Monday, April 24, 2006

The Very First Half-Korean?

Crater Lake on Summit of Baekdu Mountain
Birthplace of the Legendary Dangun Wanggeom

I love Korea, but there are a few little things about the place that I can only love a little.

Recently, the "Hines Ward" half-Korean wave passed through the southern part of the peninsula, inundating everybody. His face and football accomplishments and 'Koreanness' were known and celebrated by every Korean, or so it seemed.

Ward's half-Koreanness provided a rare moment of self-reflection in Korea about the way that Korean society treats its mixed children, especially those children who are half African-American.

Some non-Korean commentators living here as expats made snarky remarks about how this would all fade away pretty quickly as soon as Ward was gone. Maybe they were right, but I still thought that the praise for Ward and his Korean mother Kim Young-hee (김영희) would help lessen the Korean emphasis upon the superiority of 'pureblood' Koreans.

Maybe it will, but I have an anecdote about an altercation that has caused me just a slight degree of doubt.

While the entire country was hosting Ward and his mother, my two kids reported a dismaying incident. They were waiting for the van that takes them to their Tae Kwan Do class.

As they were waiting, two other, full-blooded Korean boys about a year or two older than my nine-year-old daughter walked up to wait for the same van. They stared at my children, and one of them pointed and said to the other in a voice of disgust, "Look."

"I know," replied the other one in a tone of equal disgust. "Hon Hyeol."

The Korean expression "Hon Hyeol" (혼혈) literally means "half-blood." You can see it in the Korean title of J. K. Rowling's most-recent volume in the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (해리포터와 혼혈왕자). From its use in the Potter series title, I gather that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the expression. Unlike the other expression "Tuigi" (틔기), which is an inherently derogatory way to refer to mixed children, "Hon Hyeol" is simply descriptive.

The problem was that the two Korean kids uttered the words "Hon Hyeol" in much the same way that Draco Malfoy might.

My little six-year-old boy reacted to the insult, tossing a small rock in their direction and doubling up his fists as if to fight. One of the boys kicked my son in the back. This is the sort of thing that boys do, of course, and I told my son that he shouldn't have thrown a rock. I also said that we should wait and see what the boys do the next time, and if there's still a problem, then we could deal with it.

This past week, perhaps on Thursday, the two boys locked my kids out of the van, refusing to share a ride with the "Hon Hyeol." So, my kids walked home.

The van driver, I presume, was unaware of this behavior. My wife called the Tae Kwan Do place and explained the situation, and they said that they would watch carefully for the bullying.

I found this profoundly ironic. At the very time that the entire nation was celebrating the Koreanness of the "Hon Hyeol" Hines Ward, two Korean boys who surely must also have heard of the sports star who had "brought glory to Korea" were rejecting the two "Hon Hyeol" in their own Tae Kwan Do class.

Yet, what could be more Korean than two little kids in Korea striving to become Tae Kwan Do adepts?

I suppose that there are some things more Korean. There is, after all, that very first Korean, the "Hon Hyeol" Dangun Wanggeom (단군왕검), mixed offspring of a bear-woman (Ungnyeo) and a god-man (Hwanung).

So ... what's the big deal about Korean purity of blood, anyway?


At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't vouch for the Korean, but in English, "half-blood" comes across as a very prejudiced, obnoxious phrase. That prejudice, I gather, is one of the themes of Rowling's book (I haven't read it). I would bet that the Korean expression has similar baggage--if not in the denotation, than in the connotation.

Good luck to your kids--that must have been awful. Please keep us updated on subsequent developments, or lack therof.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Sad. It's an old cross-cultural fear, the threat of losing one's culture or one's values by intermarrying. This may be something that passes only with new generations. At the school where I teach, "mixed" doesn't mean anything. Few families are not mixed. If not their own parents, their parents' parents, their aunts and uncles, their older siblings are in multiracial relationships.

I hope your kids keep their chins up. And I hope the Tae Kwan Do bullies learn to fight the real battles.

p.s. I'm very impressed your daughter is learning Tae Kwan Do. At least the gender barrier is broken.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Scottage said...

Yes, it seems like far too many cultures create a stigma for inpurity of the blood, while maybe they should be looking for purity of the heart and intentions. A sad state for the world in which we live.

I was wondering, GS, do you have the link for an RSS feed? I was hoping to add you to my RSS so I could find your new posts more often. Thanks a bunch.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, you may be right about the English expression "half-blood" being implicitly negative, but when I reflect upon it now, the expression just seems like an awkward, overly literal translation of the Korean ... though there is that Rowling title.

Jessica, I'm also glad that she's learning Tae Kwan Do. Maybe one day, she'll be able to handle the bullies.

Scottage, purity of heart would be better (though I might often fail that one myself). On the RSS feed ... uh, what's that?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:30 AM, Blogger Scottage said...

It basically allows my browser to always be looking at your site (giving you additional hits), and telling me when ever you have a new post up. You have a tab in your blogger settings page called "site feed" where you can activate the RSS feed. Up to you, but will definitely increase traffic and makes it easier for guys like me to find your new material when it's out. Thanks.

At 3:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Scottage, I clicked the "Save" button to activate "site feed," but I don't see anything different on my blog.

Do you see anything? Does my blog now have "site feed"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:46 AM, Blogger Scottage said...

You wouldn't see somethign on your site, but on that tab I mentioned, the site feed tab, there should now be a URL...if you can give me that, I can tell you if it's working.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Scottage, is this what you mean:

This is the only thing that I can find at the site feed settings page.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:43 AM, Blogger Scottage said...

Perfect, thanks Jeffrey, sorry to be such a pain!

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No problem, Scottage.

By the way, I saw the message that your blogroll had problems. I've had repeated problems with mine periodically losing links and even entire categories.

I've grown so distrustful of Blogspot that I have, for now, quit trying to improve my blogroll.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Wooj, it's a problem, but it actually seems rather minor since most Korean children seem to have no difficulties in accepting my kids.

My daughter thinks that the two boys are just 'bad' boys, troublemakers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:06 AM, Blogger harshini said...

I should'nt have asked you...It does seem dangerous.

At 3:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Harshini, what shouldn't you have asked?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:17 AM, Blogger harshini said...

oh...its just that...i asked you in the other post(North Korean view), whether your family is in any kind of danger. Reading this post, i felt things are little bitter there.

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Korea should remain pure blood, mixed race civilization all perish in the past.

Germans, Japanese and now Koreans; all have one common thing, the pure bred. It's priceless.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, if "pureblood" Koreans don't want to perish, they'd better start reproducing again. Currently, the birthrate is too low for replacement.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You just can't expect a mostly homogeneous country with a history of constant foreign invasion to simply embrace biracial children fathered by foreign men. I don't think that is possible. Whether its fair or not in the past the biracial people in Korea ended up paying for the sins of their foreign fathers. However the treatment of biracial people in Korea is getting better because Korea has become rich and Korean fathers of these children are now demanding that Korea change its attitude towards biracial people. As for Hines Ward I think Korean people's attitude and feelings towards him and his accomplishments are a lot more complicated than you think. First of all he is from a stereotypical broken relationship between a Korean woman and a irresponsible foreign man (African American in this case) where the man basically abandoned the Korean woman and she had to work her ass off to provide for her son. Ward's background basically gives Koreans the idea that he owes his career and accomplishments to his Korean side. Ward himself gives all the credit for his success towards his Korean mother while never mentioning his black father who abandoned him and his mother. This gives the Koreans the feeling that Hines Ward and his accomplishments are a product of Korea.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment. I don't expect Koreans to change instantly, but I do worry when my own children encounter prejudice.

As for Hines Ward, you're probably correct, in general terms (though he must have inherited some innate talents from his father), but I think that what enabled him to succeed was primarily a combination of his mother's influence and American culture. If he had grown up in Korea, he would have been denied every opportunity. Koreans generally realize this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that what enabled Ward to succeed was primarily a combination of his mother's influence and American culture. However, I always get really irritated when foreigners, especially Americans start bitching and mourning about the plight of biracial people in Korea. Most biracial people in Korea born before the late 90's are those who were abandoned by their American fathers who went back to the U.S. after having their fun with Korean women. Those children should have been their responsibility in the first place. When I lived in America no one ever mentioned the deplorable behaviors of soldiers who were stationed in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and etc. Before any Americans bitch and mourn about the treatment of biracial people in Korea look at your grandfathers and fathers who were stationed in Korea. Ask them if they had Korean girlfriends and if they have sons or daughters that they abandoned there. To this day US government will not grant US citizenship or green card to biracial people born between Korean women and American military men unless they accept paternity. American irresponsibility is one of the major factors to blame for the plight of biracial people in Korea. If you are truly worried about your children concentrate on your marriage with your Korean wife and build a family that can provide love and support. Don't be the walking stereotype of foreign men that Koreans have of you. Your children sometimes might have to deal with stares and discrimination but if they have a strong and dependable male figure in their lives they will be fine.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I suppose that I should thank you for your concern for the better development of my character and the greater wellbeing of my family.

I hope the same for you and yours and that you have a Merry Christmas.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:21 PM, Blogger ippybar said...

Hi there. I lived in Korea from 2000-2003 and have a Korean wife. Then we moved back to my native Scotland and we have 2 children, boys. She is unhappy here and life has been tough for a while. She wants me to go back but the thing that is stopping me is the racism my sons would undoubtably suffer. Too many small minds there. They say they are a pure blood race even though the mongols, the chinese and the Japanese all raged through there in the past. There is no such thing. I don't know what to do personally. I want my wife to be happy and I actually wouldn't mind moving back but my children.......they're the most important thing. Would I be hurting them? Doing them a disservice by taking them there?

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Koreans have become much more accepting of mixed children, for there are so many.

The harder problem would be schooling the children. When our daughter reached the 7th grade, we took her out of the Korean school system and enrolled her in an American school online.

I like living here, but the education issue is not easy . . . or cheap.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I was born in Korea in the ' American father never "abandoned" my mother. A bit stupid to generalize and blame failed marriages on the foreign man...I'm sure the women had something to do with it, too.

But back to my point, I've never dealt with negativity concerning my biracialism. If anything, every pureblood Korean I've talked to or met has thought I was an amazing creation and were very open, interested and positive. Many have embraced my American father and always want to know more about our experiences.

Once again, kinda unfair to generalize a whole nation based on a few experiences. If one truly understands certain aspects of Korean culture, one will see there has been a wave of change in Korea (compared to when my mother was growing up there). Physical attractiveness is revolved around looking "American" (pale, angular faces, narrow noses, wider eyes with the lid crease, lighter hair, lighter eyes). The more Western a person looks, the more "beautiful". Let me tell you, in the States, I'm nothing special. In Korea, they go gaga over my brother's eyes and hair color.

Many of my mother's friends have married American or European men, and their Korean families often viewed it as "moving" up the ladder. They definitely view marrying a foreigner as a sure way to become financially successful, too. Many single Korean women are taught to go after Americans in Korea because usually, they're wealthy.

I'm sure others have had different experiences; my main point was to highlight the fact that generalizing all Koreans as obsessed with "purity" and being as "Korean" as possible, is wrong. The entire country is definitely not like that.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Koreans are changing, as I've noted (and please read the comments), but I'm surprised you aren't aware of the importance that Koreans have placed upon pure-bloodedness.

I disagree with you about generalizations. A generalization is only generally true.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In reviewing the other comments, Ms. Kitty, I now see that you were likely reacting to the remarks by an anonymous individual, which helps clarify your own remarks, for I at first puzzled over your words, but I now understand better.

Jeffery Hodges

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