Korean Xenophobia Betrays Double Standards

  • By Lee Ha-won from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    April 17, 2012 13:34

    Lee Ha-won

    U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Korean-American Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College, as the next head of the World Bank. Obama's selection of Kim drew praise both in the U.S. and here in Korea.

    Kim moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was five and is an American citizen, but Koreans like to think of him as one of their own. Americans also congratulated Kim, who became the first Asian-American president of an Ivy League university and nominee for the next head of the World Bank. Critics voiced concerns whether Kim, a medical doctor by training, would be able to handle the developmental assistance the World Bank is known for, but nobody had any problem with his ethnic background.

    Yet the exact opposite is happening here in Korea right now. The Philippine-born naturalized Korean citizen Jasmine Lee, who became a Saenuri Party lawmaker, has been the victim of malicious attacks on the Internet since the April 11 general election. People have been posting malicious comments about her on Twitter and other social networks, somehow linking her to the grisly murder of a young woman recently killed by an ethnic Korean from China.

    "This is the true face of multiculturalism which is bleeding Korean society dry," one commenter wrote. "We will see a rise in marriages for money," wrote another, denigrating mixed-race marriages involving Korean men and foreign brides.

    As a party list candidate, Lee has never made any campaign pledges. But somebody posted false rumors on the Internet that Lee had promised major benefits for foreign migrant workers and brides using taxpayers' money.

    Lee married a Korean and legally acquired Korean citizenship in 1998. After being widowed in 2010, she formed a group supporting foreign wives of Korean men and also worked at Seoul City Hall helping such women. She even played a small role in the movie "Punch" about multicultural families in Korea and appealed to Koreans to pay more attention to people like her. It is perfectly fair to question her ability to serve as a lawmaker. But the criticism against her on the Internet reflects nothing but xenophobia.

    Lee will serve as a lawmaker representing the 200,000 foreign wives of Korean men who live here. They are all Korean citizens. It does not befit one of the world's 10 largest exporters to get excited about the achievements of an American who comes from Korea but on the other hand to react with hostility to an immigrant who achieves something here. Such double standards are unacceptable.

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