Multicultural Celebrities Succeed Against Huge Odds

      November 26, 2009 07:44

      Singers Insooni and Park ll-jun and basketball coach Kim Dong-kwang all became successful in Korea by overcoming prejudices against their multicultural background, but all three agree that it was a struggle.


      Insooni, who is half African-American, admits that everything felt like a huge obstacle once she left Cheongsan-myeon in Gyeonggi Province, where she was born and raised and where her looks raised fewer eyebrows due to the presence of many American soldiers there. She had to learn to ignore sidelong looks people gave her, and because of her curly hair, she missed many opportunities to appear in TV and was never picked to represent Korea in international singing competitions. "People often told me, 'You can't do it,' but that didn't discourage me. Rather, it made me stronger and even more determined. I've come this far because I'm a stubborn survivor," she says.

      Park points out that the term "mixed race" itself came into use because of the Korean War. "I was born Korean just like everyone else, and I don't understand why I have to live with discrimination and prejudice as if I were a sinner," he says. "I sent my son to the U.S. for his education because I didn't want to pass on my childhood experience of discrimination and bullying. So many young people of multicultural descent drop out of school and have a hard time finding a job because of ostracism."

      Park ll-jun (left) and Kim Dong-kwang

      Kim, Korean Basketball League technical commissioner and formerly a player in the Korean national team and head coach of numerous professional teams including Samsung Thunders and Anyang KT&G, feels he was luckier than others. "Those who succeeded as singers or athletes are the lucky ones. Most multicultural children struggle to make ends meet. They face huge obstacles when they apply to university or look for jobs. Even for me, when I entered a team owned by a bank, I heard that the executives hesitated to hire me because they were worried if I'd have difficulties in dealing with customers after I retired and worked for the bank. I'm somewhat lucky because I'm half white and half Korean, because those who are half Korean and half black suffer considerably more discrimination."

      That successful Koreans of multicultural origin are concentrated in entertainment and sports reflects how difficult it is for them in other fields. Kim Jong-in, a professor at Korea Nazarene University, says, "Rather than providing material support for minorities including multicultural children, the disabled and North Korean defectors, it's better to create opportunities for them to find jobs in wider range of professions."

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