Crossing the Valley

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Sunny has been cutting my sons' hair for the past 10 years. What a find-she is the fastest and most precise, when it comes to the flat-top cut! Sunny- I also worked in a Barber Shop back in Seoul, South Korea, before coming to America in 1984. My husband was stationed in Seoul-an American in the US Army. I met him while working and he brought me to America, so that we could get married. We were married in Hawaii. I got my American Citizenship there too! I have been married to my husband for the past 19 years. I hoped to have a better life because while I was in High School, I had learned that the U.S. GNP was higher than S.Korea's...I wanted to establish a good credit line because in the early 80's, there were no credit cards for Koreans. And, here in America, I now have established very good credit...financially speaking, I am doing much better than my older sisters, who are back in South Korea!

In America, I am mostly treated with kindness, although, there are some who seem stuck up...when they hear me talk they cut me off...its as if they don't really want to listen to me! I listen closely to my American friends and I try to learn the slang words...I watch American TV and that has helped me. I also took ESL classes a few years ago.

Back in South Korea, I had always heard and expected that everyone in America received a good education. So, I was surprised to discover that many people here don't even have a GED! In S. Korea, parents are very strict and demanding, with regards to their children's study habits...South Koreans attend school on Saturdays...there is alot of pressure to succeed academically. While I was in Junior and High School, I learned basic English Language skills.

I have accomplished many things in America: I have a driver's license, I graduated Barber College and can support myself... I own my business (cutting hair), I am able to support my aging parents.

Some of my worst experiences, here in America, has been that I became addicted to gambling, I had a hard time establishing strong relationships with friends and that people tried to take advantage of me because of my difficulty understanding the English Language.

Back in my homeland, most of the young people are jealous because they want to come to America too.

As a female, I appreciate the equality of the genders, in the U.S., but I  really did not have to adjust to life, in the United States. Here, in America, I belong to a Korean Church...I read Korean newspapers, magazines and watch their news video tapes and I speak to my parents weekly.



            My interview with Sunny was an enlightening experience, in that, I needed to be focused and mindful of the person standing before me. I had to concentrate on her choice of words and on how she chose to express herself. It would have been very easy for me to interject my own thoughts and words, but that would defeat the entire purpose of this project, that being, giving voice to the immigrant. Language defines a person…its powerful, for it is used to discriminate-as a tool (an identity marker)[1] or, simply put, as a “racial weapon in immigration.”[2] In America, immigrants (like Sunny) are well aware of the importance placed on the dominant identity-English. They realize, early on, that English equates to respect and so a person who cannot speak English end up being “reviled and patrolled,”[3] for their difference and otherness. I developed a new-found appreciation for the immigrant experience, in America.                                                                                          Sunny is considered to be one of the “new immigrants-Asians, Latinos and Caribbeans”[4] who struggle with conforming to the dominant identity while, at the same time, trying to maintain one’s own sense of identity. In my opinion, she understands how, in America, “speaking a foreign language creates barriers that cause frustration and backlash (English as the official language movement, of the late 80s), while learning English is the key to economic opportunity.”[5] I see this as her way of assimilating into a society that is still “linguistically ignorant.”[6] However, times are changing, with multilingual services increasing and seeping into every agency (public and private), America’s steep “tradition of monolingualism”[7] is slowly disintegrating. Sunny migrated to America during a time when the integration strategy- to assimilate was not only prudent, but expected. Had she not given up her primary language (Korean), she would have been flagged a “threat to the nation’s identity, security and economy,”[8] for “desiring separatism.”[9]  Even today, I see the United States straddling and waffling between wanting to appear multicultural (accepting of cultural difference), but really an assimilationist country deep down…where the “state still favors and supports the dominant culture.”[10] 

            Sunny migrated to America, from S. Korea, in order to marry an American, who happened to be stationed in Seoul. This clearly illustrates the fact that “migrations are indeed patterned…”[11] U.S. linkages, of foreign investment and military presence of about “40,000 American troops (post- Korean War)”[12] create and “encourage this migration flow to the U.S.”[13] For it is in these “economic and geopolitical relations or linkages that make U.S. culture seem less foreign,”[14] thus making emigration more inviting and appealing to the inhabitants of a poorer country.

            From S. Korea’s economic standpoint, Sunny spoke of her knowledge in this area stating that she was well aware of how much better the United States economy and GNP was, before her emigration in 1984. South Korea is by no means a poor country, however, when compared to the United States the disparity becomes ever so apparent. In 1989, South Korea’s GNP was reported to be “$211.9 billion,” now compare that with the United State’s reported GNP (for the same year) of “$5.2 trillion”-the economic difference is quite amazing.[15] The S. Korean economy is considered healthy and improving, with its GNP increasing through the “manufacture and export of textiles, apparel, footwear, electronics and vehicles, yet its dependence on the stability of the U.S. trading economy becomes evident when U.S. prices fluctuate,”[16] of which, too often negatively impacts the Korean society.

            South Korea views emigration in a positive light…it has “since 1962, actively promoted emigration as part of its successful population control program and yet, its still the world’s third most densely populated nation.”[17] Even so, the Korean government and many companies help “cut through the bureaucratic red tape,”[18] in order to facilitate the emigration process. Data shows that, during the mid 80s (when Sunny emigrated), the United States “received about 19% of global emigration, but 81.5% of all Korean emigration.”[19] As previously noted, migration/immigration occurs for many reasons, but if one was to delve deeper into each migration story, they just might find that the U.S. played some critical part in the establishment of that particular migration flow, as was the case with Sunny-emigrating, due to “U.S. basing policy,”[20] in S. Korea. As I see it, we have linkages and ties, with some countries that date back over 50 years (as with the Korean War-1950), so for better or for worse we have migration/immigration.



[1] Castles, Stephen & Miller, Mark. “New Ethnic Minorities and Society.” Macmillan Press. (1998) p.243. 

[2] Kumar, Amitava. “Passport Photos.” University College Press. (2000) p.32.

[3] Ibid., pp. 16-34.

[4] Clark, Charles. “The New Immigrants.” CQ Researcher. (1997) p.51.

[5] Ibid., pp.54-55.

[6] Ibid., p.55.

[7] Castles, Stephen & Miller, Mark. “New Ethnic Minorities and Society.” Macmillan Press. (1998) p.244.

[8] Schaus, Noel. “Latinos Claiming Space and Rights..” (1997) p.10.

[9] Castles, Stephen & Miller, Mark. “New Ethnic Minorities and Society.” Macmillan Press. (1998) p.243.

[10] Ibid., p.245.

[11] Sassen, Saskia. “Why Migration?” Report on the Americas. Vol.26, #1 (1992) p.15.

[12] Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan. (1991) p.150.

[13] Sassen, Saskia. “Why Migration?”  Report on the Americas. Vol.26,#1 (1992) p.15.

[14] Ibid., p.17 &19.

[15] Academic American Encyclopedia. Vol.11&19 (1989).

[16] Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan. (1991) p.150.

[17] Ibid., pp.150-151.

[18] Ibid., p.151.

[19] Sassen, Saskia. “Why Migration?” Report on the Americas. Vol.26, #1 (1992) p.15.

[20] Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback. New York: Henry Holt and Co. (2000) pp. 29 & 35.



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