Day 15

Day 15: a bright and lovely day

The past days were very rainy and crummy– but today was bright and clear. A lucky day– I thought.

I went to La Associación Coreana en la Argentina again to see if there were any materials/statistics/information on Korean immigration in Castellano or English, since I am rather incompetent at reading in Korean.

Luckily, they did have a book in Castellano, but it’s rather thick. : )

I also wanted to ask if there were any Korean political orgs or associations. To my disbelief, there weren’t any. For a political science major, this was quite surprising. There were a lot social, religious, cultural, economic orgs/clubs/associations, but not any political. How? Why? Well… I’ve been thinking about this. Because although there are political Korean/Asian orgs in the US, Asians are known to be politically inactive at home– especially compared to other ethnic groups like the African American or Latino communities. I haven’t really read up on any ethnic or race politics, but here is what I think anyways:

East Asians/Koreans are relatively economically successful; they usually belong to the middle to upper-middle classes, socio-economically speaking. They are usually pretty socially mobile because they place a huge emphasis on education, which aids in social mobility. Because they are relatively successful and are more engaged in family politics/family relationships, they don’t see the need to be politically active to change the status quo. In fact, the status quo is doing just fine for them, economically speaking– because the system works. They are able to achieve a higher living standard via high education and hard work. However, for the African American and Latino communities in the US, they traditionally belong to the lower/working classes, and it’s very hard to leave that vicious poverty cycle. They are not able to economically benefit from the system, so they go to politics to try to resolve the social, political and economic inequalities. Consequently, they are more politically active…? This is just a hypothesis, and I’m sure there’s a lot of literature out there about race politics.

Likewise, Koreans in Argentina are relatively well off compared to the other ethnic groups. So maybe they also feel that they don’t need to be politically inactive? Or maybe they feel that the government is so corrupt that there’s not much they can do? I also know that it’s a civic obligation to vote, so maybe that’s why they don’t feel compelled to form any other orgs?

I interviewed one of the heads of the Associación Coreana, and he said that the culprit was Korean backwardness and traditionalism. Obviously he felt very negatively about the first generation’s influence on the 2nd and 3rd generations, but there was certainly some validity to his opinion, it seemed. I don’t want to go into details, but he just said that the first generation impedes the integration of their children into Argentine society in various ways, especially because the first generation is not very educated; they tell their children that they are Korean and not Argentine, they want their children to choose very limited professions that allow them to remain independent and less integrated (such as a lawyer or doctor), and they essentially make their children feel like outsiders in their own country. I think there is some truth to what he said.

I’ve been thinking: in my German class, I remember reading part of the autobiography of a Sephardic author, Elias Canetti, who lived in Rutschuk (spelling?), somewhere in the Ottoman empire. Well, the author was explaining that the village and his parents spoke many languages; Spanish was the language that he spoke with his parents, he spoke another language with the maid who came from another country, another language with the village kids, and German was the secret language spoken between his parents. Well– similarly, I’ve noticed that Korean is the “private” language– that is, it’s spoken and used in their private lives. It’s used in the home, at church, with and among close friends and family, even at school if you attend the ICA. Korean as a “private language” is used when you differently culturally interact outside of the dominant Argentine social norms. Because of this, I think that is why the second generation has a hard time feeling “Argentine,” because everything that is private or essential to them is in a different cultural code (not just a language, per se, but cultural norms, attitudes, etc).

I’m sure any second-generation immigrant has similar problems. I certainly did– but I’ve realized that it’s impossible for anyone to be purely of the norm, and that each person has to find their own way– their own life, if that makes any sense.

Anyhow, the head of the Associacion called a local branch of a Korean newspaper, the Central Daily, or el Diario Central and asked if I could shadow a reporter– and they said yes!

I went to La Feria Americana for a free lunch, and then went to go take pictures at the “Seoul Clothing Store” in Koreatown (Bajo Flores). Today, I learned the phrase “백구에 내려간다” (baek-gu eh nae-ruh-gan-da “going down to 109” means going to the Koreatown in Bajo Flores. Apparently Koreatown used to be located at the end of the colectivo (bus) line 109, which is now the spot of the villa miseria bordering the current Koreatown. It’s just become tradition to say that if you’re going to the Koreatown in Bajo Flores, you say “you’re going down to 109”– but of course, in Korean. : )

The only indication that the store exists

When business is slow, the owner watches Korean dramas...

Well, the Seoul Clothing Store is located in a house, really. And it doesn’t have a sign at all– because it’s just so part of the old establishment that everybody knows where it is, no problem. It’s pretty ridiculous. We rang the doorbell and went inside. I don’t mean to be snooty or the fashion police, but I was surprised when I was told that it’s a pretty popular store, because the clothes were really old-fashioned and tacky. Stuff my grandmother wouldn’t even wear– stuff people in rural Korea would wear, at least, I think. But the store owner, a 70-something grandmother, goes to Korea regularly to restock items. Wow. Anywhere from a 30-40 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Seoul, depending on the route and the number of connections. And I thought I had it bad on the 12 hour LA to Seoul flight. And interestingly enough, the time difference between Korea and Argentina is exactly 12 hours– so whenever people travel between these two countries, they never have to worry about the time difference and change their watches. : )

The storefront

Afterwards, I took some photos of 109 (pronounced baek-gu in Korean). The impression I get of the Koreatown here is really one that has been stagnant, slowly disappearing, and forgotten in time. Everything seems like it was from the 70s or 80s– a sight even hard to find even in rural Korea. It’s sad, but I feel like they are trying too hard to hold onto an idea that no longer exists.

Then, I went to the Diario Central to meet the reporter. The office was also very old-fashioned and seemed to come out of the 70s or 80s. Time seemed stagnant. I told the reporter that tomorrow I was going to go watch the Argentina v. S. Korea match at a bar hosted by Munguau, a Korean-Argentine artists’ collective. Let’s see what happens.

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  1. […] few days back, I mentioned a German writer who talked about the association of languages with specific parts of […]

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