For Koreans, the Issue Is Assimilation, Not Immigration

Expert Describes How Koreans Struggle to Reconcile Being Americans While Maintaining Their Heritage

ENGLEWOOD, NJ--(Marketwire - October 27, 2010) -  TaeHun Kim is an American, through and through.

A successful executive and attorney with a good education, he lives the American Dream every day, but he also knows that there is another side to being Korean-American, in which it is very difficult to claim complete assimilation into American life.

"For Koreans in America, there is a strong sense of wanting to be Americans and make the most of the opportunity for success in America," said Kim, author of "War With Pigeons" (, a novel that chronicles how Korean families from different classes live together as Americans, peeling back the veil of the hidden Korean society that exists outside the view of non-Koreans. "But there is another side to being a Korean in America -- an enduring adherence to the traditions of a Korean class system with an aristocratic sector that rules over a working class population -- and if you're not Korean, you'd never know it's there."

The parameters for legitimacy and social standing have evolved over the past few decades, he added, as the traditional emphases on pedigree of birth and education have given way to the unprecedented wealth accumulated by many in connection with South Korea's rapid economic development. But the younger generation is becoming more American than Korean.

"The younger generation has no problem adopting more Western attitudes regarding their outward lifestyle and ignoring the old traditions," Kim said. "They may ignore many of the more archaic elements of their heritage, but they still see themselves as Koreans first, and may adopt a more combative 'us against them' mentality when it comes to other groups. It makes us neither fish nor fowl. Some Koreans don't feel terribly connected to their home country, but they never truly feel like Americans either. They are somewhere in the middle, torn between the inner circles of the Korean communities and the forces of Westernization and modernization in America. It's been this way for decades, and I'm not sure it's going to change any time soon."

About TaeHun Kim

TaeHun Kim was born on March 17, 1970 in Inchon, South Korea and immigrated to the United States in 1971. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and holds a BA and JD, and is currently a senior vice president at a global bank.

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Russ Handler