Seeking Asylum, Finding God: Korean Chinese Migration to the US

Seeking Asylum, Finding God: Korean Chinese Migration to the US

Jaeeun Kim - Postdoctoral Fellow, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - 11:50am to 1:20pm
Room 203, Department of Sociology See map
210 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 6511

In this paper based on a work in progress, Jaeeun Kim examines the migration careers, settlement patterns, and legalization strategies of ethnic Korean migrants from northeast China (Korean Chinese henceforward) to the United States. As colonial-era migrants from the Korean peninsula, Korean Chinese remained concentrated in their ethnic enclaves in northeast China throughout the Cold War era. Yet since the late 1980s, labor migration to and long-term settlement in other cities inside and outside China have become a major strategy with which Korean Chinese have weathered China’s drastic economic transformation. A decade of diverse and intensive migration to neighboring regions (including North Korea, Russia, Japan, and most importantly, South Korea) prepared the way for the high-cost, high-risk, and (frequently) undocumented migration to the United States from the mid-1990s on. Working in long-established South Korean or (if less frequently) Chinese ethnic enclaves in the United States, some Korean Chinese migrants have sought to legalize their status by seeking asylum, in many cases as members of persecuted religious groups.

Although focused on Korean Chinese, the project addresses questions of much more general import. (1) What role do various participants in the “migration industry”—in countries of origin, transit, and destination—play in the organization of contemporary long-distance, unauthorized international migration? (2) How does the complex interplay between immigration regimes, legal professionals, and migrants themselves contribute to the making of “refugees” from above and below? (3) How do religious institutions, which have developed distinctive understandings of the nation and the community of faith, get involved in, respond to, and shape the legalization strategies of migrants? (4) How do migrants themselves and other relevant actors selectively and variably present, invoke, stress, dilute, disguise, or contest the ethnic, national, and religious identities of these migrants—Korean, Chinese, or Christian—in various stages of migration, settlement, and conversion processes, and how do the meaning and resonance of “homeland” change through these processes?

Kim’s concern with the Korean Chinese emerged from her dissertation research that examined diaspora politics in twentieth-century Korea, focusing on colonial-era ethnic Korean migrants and their descendants in Japan and northeast China. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University (2012-2013), where she is planning to complete the book manuscript based on her dissertation. Before joining Stanford, she was a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University (2011-2012). Kim was born and grew up in South Korea. She holds a BA (2001) in law and MA in sociology (2003) from Seoul National University, and an MA (2006) and PhD (2011) in sociology from UCLA. After completing her fellowship term at Stanford, Kim will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University beginning in the fall 2013.

Joint with the Comparative Research Workshop (CCR at Yale) and the Program on Ethnicity, Race, & Migration
Korea, Transregional