POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST
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Nancy Abelmann and John Lie, Blue Dreams, Harvard University Press. 1995
 
 

From Subject
mjmonar@ilstu.edu "Blue Dreams" book review
Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller)
"Samuel J. Perryman" <sper@loc.gov> Re: BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller)
shirley doop <n8741967@scooter.cc.wwu.edu> Re: BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller)
David Larsen <dlarsen@ilstu.edu> BLUE DREAMS (Larsen)
David Larsen <dlarsen@ilstu.edu> Addendum to BLUE DREAMS review
hobbes2@ice.net Response to Miller's Review
Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> A response to Aricka's Response
Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> Re: Response to Miller's Review
Aricka Latrece Vinson <alvinso@ilstu.edu> Re: A response to Aricka's Response
"Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@ilstu.edu> Response to Aricka Vinson's review


 

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 16:43:21 -0600 
From: mjmonar@ilstu.edu 
Subject: "Blue Dreams" book review 

 
A review of "Blue Dreams" by Nancy Abelmann and John Lie
 

Both Abelmann and Lie paint an eerie picture of the 1992 Los Angeles riots
thru the eyes of many Korean-Americans who played witness to it firsthand.
Based upon a series of interviews with Korean-Americans working and living
in and around South Central L.A., the authors attempt to focus in on why
Korean-Americans were targeted and what political, social, and economic
ramifications resulted from this out lash of violence and media
entanglement.

To gain an understanding of the present, one needs to take a close look at
the past. In the first three chapters, the authors draw correlations to
the riots by exposing the black-Korean conflict which has been underscored
and undermined in American Society for years. This conflict was brought to
the forefront when a Korean-American grocer by the name of Soon-Ja-Du shot
and killed Latasha Harlins, a fifteen-year-old African-American girl, over
a shoplifting incident. As a result of her death, which went virtually
unreported by local media affiliates, relations between the black and
Korean communities in L.A. became virtually non-existent. Vengeance for
the black community was inevitable.

However, as Abelmann and Lie point out, the Sun-Ja-Du incident
was just one of many factors leading to the targeting of Korean-Americans and their
businesses. Ever since the turn of the century, for instance, Koreans had
a much easier time climbing the social ladder than those in the black
community. Especially those second-generation Koran Americans (whose
cultural assimilation into American society came at birth) many of whom
have gone on to pursue degrees at the most prestigious of American
institutions. The authors feel it is important to address this issue from
a historical standpoint to better familiarize the reader with the plight
of the Korean-American diaspora and the reference it has on the riots.

The first wave of Korean immigrants arrived on the shores of Hawaii
between 1903 and 1905. The authors note that the majority of these immigrants were
students, diplomats, and merchants who sought low wage employment on the
sugar plantations for a chance at a democratic way of life in the U.S.
Even though they represented a variety of class origins, most of these
immigrants came from urban centers of Korea and were predominantly
Christian in faith.

In the post-World War II era, the bi-polar international arena which etched
an image of the United States as a land of salvation and liberation from
the disease of communism led to the next significant wave of immigration.
In 1965, the largest wave of Korean immigrants flooded into the U.S. Since
this time, nearly 35,000 Koreans immigrate to the U.S. annually (on
average) with most settling in the areas surrounding South Central Los
Angeles.

Abelmann and Lie point out that not all of these immigrants were common
laborers or those of lower class status. Many had college degrees and were
successful in South Korean business affairs. However, because of American
ideological stigmas attached to minorities, most Koreans were forced into
menial jobs in industrial sectors and those that had capital turned to self
employment as is the case with many shop owners in South Central Los
Angeles.

To Korean-Americans in South Central L.A., their store fronts were at the
center of their lives. Abelmann and Lie illustrate this best by telling of
the Korean-American grocer who bravely stood guard outside his store
holding a semi-automatic rifle at breast in an attempt to ward off would-be
looters. It can be argued that their work ethic is outmatched to any other
race in America. Some shop owners even work close to or over 80 hours per
week trying their best to provide a good life for themselves and their
families. It is important to note that what Koran-Americans want more than
anything else is to be able to turn a profit and live comfortably in
American society.

The black and Mexican communities, which constitute the majority of the
populous in South Central, had a problem with this. According to their
perspectives, Korean-Americans were, in essence, stealing from the economy
of South Central by depositing their profits in suburban banks close to
their residences and refusing to invest back into the community.

Sensing this conflict of interest, some Korean-Americans developed a fear
during the trial of Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, Lawrence Powell, and
Stacy Koon--the four Los Angeles Police officers accused of senselessly
beating Rodney King. The majority, however, chose to discard it by placing
complete faith in the American criminal justice system and in the due
process of the law and hence, they paid the price.

When the four officers were acquitted of police brutality, the outrage of
the black community took to the streets of South Central, not only to seek
vengeance on the outcome of the verdicts, but to send a message to America
that their period of oppression is far from over. The Korean-American
business owners in South Central were viewed as just another part of the
equation of oppression and should be subject to retaliation. The result of
the three day insurrection yielded 58 dead, 2,400 injured, 11,700 arrested,
and over $717 million dollars in damages.

In the days following the riots, many Korean American business owners had
tried to apply for government assistance and came face to face with the
misfortunes of bureaucracy. Because of linguistic barriers, and
bureaucratic "red tape," (issued mainly from the SBA and FEMA) many found
it hard to gain the funds necessary for rebuilding their livelihood. Faith
in the American dream, for many Koran-Americans, had all but withered away.

In the retrial of the four officers, which took place in April, 1993, both
Koon and Powell had their acquittals overturned and were sentenced on the
charge of police brutality. Attorney General Janet Reno had hailed that
"Justice has finally prevailed in Los Angeles." But has it? The verdict
may have appeased the black community, but it certainly has not warranted
complete satisfaction. The anger and the memories will probably never go
away. As for the Korean-Americans, a tension still exits. Bewildered by
government, ignored by politicians and federal agencies, their fear of
America will definitely never go away.

In the final chapter of the book titled "American Ideologies on Trial,"
the authors state an important point with regard to the black-Korean conflict
in that blacks viewed Korean-Americans as a "model minority" strictly
adhering to the values of American ideology (two parent households, stable
income, work toward success etc.) and how this thought pattern
traditionally discriminated against blacks. While the black community was
angered with their own entrepreneurial failures, the anger, more often
than not, was placed in the context of the Korean-American success story.

This book dedicates itself to the exposure of numerous cases of
victimization upon the Korean-American diaspora not only in South Central
Los Angeles but in any of the multi-cultural metropolises of the U.S.
Indeed, there are many factors which contribute to this victimization:
media stigmata, political neglect, and American ideological values. As can
be seen from the violence and devastation of the riots in Los Angeles, our
nation, which is seen by the world as an ethnic melting pot, is
increasingly becoming culturally isolationist. The oppressed often times
turn into the oppressors slowly fragmenting our society piece by piece from the inside out.


Michael Monardo
MJMONAR@ILSTU.EDU
 

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Date: Tue, 25 Mar 1997 19:04:24 -0600 
From: Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller) 

Nancy Abelmann and John Lie, BLUE DREAMS, Harvard Press. 1995
Review By: Rachael Miller
Mailto:remille@ilstu.edu
 
 

During the unforgettable L.A.. riots of 1992, acts of violence and rage
plagued the streets of Los Angeles. The brash demonstration caused an
estimated 58 people their lives, 2,400 injuries to those who participated
and innocent bystanders, and over $800 million dollars in damages. The
build up of racial tension blew up like a volcanic eruption. With the
initial acquitted of the four police officers (white) tried for beating
Rodney King (a black man) in 1991, came an expression of frustration the
African-American community has been dealing with for ages. However, the
racial tension was not just between whites and blacks as most of America
watched it on T.V., it also greatly affected the Korean community. Though
the Koreans are neither black nor white, they have to deal with the same
stereotypes and stigmas that when added together equal misunderstanding
and racism. This book gives an insight into the racial problems, not between
the white and blacks, but between the blacks and Koreans. Through the
American media, different stereotypes placed on different races, and the
lack to communicate Koreans and African-Americans began to misunderstand
each other which eventually lead to a hatred driven by fear.

As the authors take us to Koreatown ( inside Los Angeles), we find variety
of small shops and businesses run by Korean's and their families. They
(Koreans) devote countless hours trying to support their families and
achieve the "American dream" for which they came to this country to find.
The first Korean immigrants were well educated diplomats=7F=7F, doctors,
lawyers, etc., who were willing to work for minimum wages in order to
benefit from our great democracy. The number of Korean immigrants began to
increase and more of them moved into the southern parts of California,
especially Koreatown. The African-American community and the white
community were starting to notice their presence more and more. The media
also took notice, stereotyping the Korean-American as a rude, profiteering
group of people who were willing to start businesses in the worst
neighborhoods in order to make a buck. It is also through the media that
the Korean-American obtains their views of the African-American as being
violent and lacking education. As the Koreans kept establishing
businesses in the lower income communities, occupied mostly by
African-Americans, tension between the two began rise.

The hostility between the two reached a peak when a Korean shop owner shot
and killed a black girl for shoplifting. Latasha Harlins was trying to
shoplift a bottle of orange juice, when the Korean grocer tried to stop
her Harlins grabbed the grocer, who in retaliation shot her. This death
sparked the black-korean conflict as it is known today. This story, which
got hardly any media coverage, became the focal point of vengeance for the
black community. Hundreds of Korean shops were boycotted or looted by the
African-Americans. It is a horrible conflict between two people who are
not so different because of a lack of communication. Because of this so
called black-korean conflict, numerous people have lost their lives and
sense of security. Korean shop owners stand on the roofs of their stores,
with guns, waiting to attack potential looters. African-Americans go from
store to store looting trying to run the Koreans out of their (blacks)
community. Yet, we see on the news hostile Koreans with guns on the roof
and frustrated African-Americans demonstrating their need for equality
through unorganized violence.

It is discovered by these social scientists ( Ablemann and Lie) that the
misperception Koreans have about the African-Americans is derived from
images they saw on T.V. before they even came to America. They saw images
of uneducated and uncivilized people, who were angry about their place in
society. When the Korean arrived to America they saw the same images on
the nightly new, and developed the same stereotypes of African-Americans
the most of the (white) American population has. It was also found that
the Koreans were also dealing with those African-Americans who were from
the "bad neighborhood". The African-Americans that they dealt with
everyday in their shops were generally uneducated. The Koreans face a
considerable language barrier and cannot express themselves so they often
seem blunt and rude, which is taken as an act of hostility.
African-Americans see this hostility as just another race passing judgment
and declaring themselves "superior".

BLUE DREAMS examined the black-korean conflict and found that it's
derivative is the media. The Koreans get their hostility for blacks from
the American community and the media. The African-Americans lack a refuge
for their rage so they take it out on those who are there, the Koreans.
The black-korean conflict is a vicious cycle of miscommunication. By being
able to see how both the African-American and Korean-Americans view each
other and how they obtained the stereotypes they have, you can understand
both sides as seen through the people and not through the media. The
problem do not root from Korean or African-American nor do they stop with
them, they are constantly reoccurring through the media. In the final
chapter of the book the ideologies of the black-korean conflict are
examined. The perception (the Koreans had) of the lazy African-American,
unwilling to "try harder", are questioned when they see how
African-Americans have strong communal ties and are often friendly and
complimentary. The perception (the African-Americans had) of rude and
arrogant shopkeepers trying to exploit the community, are questioned when
they see how hard the Korean-American works in order to achieve the
American dream. Although there is still friction, the conflict is highly
overstated by the media. The conclusion found was that there really is not
black-korean conflict, just a hungry media out for ratings.

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Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 15:38:35 -0600 
From: "Samuel J. Perryman" <sper@loc.gov> 
Subject: Re: BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller) 

Who owns the media? The African Americans or the Koreans?

You also said that the media isn't reporting lies; some people from both
communities are "rude" and "lazy". Who would deny that truth? However,
because you made such a generalization --something that the world already
knows--I must take it that you meant something else. What was that
something else? That if poor people weren't so uneducated, rude and lazy
(and we won't mention violence prone), then perhaps we wouldn't be having
this problem. Don't suggest that poor people are poor and uneducated
because they chose poverty and ignorance. Also, rudeness knows no class or
race, and because I live with the poor (and not just talk about them),
then I can assert with certainty that they're the salt of the earth.

Tensions always result when one people are controlled by any other
people, black white conflict notwithstanding. This morning, a Korean
shopkeeper (at a diner) gave me my usual coffee. She normally charges me
1.00 for the coffee. This morning, her finger slipped and she rung up
1.10. She was going to argue me down that I should pay for her mistake.
She justified it by screaming at me and suggesting to me that she had to
pay taxes, etc. Likely story, I thought. What exacerbated the conflict
even more for me was not only the fact that I had been getting coffee and
paying high prices for meals there because it was convenient and I liked
her, but also a white gentleman got his coffee and gave her one dollar.
She didn't part her lips; she looked at me in embarrassment, because she
knew she had messed up. The solution: don't patronize her. Patronize
black business. Go further, and find out what they are doing with the
profits they make. If the profits aren't going back to the community,
then go back to the Koreans.


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Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 18:54:14 -0600 
From: shirley doop <n8741967@scooter.cc.wwu.edu> 
Subject: Re: BLUE DREAMS (Rachael Miller) 

One of the examples in my course on critical reading/thinking has
been the Latasha Harlins incident. We've read articles with opposing viewpoints and watched the part
of the Frontline special that showed the store video where the
murder took place. It was stated in the Blue Dreams review that Latasha shoplifted the juice. There was no indication that this happened, or that there was any reason to believe that a shoplifting had taken place. Also, As far as I know in any retail store, no one can be even accused of stealing until the article is taken outside the store-unpaid for. Latasha walked right up to the counter. Mrs. Du was on the other side. Latasha only started to walk away after the juice, money and her backpack had been left. The backpack had been pulled off her by Mrs. Du. As she started to walk away, with only the distance of the counter between them, Mrs. Du threw a stool at Latasha and then reached under the counter for her gun and shot Latasha in the back of the head with a gun that had a shaved trigger (owned by the family since 1981). My only sources are from the "media" and if I am inaccurate on any point, or need more information, I would appreciate knowing.
Thanks
******************************************
* Shirley Doop
* Reading and Study Skills Lab
* Whatcom Community College
* Bellingham WA 98225 ******************************************
 

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Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997 07:56:56 -0600 
From: Gary Klass <gmklass@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: BLUE DREAMS (Larsen) 

Nancy Abelmann and John Lie, Blue Dreams, Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 272 pp. ISBN 0-674-07704-0 hardcover Plication Year: 1995
Reviewed by David Larsen

America, land of boundless opportunity, has embraced waves of
immigrants seeking a better life throughout its history. Koreans,
coming as early as 1902, but primarily after the 1960's, are among the
latest nationalities hoping to secure their share of the American
Dream. Like those who have come before, they face the challenges of
immigrant life: language barriers, cultural differences, and
misunderstandings/discrimination. However, unlike their predecessors,
Koreans are arriving at a time when the American Dream seems to be
crumbling. Economic opportunity and class mobility are less available,
and the same government policies that spurred their emigration are
preventing them from becoming the doctors, lawyers, and other
professionals they were trained to be. In BLUE DREAMS, Nancy Abelmann
and John Lie paint a sympathetic portrait of a community at a
crossroads, lacking a unified voice, abandoned by the U.S. and South
Korean government, and pushed to the background amid the Black-White
racial struggle.
 

Koreans, like many foreigners, were lured to the United States by the
three tenets of the immigrant dream: "materialism, modernity, [and]
mobility" (184). After a tumultuous history that saw occupation first
by Chinese, then Japanese, and finally Americans, Koreans were faced
with a bloody war in Vietnam and a divisive civil war that split the
Korean peninsula in half. Today, about 20% of Koreans live outside
their country's borders. Those that remain live in a highly structured
society dominated by a patriarchal household. Success in Korea depends
on the social "caste" into which you are born, the network of
associates you develop, and your scores on college entrance exams
(which determine your level of education). Consumer goods are
available, but affordable only by the wealthy. The rest of the country
lives in relatively underdeveloped areas, with no hope of escape. This
oppression from without and within drove many Koreans to seek
opportunities in America. The United States, after years of
restrictive immigration laws, actually began encouraging highly
educated foreigners, like doctors and lawyers, to come to America
through preferential immigration status programs. By 1980, some
350,000 Koreans had come. However, once they arrived, they found the
situation much different than they imagined.
 

Korean bar associations, medical boards, and professional licensing
authorities were not recognized in the U.S., meaning doctors and
lawyers couldn't practice here, and prestigious Korean universities
were unknown, "depriving" immigrants good jobs in Corporate America
(126). Faced with no other prospects, they opened small businesses in
minority neighborhoods (where they could afford the rent) and, not
surprisingly, these grossly overqualified shopkeepers were successful
in their endeavours, finally able to enjoy the modern materialistic
pleasures unattainable in Korea. Still, some people were disillusioned
by their situation, leading them to treat their customers and others
discourteously. With this perspective in mind, the authors ask: are
Koreans the industrious, affable immigrants portrayed by some in the
media, or opportunistic scavengers preying on the dying carcasses of
minority dominated inner cities?
 

Abelmann, an anthropologist, and Lie, a sociologist, attempt to answer
this question and unearth the roots of interethnic tensions brought to
the foreground in the aftermath of the 1992 riots through interviews of
a broad cross-section of LA's Korean-American residents. Throughout
the work, they emphasize the extraordinary diversity of views held by
these people. For example, some people view themselves as Korean;
others as Korean-American. Factors such as social class, level of
education, length of time in America, and strength of national identity
also influence their perspectives, just as they do for all ethnicities.
However, their interest in telling the "Korean" story through the
words of Korean-Americans meant "readers seeking a comprehensive
analysis of the L.A. riots or an in-depth ethnography of the
"black-Korean" conflict will not find it" (x). Unfortunately, what is
left is little more than an interesting story.
 

In fact, Blue Dreams' inquiry into the unrest permeating L.A. and
larger American community is more reminiscent of an overgrown graduate
thesis than serious social commentary. Abelmann and Lie bury a
somewhat single-minded analysis under obscure terminology, sending the
reader running to the dictionary on almost every page. This approach,
while perhaps impressive to other academians, is far from appropriate
for providing the "sustained alternative interpretive framework" for
the broad base of Americans "interested in ethnic conflict in urban
America" (xi).
 

In an attempt to explain the 1992 riots, and by extension the
underlying interethnic tensions, several hypotheses are examined.
Koreans, they offer, have been socialized into the American racial
ideology, or perhaps picked it up from direct observations of
segregated U.S. troops and biased media during the U.S. occupation of
South Korea. Or maybe it is a combination of residual Korean
nationalism, coupled with language barriers and experiences with
predominately poor and uneducated customers, that fosters feelings of
contempt for other ethnicities. Whatever the reason, they assert it
isn't really their fault because their own long history of oppression
and relentless bombardment by racist American media broadcasts has
overpowered them, and anyway, they aren't the only group responsible
for the current problems. All sides, including blacks and dominant
whites, must share the blame.
 

Blacks, on the other hand, contribute to the tensions because they have
"different" (although unexplained) expectations of small business
owners. In addition, they too have bought into the "Koreans as model
minority" myth and view Korean-owned shops as an extension of
White/Asian racism. When blacks vent their frustration at white
oppression, Korean shops in their neighbourhood become the only
accessible outlets for their anger. Other scholars posit that Blacks
resent "outsiders" who invade their communities for exploitation.
 

Strangely, they don't explore the sources of Latino-Korean tension,
except to further absolve Koreans of responsibility by creating the
impression that Koreans are not to be feared, but other minorities are.
"Latinos are ubiquitous in Koreatown. [...] By night, Korean Americans
are virtually absent. [...] The multiethnic composition of Koreatown -
particularly the Latino majority - accounts in part for the large
number of Latino looters during the riots" (104-105). In addition, for
each possible explanation, the conflict is a result of some external
influence like White racism, deindustrialization, the American racial
ideology, shrinking welfare state, media bias, and so on. To be fair,
they do point out that some Korean-Americans are conspicuous consumers,
using credit cards to "live above their means and flaunt their wealth,"
but even this is attributed to the perpetuation of the mythical
"materialism" tenet of the American Dream ideology and not some
inner-failing of the Koreans (115).
 

Thus, the richness of the Korean experience matched with the
unidimensional White power state allows them to assert that the twin
obstacles of "state abandonment and media distortion during and
following the riots" (185) served to keep Korean Americans isolated
and stigmatized. They cite numerous media accounts depicting Koreans
as gun-toting militants and ruthless opportunists. They cite a
national survey of Americans ranking fifty nationalities placed Korea
among the "least favourite" countries (34). However, deep in the end
notes, they acknowledge that they "were never able to find the source
or any print reference to this [...] survey" (197).
 

While there is always space to examine the complex subtleties of the
Korean community, and sufficient, albeit less, room to comment on
African American diversity, there is apparently no room left to
thoroughly explain the ideological backdrop the authors assert is at
the root of most of the conflict. "Our intention is to delineate the
constituent beliefs of the American Dream," they write, "without its
nuances, complexities, and conflicts" (177).
 

The media focused on the Black/White dimensions of the riots and
parallels to the 1965 black race riots, rendering "Korean Americans and
other ethnic populations [...] invisible and irrelevant," even though
they comprised the majority of victims. When Koreans were pictured on
television, it was usually images of helpless and hysterical
shopkeepers whose stores had been burned, or gangs of armed youths
standing guard on the rooftops of the few remaining establishments. It
is in this discussion that Abelmann and Lie reveal the only valuable
insight in the entire book. The struggle within the Korean community
over HOW they are portrayed is important, but _secondary_ to WHO gets
to define them. In both of the previous cases (accuracy aside), the
depictions were imposed on Koreans by the dominant media state.
Korean-Americans are largely absent from mainstream media and
high-profile government positions, and are consequently unable to
control how they present themselves to the "outside" world. This lack
of representation allows outside forces to use "Koreans" as pawns to
further their own agenda. Conservatives in favour of shrinking the
welfare state hold up Koreans as a "model minority," able to achieve
success through zealous adoption of the American Creed of self-reliance
and individualism, _and_ without relying on government programs. This
view usually pits Koreans against other groups, such as Latinos or
Blacks. Other interests paint Koreans as gun-toting militant racists,
invading minority communities, treating "natives" rudely, and devouring
what little wealth is left.
 

U.S. cities have traditionally served as reception areas for newly
arrived immigrants. Greeted by members of their homeland and in
familiar surroundings, immigrants can either live comfortably among
their old traditions, or slowly assimilate into "mainstream" society.
As their children and their children's children become second and third
generation Americans, there is a movement away from urban centers to
the suburbs. Won Moon Hurh, author of KOREAN IMMIGRANTS IN AMERICA,
notes this pattern has played out among the Chinese, Japanese, and
other nationalities. As populations mature, the urban ethnic centers
decline in importance and eventually most recent immigrants bypass
their ethnic villages altogether and settle directly in the suburbs.
Since the bulk of Korean immigrants came in the 1970's, they are at an
earlier stage in the cycle compared to older immigrant populations and
still gravitate to Koreatowns, although a few recent arrivals are now
advancing to the next stage. In time, Korean-Americans will follow in
the traditions of previous groups and move to the suburbs. Then, we
will see books chronicling the Laotian-Black conflict, Indonesian-Black
conflict, or perhaps Estonian-Black conflict as newer immigrants take
their place.

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Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 14:19:52 -0600 
From: David Larsen <dlarsen@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Addendum to BLUE DREAMS review 

In our recent reviews of BLUE DREAMS (Nancy Abelmann and John Lie), neither Rachael Miller or I fully explained the nature of something the authors refer to as the "transnational diaspora." Basically, they are refering to the ongoing ties Korean-Americans maintain with Korea. When Koreans immigrate to America, they leave behind an extended family, but the separation is only physical. Once settled, they can use their "U.S. Resident" status to afford their relatives "preferred" immigration status. This means that relatives of previous immigrants enjoy a higher priority in the U.S. immigration queue. In addition, some never fully sever their legal ties, either retaining their Korean citizenship, or maintaining homes or other property in Korea. Abelmann and Lie cite one wealthy Korean American who had homes in South Korea, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, shuttling between them throughout the year. Finally, many Korean Americans open shops peddling Korean exports. Often, they receive startup capital from friends back home, transnational Korean banks, or revolving credit organizations. Thus, through social, political, and economic ties, the authors assert Korean American immigrants remain closely tied to their homeland.

Another claim Abelmann and Lie make is that some immigrants have become
disillusioned with their American experience as they look to South Korea's
recent economic boom that has bestowed universal wealth and prosperity to all. "Although [swap meet stall operators] represent the lower reaches of the Korean American community, they point to the generally 'low-class life' in America and particularly the 'low level of their customers.' In turn, while they are proud of South Korean prosperity and 'high levels' - that nowadays even military wives are rich and educated - they realize that they have been shut out of this prosperity: they cannot go back" (118). If only they had stayed in South Korea, they too would have been wealthy and wouldn't have to be surrounded by poverty (both theirs and their customers').

But just as Abelmann and Lie accuse others of relying on generalizations and stereotypes, the view they present is somewhat slanted. One need only look at a recent issue (3/28/97) of the Korea Herald (a South Korean daily newspaper) for counter-examples.
Book Readership on the Decline "Book readership among adult Koreans is on the decline mainly because they are too pressed for time, according to a survey released yesterday. The survey on 1,200 adults across the nation showed that only 77.2 percent read more than one book in 1996, down from 79 percent in 1995 and 86.8 percent in 1994." [ME: Some South Koreans may be more monetarily successful, but there is a price. Less time for reading means people are working longer and harder. The article later says the (successful) Japanese read more than twice as many books as Koreans (19.2 books/year vs. 9.1 books/year), implying that perhaps South Korea is still striving to reach the level of development where they enjoy both prosperity _and_ leisure. This is the level some Korean Americans in BLUE DREAMS seem to believe Korea has reached, implying they may be out of touch with the economic realities of South Korea, and further strengthening the argument that Korean Americans may not be universally as closely tied to their homeland as Abelmann and Lie claim.]

Centuries-Old Prewedding Tradition Continues Today
South Koreans still engage in a traditional ritual involving
the wearing of squid masks, shouting "Hahm saseyo," and securing
drinking money from the bride's father, despite recent negative
publicity.

"Around 10 p.m. that evening, the groom's friends finally enter
Kyeong-ae's house. One of them stomps on a plastic bucket set
up in front of the entrance. 'Breaking the bucket symbolizes
breaking all the bad things that could go wrong in a marriage,'
Kyeong-ae's mother tells her nephew, a Korean American
from Los Angeles who seemed perplexed by the whole event.

This was done in line with the old proverb, 'If you want to move a
lady, you must present her with gifts.' Hahm ceremonies usually took
place one or two days before the wedding. Today, in the modern version,
Hahm ceremonies are clearly done for the sake of the groom's friends.
In most cases, the money received from the bride's father is used to
whoop it up at a room salon, an upscale bar and singing room featuring
lovely young hostesses who comfort the patrons.

Moreover, this traditional Korean ritual, which upholds the utmost
respect for the bride's parents, has received its share of negative
publicity in recent years. Last year a bride jumped off the balcony
of the couple's honeymoon suite at a hotel allegedly following an
argument with her husband over the 'Hahm money.' Such a tragedy have
served to give the tradition a tainted reputation. Some contend that
Hahm serves as another excuse for young men to get drunk in this
already alcohol abusive society. Others frown upon the frivolity of
the whole event. As a result, many couples today do not take part in
the Hahm ceremony."

[ME: This story is interesting for a number of reasons. First,
Abelmann and Lie don't really talk much about the "Korean
culture," or mention specific things that Koreans try to retain
once in America. They do mention that Koreatown "looks" like
Seoul, but also point out that most Koreans lack the entreprenurial
spirit, and wouldn't choose to be shopkeepers if they had
stayed in Korea, the implication being that the cultural ties
to the homeland may not be all that strong. Second, this newspaper
article highlights the patriarchical nature of Korean society (as
do Abelmann and Lie), but also indicates that it is changing.
People now question the value of rituals, and the overall tone
of this article is condescending, especially with respect to the
"lovely young hostesses" and "already alcohol abusive society."
South Korea would seem to have very similar problems to those of
the U.S. The final tidbit of interest in this article is the
nephew from Los Angeles, described as being "perplexed" by the
ritual. How is it that with such strong social ties to Korea,
this LA resident could be ignorant of a "centuries-old" ritual?]

Venture Firms to Hold Job Fair in United States
The Korea Venture Business Association and Korea-US Foundation
for Industry and Technology Cooperation will be jointly holding
a job fair in the United States to lure skilled workers to
Korean Firms.

[ME: This job fair (again, mentioned in the South Korean paper)
is being held in - surprise: Los Angeles, California. The South
Korean government's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy
subsidized this transnational recruitment effort. It's strange
that Korean American immigrants view themselves (according to
Abelmann and Lie) as outcasts, when the South Korean government
continues to take an interest in them, going so far as to attempt
to lure them back home.]

Won Depreciation Exacerbates Inflation Pressure
"Fears of higher inflation have been snowballing here lately mainly
spurred by the won's speedy depreciation against the dollar and the
recent rise in prices of petroleum products. In addition, ongoing
government moves to raise transportation fees and diesel prices have
also aggravated the nation's inflation outlook."

[ME: Another example of news that undermines the image of a universally
successful South Korea, this article later points out that prices for
agricultural products like corn and beans have also been on the rise.]

Thirsty Years Ahead
"As things stood at the end of 1994, Korea's yearly demand for
water (30,100 million tons) fell slightly below supply (32,400
million tons), leaving a surplus of 2,300 million tons. The current
rate of advancing urbanization and improving standard of living is
certain to drive up water demand to bring about a shortfall of 407
million tons in 2006. The shortage is likely to rise to 2,011 million
tons in the year 2011.

That Koreans consume more water per person than the citizens of more
industrialized and wealthier countries is a painful satire on the
proverbial fancy of the destitute for extravagance. The wastefulness
is partly attributed to the low price of tap water. Loud complaints
are voiced against the pollution of city water and the inadequate
distribution system of waterworks. Therefore, the consuming public
should be ready to pay more to finance better treatment and distribution
of pure water. At the same time, they should learn to live with less
of the expensive water available."

[ME: In my review, I mention that some Korean American immigrants hide
their failure (or inflate their success) by relying on credit cards
or living with smaller homes so they can afford fancy cars and
clothing. In a single sentence, Abelmann and Lie cite a man who feels
such conspicuous consumption is "Koreans' basic nature," but the
rest of the section suggests "Korean immigrants have become extravagent
since they came to the United States" (115), fully embracing the
American Dream tenet of social/class mobility. Yet this article would
suggest Koreans are living well beyond their means back home, using
"more water per person than the citizens of more
industrialized and wealthier countries."]

As I have indicated on many previous occassions, the world is a complex
and interdependent place. Problems characterized as "American" rarely
confine themselves to U.S. borders, and issues painted as one way
usually have another perspective. Abelmann and Lie correctly point out
that the Korean (and African American) community is diverse, full of
competing viewpoints and interests. However, they tend to gloss over
views that don't support their objectives in favour of those that do,
and in come cases, (like the "government" or "media"), they
intentionally make generalizations that obscure the richness of those views.
(For example, the Korean Herald has articles describing problems like water shortages and inflation, yet also carries stories about government efforts o lure more workers into the country.) Again, BLUE DREAMS was an interesting story about a culture I knew little about, but clearly the authors could have been more thorough, balanced, and analytical.
As an aside, the Korea Herald is a decent source for news about Korea.
Check out their web site at: http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/
Dave Larsen
Illinois State University


 

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Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 20:11:28 -0600 
From: hobbes2@ice.net 
Subject: Response to Miller's Review 

Abelmann and Lie, (BLUE DREAMS)
Response to review by Rachel Miller
Mailto:hobbes2@ice.net
 
 

Response to Rachel Miller's review of Blue Dreams
 

Rachel Miller's review of Blue Dreams raises numerous questions. Not only
does it seemingly indicate that Abelmann and Lie contradict their own
findings, but it casts doubt on the general validity of their conclusions.

A central premise of Blue Dreams is that the "black-Korean conflict" is
"constantly reoccurring through the media." African-Americans learn to
stereotype Koreans as "a rude, profiteering group," and Koreans, in turn,
cast black Americans as an "uneducated and uncivilized people"- all due to
the American media. However, no attention is given to how Abelmann and Lie
reach such a conclusion. Is there any empirical evidence to rightfully
suggest that the media is the source of this particular ethnic conflict? Or
are the authors perhaps trapped in the increasingly popular "blame the
media" routine? After all, the media has already been indicted for
contributing to falling voter turnout rates (by predicting winning
candidates prior to election day), focusing disproportionately on black
crime, and forsaking accurate, serious reporting in favor of high ratings.
Although another crime on the media's record is of little significance, the
charge of creating a "black-Korean conflict" appears to have little
supportive evidence.

It would also seem that Abelmann and Lie are themselves unconvinced of the
media's connection to black-Korean strife. For example, the senseless
killing of Latasha Harlins is described as the "focal point of vengeance
[against Koreans] for the black community." However, the authors admit that
the event received "hardly any media coverage." If this incident did indeed
"spark the black-Korean conflict as it is known today," what role did the
media actually play? "Hardly any?"

Abelmann and Lie conclude that the "black-Korean conflict" is essentially a
phenomenon that has been "overstated by the media." As such, the authors
acknowledge positive factors that are at work in black-Korean relations.
For instance, Koreans have "questioned" past views of the "lazy
African-American" in light of the black community's "strong communal ties"
and its "friendly and complimentary" nature. African-Americans have also
acknowledged the Korean work ethic as an attempt to "achieve the American
dream" as opposed to an attempt to "exploit the community." These positive
forces are worthy of greater attention, for this is the approach needed if
Americans are to move beyond race, color, and ethnicity.
 


--
Pam Ashworth
Illinois State University
hobbes2@ice.net
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Date: Mon, 7 Apr 1997 08:24:43 -0500 
From: Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: A response to Aricka's Response 

It is true that some of the arguments made about the relationship between
the Koreans and AA were sometimes generalized and stereotypical. It is
also true that when dealing with any type of racial and ethnically
conflict many of the arguments justifying the tension are stereotypical
and generalized. It is through personal experience with other people (
cultures) that an individual can eliminate the narrow mindedness. I agree
that there are good and bad of any race,unfortunately there are so many in
this society that choose to remain in the safe world of generalizations
that they have created. I think than in the Blue Dreams that is what the
authors are trying to say. The Koreans came over with a perception of AA
and because of the lack of communication they failed to see the good and
the bad. It is also seen on the reverse side as well. The AA see the
Koreans as typically rude shop owners trying to make a buck, when actually
it is the lack of communication that they do not realize that they are
frustrated ( because they lack the ability to communicate properly)thus
the rudeness. It was mentioned in the book that once the children (Korean)
went to school they brought home the knowledge that not all AA are as
they seem, it was also true of the AA children. Through experience and
feeling with each other I think that they (AAs and Koreans) are starting
to realize that not all stereotypes are correct.

That is not to say that they all now live in harmony. No there is still
the tension. Like you said the incident with the shop owner was not a
spark but a justification. The two communities used it a means to justify
the violence and hatred between them. It was a spark to the reaction and
not the tension. The tension between AAs and Koreans was present before,
just like any kind of racial tension in the past. It is the stereotypes
and the narrow minds of people that spark the tension, but it is excuses
that spark the reactions.

The actual shop incident was not actually given much news coverage itself,
but it was the violence that sparked after that received the coverage. I
think the book places a great deal of blame on the media for the tension
between AA and Koreans, but not all. The people carry the stereotypes from
generation to generation until finally someone wakes up. The media keeps
repeating what the same messages of stereotypes and generalizations that
are started with the people. The media shows what the people expect to
see, if they show people what they ought to know then they might loose
ratings.

I think that Blue Dreams was intended for people to see the importance of
communication. One on one communication and not getting to know someone
through the images seen on the nightly news.

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Date: Mon, 7 Apr 1997 08:42:20 -0500 
From: Rachael Miller <remille@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Re: Response to Miller's Review 

Response to Hobbes response

It is true that the convenient store incident captured little attention
from the media, but the violence that occurred afterwards did. The media
was not at the source of the tension between the African Americans and the
Korean Americans, but it did add to it. The source is the people
themselves, but the media promotes the stereotypes that people have
of each other. After all media is a business.

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Date: Mon, 7 Apr 1997 12:19:00 -0500 
From: Aricka Latrece Vinson <alvinso@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Re: A response to Aricka's Response 

Thanks for the reply.

I found it interesting as you noted that the incident was not covered as
much as the violence that it produced was featured by the media. I don't
know what annoys me more the coverage or the fact that someone
somewhere is looking forward to the media's portrayals of the AA / Korean conflict or
conflict in general.


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Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997 08:04:55 -0500 
From: "Bina M. Patel" <bmpatel@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Response to Aricka Vinson's review 

The statement was made that many of the prejudices that occur come from the political behavior and feelings of individuals. Further, the authors begs to look past stereotypes of all whites as racist, etc. Also noted was the fact that personality and ethnocentrism play a role in the display and expression of racism. In response to this, I think it is important to note that political efficacy in the US is very weak. Majority of people really are not involved in politics, and this is illustrated by their political behavior. To assume that politics may be the driving force behind racism (if I am to understand this correctly-if not please do correct me), entails that individuals assume a sense of politicalness in their everyday situations. I offer that this is certainly not the case. People tend to rely on their personalities to establish their societal standing and through which lens they will view the world. I think ultimately, personality plays one of the greatest roles when debating race issues.

For example, the case provided was that of a Congressman voting no to support federal funding. However, it is important to note that if all people were to act in this manner, racism would not exist. This congress man is allegedly employing rational tools to decide what sort of political stance to take, yet he overlooks the fact that there are clearly individuals hurt by racism. If everyone had always thought rationally, racism and prejudice lose much of their foundations. Further, whether right or wrong, some issues must be rectified before others can occur. The Constitution says equality for all. But, if we decide to base societal development on political efficacy, we allow many of the irrational wrongs to go one. I am suggesting here that we must recognize some sort of hierarchy of demands that must be met by society-equality, then understand politics. If the initial problem is left to its own devices, then the issue of racism can not be touched, as it does not fall into neat parameters of legislation. If opposing federal funding means that a majority of those influenced are black, how can we suppose that politics is the true cause of the negative vote, and how can we deny people economic stability (including lower classes of all races) on the basis that federal funding is bad for government? What is bad for government is having a national constituency of insecure individuals, and rhetorical legislation.


Bina Patel
bmpatel@ilstu.edu
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