With the rise of globalization in the 1990s and as South Korea emerged as a globally competitive economy, South Korea-United States relations shifted to strengthen cooperation at many levels. However, racial discrimination against Asians in the US has had a long history, as white nationalists imagine Asians unsuitable for assimilation into the nation. Indeed, the recent
increase in political, social, cultural, and racial polarization in the US, together with the rise of white, alt-right nationalism, not only threatens democracy but also has given rise to increased hate crimes against Asian Americans. Given the contemporary political context, this one-day symposium gathers leading scholars to explore three interconnected topics in the broader framework of geopolitics in Asia and the US domestic politics: Koreans in the US, South Korea-US relations, and Black-Korean relations in the US and South Korea.
This symposium is organized by the Center for Korean Studies (CKS) at UCLA and co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA, and supported by the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Los Angeles.
The symposium is hybrid, with most presentations happening in person (one Zoom presentation). For information on attending online, see event details below. The event is free and open to the public. There will be three panels, with 30-minutes presentations and 30-40-minutes Q&A.
Location: Main Conference Room (11360) in Young Research Library (YRL)
Webinar Register: https://ucla.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hudhD_IOR_qMs1e0hb-LgA
*Please note that registration is NOT required for in-person attendance. Masks are strongly encouraged.
Transit Methods: Self-parking available at Parking Structure 3 and 5.
You can also take public transit to UCLA.
Map can be found here.
Panel I: Historical Perspective on the US-Korea Relations
Panel I of this symposium highlights the interconnectivity between the US white nationalism and the structural forces of racialization of Koreans. The speakers critically re-evaluate the dominant Cold War liberal framework of “immigrants” and “immigration” that informs the post-1945 Korean American history. The Cold War liberalism framework obscures the imbrication of military intervention and national security build-up in the US. Furthermore, the liberal exclusionary ideology often disguised itself as humanitarianism, as in the case of the adoption of Korean war orphans. By interrogating why white prisoners adopted Korean boys following the Korean War, Joo Ok Kim offers a critical perspective on how kinship was leveraged to buttress white nationalism. Through an analysis of Michin Nara, Moon-Ho Jung shows how Korean/Americans were active in anticolonial efforts across the Pacific. This session provides a rich history of the radical political imaginaries that resist the empire and state violence.
Moon-ho Jung is Professor of History and the Harry Bridges Chair in Labor Studies at the University of Washington, where he teaches courses on race, politics, and Asian American history. He is the author of Menace to Empire: Anticolonial Solidarities and the Transpacific Origins of the US Security State (University of California Press, 2022) and Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).
Joo Ok Kim is assistant professor of cultural studies in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego. She is author of Warring Genealogies: Race, Kinship, and the Korean War (Temple UP, 2022). Her research and teaching interests include transpacific critique, literatures and cultures of the Korean War, and US multiethnic literature and culture.
Crystal Mun-hye Baik (she/her) is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at UC Riverside. Trained in oral history, critical ethnic studies, and demilitarization studies, Dr. Baik centers decolonizing feminist approaches in her scholarship and memory work. She is the author of Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique (Temple University Press, 2020), which explores the consequences of the Korean War through cultural forms including oral history. Currently, Professor Baik is working on an oral history project that engages leftist genealogies of community organizing among Korean diasporic activist. She is a founding member of the Ending the Korean War Collective; a co-editor of the Critical Militarization Studies book series at the University of Michigan Press; and a co-editor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Korea (Duke University Press).
Moon-Ho Jung, Professor of History & Harry Bridges Chair in Labor Studies at the University of Washington
Michin Nara: Why America Is Not in the Heart
In the film Sa-I-Gu (1993), a Korean American interviewee denounces the United States repeatedly and emphatically as “Michin Nara,” a crazy country that resembled nothing of the “Mi Gook” she had heard about in Korea. Using stories of Korean efforts in Hawai‘i, North America, and elsewhere to engage the US state and to forge an anticolonial movement before World War II, my presentation will suggest that Korean American politics historically encompassed radical visions that critiqued and exceeded the US empire.
Joo Ok Kim, Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego
Warring Genealogies: Race, Kinship, and the Korean War
This presentation examines the ways kinship was leveraged to buttress white nationalism during the Korean War. How and why did white prisoners in a federal penitentiary adopt, by proxy, a Korean boy following the Korean War? What’s the role of white supremacist women’s organizations in Korean War memorialization? This talk traces the unended Korean War’s impacts amid contemporary configurations of white supremacist violence.
Panel II: Changes in Inter-ethnic Relationships in the US
Panel II offers a contemporary Korean American perspective on the changing contours of Korean-Black relationships. It revisits the convoluted Black-Korean tension in the U.S. that culminated in the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, while exploring the Korean-Black relations from transnational and global perspectives. Black-Korean relations in the US have a rich and multi-faceted history, going beyond the simplistic and reified exploitative merchant-customer relations. Blacks and Koreans have encountered each other in areas of religion, culture, community building, and in social movements, and have inspired, cooperated with, and learned from each other. While critically examining the role of white supremacy or white racism as well as anti-Black and anti-Asian subaltern racism in contributing to Black-Korean tension, we also need to explore the evolving Korean-Black relations that suggest the political possibilities of an African-Korean—and African-Asian—alliance, as a number of Latinx and African American politicians and activists are joining the Stop Asian Hate rallies, and as Asian Americans are also joining Black Lives Matter protests. Equally important to consider in the Korean-Black dynamics is the increasing Black-Korean interactions in South Korea and in the US. The speakers address these dynamic changes in Black-Korean relations with Crystal Anderson considering the impact of African American culture on the hybridity of K-pop; Kyeyoung Park exploring the evolving relationships in the US with a critical eye turned to injustices in criminal justice systems, financial institutions, popular media, cultural productions, and education; and Saundra Windom offering her creative piece to reckon with the legacy of US imperialism as a mixed-race child. This panel highlights the urgency of considering the long history of Black-Korean relations both domestically and internationally to better understand the institutional violence of the present, and to re-evaluate the burgeoning forms of popular media that bridge the challenge of diversity and create more opportunities for unity between Korean Americans and Black Americans.
Dr. Crystal Anderson is an expert in Transnational American Studies, Black Internationalism and Global Asias and affiliate faculty in African and African American Studies at George Mason University. Her book, Soul in Seoul: African American Music and K-pop (2020), explores the impact of African American popular music on contemporary Korean pop, R&B and hip-hop and the role of global fans as the music press. A veteran blogger on Asian popular culture and former associate chief editor for hellokpop, she also manages KPK: Kpop Kollective, the oldest and only site for public scholarship on K-pop.
Kyeyoung Park is professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of the book, LA Rising: Korean Relations with Blacks and Latinos after Civil Unrest (2019; paperback 2021), published by Lexington Books. Her first book, The Korean American Dream: Immigrants and Small Business in New York City (1997), by Cornell University Press, is the winner of the Association for Asian American Studies’ Book Award. She is coauthor of Korean Americans Ethnic Relationship in (Multiethnic) Los Angeles, 태평양을 넘어서: 글로벌시대 재미한인의 삶과 활동 (Cross the Pacific: The Lives of Korean Americans and their Socio-Political Engagement in the Global Age), 글로벌시대 재미한인 연구: 이론적 리뷰와 새로운 방향모색 (KOREAN AMERICAN STUDIES IN THE GLOBAL AGE: CRITICAL LITERATURE REVIEWS IN SEARCH OF NEW THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS) and coeditor of Korean American Economy and Community In The 21st Century. In addition, she edited or co-edited three special issues of peer-reviewed journals: Second Generation Asian Americans’ Ethnic Identity (1999 Amerasia Journal), How Do Asian Americans Create Places? Los Angeles and Beyond (2008 Amerasia Journal), and Emigration and Immigration: The Case of Korea (2014 Urban Anthropology). Her current research projects are about the Korean immigrant communities in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay and the second generation Korean American Transnationalism.
Saundra Henderson Windom, celebrated author and educator is currently the author of the book Orchestration. A celebrated and decorated educator with 40+ years of experience, ultimately retiring as principal of Alonzo A. Crim Open High school in Atlanta, Georgia. Known by her Korean name, Chang, Bang Sun to her family but friends affectionately call her Sandy. Her administrative staff adds yet another moniker as they jokingly call her “Forrest Gump” because of her vast life experiences and stories. A mixed-race orphan of the Korean War,she was adopted into an African American family in Compton, California in 1958. Saundra loved learning and excelled academically earning her undergraduate degree from Stanford and her Masters from the University of Southern California.
Kyeyoung Park is professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Crystal Anderson, Instructor of African and African American Studies at George Mason University
Reply 1992: Black Engagement with Korean Popular Culture
The Reply K-drama series features a timeline that alternates between the past and the present, and provides an ideal framework for exploring how engagement with Korean popular culture by African Americans changed between 1992 and 2022. 1992 has come to represent a flashpoint for Black/Korean relations in the United States, which has had global ramifications on the perception of both groups. In the years prior to and following 1992, there was virtually no discernable engagement by American Blacks with Korean popular culture. At the same time, American popular culture, particularly film and music, depicted tense interactions between Blacks and Korean immigrants in the United States. However, in the intervening years leading up to 2022, African Americans have engaged with Korean popular culture at an unprecedented rate. Using Black YouTube reaction videos to K-drama, this presentation will show how Black engagement with Korean popular culture represents a sharp departure from the kinds of engagement promoted in 1992. As a result, this engagement has resulted in a broader understanding of Korean culture.
Kyeyoung Park, Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles
How did White racism contribute to developing Black-Korean tension?
“Black-Korean tension” has been ubiquitous in America since the 1980s. Tensions between Blacks and Koreans have been exacerbated by the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest where more than half the financial damage occurred to Korean immigrant merchants. Accordingly, my talk revisits how Black-Korean tensions have evolved over time, in particular since the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest. First, I’ll present an analytical model to explain how and why there have been tensions between Korean immigrant merchants and their African American customers and residents. We can also talk about white racism in the media, financial institutions, educational settings, government and the criminal justice system, which all contributed to developing Black-Korean tension. Take, for example, the Korean grocer Soon Ja Du, who killed Latasha Harlins, and received no prison sentence from a white judge. My interviewees did not feel any tension until they heard the verdicts. At the same time, what I call subaltern racism, such as anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, also contributed to the tension. Equally important, class conflict and the politics of citizenship contributed. Secondly, there have been signs of progress in Black-Korean relations since the 1992 unrest. To be accurate, Black-Korean tension has been for the most part contained. I’ll discuss efforts that have been made on both from the community and the individual merchant level, in particular business practices from both the Korean and African American perspectives. I’ll also discuss different takes on Black-Korean relations from Black and Korean perspectives. Third, I will provide an update on the status of Black-Korean relations as the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic and to reckon with racial (in)justice in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked social protest. I will end by envisioning radical empathy and solidarity, which ideally lends itself to opening up new conversations among excluded people such as Koreans and African Americans. There is no doubt we should be fighting against anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, systematic racism and white supremacy.
Saundra Henderson Windom, celebrated author and educator
From War-torn Korea Straight into Compton
The war cost her everything, a mother, a father, and a country. Four-year-old Bang Sun found tied to a tree, is riddled with disease, malnutrition, and bears the scars of a tragic life. Facing a future of nothing but pain, loss, and hopelessness, hear the story of a mixed-race African American child of the Korean War. When Korea begins purging itself of its unwanted casualties, babies of war, her abandonment leads to two orphanages and eventually to adoption in America – Compton, where Bang Sun must now become an American – a Black American. Forced to give up her Korean heritage and assimilate during the volatile 60’s and 70’s that was consumed with the Civil Rights and Black and proud / Militant Movements. Her adoptive mother’s mantra, “Little girls are to be seen and not heard” contributes to her fragile identity of invisibility. Deep within she never let go of Korea. Journey along through the Orchestrations of the Korean child, Bang Sun who becomes Sandy.
Panel III: Trajectories of International Relations in the 21st Century
While global US predominance has receded, the oversized influence of the US in Asia remains. Panel III examines the changing US-SK relations in the context of the shift from the Cold War dominated national security framework to cooperation on issues such as human rights, climate change, and sustainable development. While both countries have renewed their pledge to promote and further engage with the international community to protect democracy and peace, the Cold War formations remain in the Asia-Pacific. The San Francisco Treaty of 1951, for example, marked a disruption in normalizing postwar international relations and furthered the militarization of the region. It also contributed to the destabilization of regional peace as both the US and Japan continue to refer to it as a means of denying the war claims of former victims of Japanese imperial atrocities in the Asia-Pacific War. These dilemmas are at the heart of Jae-Jung Suh’s work that grapples with the question of how we move past the San Francisco Treaty of 1951. Erik Mobrand also emphasizes the importance of historical analysis to understand different meanings of history across state actors and institutions. This panel analyzes contemporary US-SK relations through a historical perspective to reimagine construction of democracies and alliances.
Erik Mobrand is Korea Policy Chair and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He studies political transformation in Korea and Asia. Erik is the author of Top-Down Democracy in South Korea (University of Washington Press, 2019) and articles on topics including corruption, political parties, law and politics, criminality, gender and politics, management of cities, and Korean relations with Southeast Asia. In 2016, Erik joined Seoul National University as an associate professor in the Graduate School of International Studies. He previously served as assistant professor of political science at National University of Singapore. He received his Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University. Erik is enthusiastic about introducing American audiences to the breadth of thinking in South Korea on social and political issues.
Jae-jung Suh is currently Professor at International Christian University (Tokyo, Japan) and a Harvard Yenching Institute Visiting Scholar in 2022-23. He has served as Associate Professor and Director of Korea Studies at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University and Assistant Professor in Department of Government at Cornell University as well as on the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning (Republic of Korea). An expert on the U.S.-Korea relations, U.S. policy toward Asia, international relations of East Asia, international security, and IR theory, he is currently working on regional orders in East Asia, human security, and North Korea. He has authored and edited numerous journal articles and books, including Power, Interest and Identity in Military Alliances (2007); Rethinking Security in East Asia: Identity, Power and Efficiency (2004); Truth and Reconciliation in the Republic of Korea: Between the Present and Future of the Korean Wars (2012); Origins of North Korea’s Juche: Colonialism, War, and Development (2012); “From Singapore to Hanoi and Beyond: How (Not) to Build Peace between the U.S. and North Korea,”; “Missile Defense and the Security Dilemma: THAAD, Japan’s ‘Proactive Peace,’ and the Arms Race in Northeast Asia,”; “The Imbalance of Power, the Balance of Asymmetric Terror: Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) in Korea,” and “War-Like History or Diplomatic History? Historical Contentions and Regional Order in East Asia.”
He is a recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research, SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for Peace and Security in a Changing World, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Smith Richardson Foundation grant, and East West Center fellowship. He was Distinguished Professor at Ewha Womans University, visiting professor at Seoul National University, research professor at Yonsei University, visiting scholar at MIT and visiting fellow at University of California, Irvine. He received his Ph.D. and Master in political science from University of Pennsylvania and B.A. in physics from the University of Chicago.
Gene Park is a professor in the Political Science and International Relations Department at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). His expertise and research include East Asia, political economy, and foreign policy. Dr. Park previously served as director of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. Prior to arriving at LMU, he taught at Baruch College, City University of New York. Professor Park has been a Global Taiwan Institute Scholar, Social Science Research Center Abe Fellow, and a Shorenstein Fellow at Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Center. In addition, he spent two years as a researcher at Japan’s Ministry of Finance. He also has had affiliations with the Stockholm School of Economics, Keio University, Rikkyo University, Saitama University, and Yokohama National University. He is a member of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Network for the Future. His articles and commentary have appeared in Governance, Socio-Economic Review, Asian Survey, Pacific Review, New York Times, National Interest, Current History, Yonhap News, Kyodo News, Channel NewsAsia, and the Wall Street Journal.
Erik Mobrand, Korea Policy Chair & Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation
Washington’s Democracy in Asia: South Korea and the Prospects of a Global Partnership
Seoul and Washington recently agreed to cooperate on a “global partnership” that re-imagines the Republic of Korea – United States alliance as something well beyond a defense agreement. The United States is keen to have South Korea defend and promote democratic values in the Asian region. A second successive government in Seoul aims to increase the country’s global standing. These aspirations appear to have converged on the global partnership. An assessment of the prospective success of the current initiative can be aided by examining and attempting to explain the record to date. Why has South Korea not yet played a greater leadership role among democracies in Asia? The country has the credibility, the democratic record, and the regional ties to do so. While discussion of the country’s regional and international roles has tended to frame South Korea as a middle power state, an alternative line of inquiry begins with semantic ambivalence and the subjective context of South Korea’s external engagement. In particular, conflicting meanings of democracy, historically-rooted understandings of the connection between nation and democracy, and ideas about the relationship between the nation and the external world raise challenges to the emergence of South Korea as a regional democratic leader. The relationship with the United States is critical to understanding these challenges.
Jae-jung Suh, Professor at International Christian University & Harvard Yenching Institute Visiting Scholar
Silencing Colonialism: Power and the Production of the “Postwar” History
Why is it that Koreans and Japanese are so embroiled in seemingly endless disagreement and dispute about the distant past as to render their contemporary cooperation difficult, if not impossible? How is it that the governments of the two nations have taken measures that are seemingly intended to ameliorate their relationship, only to exacerbate it time and again? Is there a way for the United States, its government and people, to make a positive intervention in Northeast Asia so that its allies may mend their fences and build a future of peace and cooperation? I engage these questions as I develop an historical institutionalist argument that to understand the long-lasting animosity between Koreans and Japanese and to explain their contemporary challenges, we need to re-examine the San Francisco Peace Conference that formalized the ‘post-war order’ of the Asia-Pacific after the end of World War II. The United States, as one of the victors of the war and as a rising hegemon among the allies, exercised its status and wherewithal to found a regional order that set the political boundary of the Asia Pacific. The region’s architecture, formalized in San Francisco during the Korean War as part of America’s liberal international order, preserved the past of colonialism within itself while creating new cleavages between Korea and Japan and within the Asia Pacific. The “San Francisco system” has since served as both a bond that holds Korea and Japan together as U.S. allies and a wedge that keeps them apart. But it has also been confronted with a number of challenges from within, of which those spearheaded by “comfort women,” “forced laborers,” and civil society actors hold the transformative potential to move Korea and the region past the post-war San Francisco system.