I think the parents are more responsible for it. Instead of watching soap operas
or shopping around they could have studied English to communicate with their
As Grace Kim said, although the second generation would
also have to try to learn more about their parents' language, the main
responsibility is left to the parents. This is because it is too much pressure
for the second generation to learn both languages at one time and most of all it
is the parents who could guide their children's life.
Finding the right identity
Parents not only effect their children's lives, but also their identities.
Although it is definite that the first generation think of themselves as
Koreans, it is very confusing for the second generation. The second generation
members choose their identities according to what their parents teach them.
Unfortunately, there are many cases that did not work out the right way. Some
parents tell their children that they are Korean and force them to speak only
the Korean language. This can make the child proud of his/her culture, however,
at the same time very offensive and closed minded towards other cultures.
the other hand, some parents force their children just to be like Americans and
forget about their culture. An old story of a Korean doctor who made his child
speak only English and never taught her Korean could be a good example of this
case. There will be more to think about when hearing this interview from Ms.
Lee, who was born in the States and is now looking for a job. "My parents did
not teach me much about Korea and I also have never been interested in it. Thus,
I still do not know how to speak Korean and do not know many Korean cultural
aspects. However, I realized that I had made a huge mistake when I failed to get
in the company that I wanted. They told me that they could not adopt a person
who does not even know his/her roots."
Then, what is the
correct identity for the second generation? Are they Korean or American? Grace
Kim says that they are Korean-American. "As long as they were born in America
and have lived here, the second generation members are definitely American
citizens. However, they must always remember their roots to be complete. With
these two cultural backgrounds, they would be able to accomplish more then
anyone." Even today, many Koreans see the second generation as Koreans that are
a little different from them. However, this misconception has to be corrected.
The second generation should be recognized as neither Korean nor American, but a
whole new generation that are totally different from both nations.
Trying to compromise
As was stated before, it is
natural that the first and second generations have various disagreements. It
might also be uncomfortable to think that their nationalities are different.
However, the conflicts
between them can be solved by understanding and accepting each other. Especially
the first generation have to work harder to become closer to their children and
try to give a free environment so that the second generation can experience both
American and Korean culture in harmony. As Prof. Kim said "Make your children
the proudest Americans who know their roots and try to succeed throughout their
lives," though it is not important wether the second generation members are
Korean or not. What is important is that they should become a successful
Korean-American along with the understanding of their parents.
Frankly, when I first came to the United States, I did not know what to
write about in my article. I felt pressure to write something special,
since that is what this article was all about, so I chose many subjects
about which to write. However, none of them seemed right for the article.
After struggling over what I should write about for a few weeks, I finally
decided to write about the first and second generations.
This idea came to
me when I was at a Korean church. Spending time with them, I could feel
that there was an invisible line between these two generations. This
subject attracted my interest immediately and I was quite sure that it was
not a common thing to write about. The story of the second generations
have been explored many times in the major media sources, however, issues
concerning relationships with their parents has not come into the
spotlight. That is why I wrote this article from the prospective of both
parents and their children. I wish that you will have a good time reading
this article and think about our second generation friends out there.