Exhibit traces Korean ethnic roots

2012-11-21 : 16:18

“Yeolseongjosugyo,” an ancient book, which was produced for the descendants of Kim Yu-shin, a Silla general under the commission of the previous kings, is on display at the exhibition titled “My Name is Ploenchit and I am the Mother of Hyun-su.” The exhibition shows lives and cultures of
immigrant women who married Korean men at the Jokbo (Genealogy) Museum in Daejeon through Feb. 28 next year.
                                                               /Courtesy of National Folk Museum of Korea

By Chung Ah-young

Ploenchit Winthachai, 39, came to Korea nine years ago from Thailand after marrying a Korean man who worked as a travel agent in her country. She is mother of Park Hyun-su and Su-bin and is one of an increasing number of immigrant women who settled here far away from their homes.

Many immigrant married women are facing discrimination and homesickness while adjusting to Korean society. As the number of immigrant women is increasing, their presence is growing in Korean society.

To reflect this social change, the National Folk Museum of Korea is holding an exhibition titled “My Name is Ploenchit and I am the Mother of Hyun-su” to show lives, history, origin and cultures of immigrant women who married Korean men in collaboration with the Jokbo (Genealogy) Museum in Daejeon through Feb. 28 next year. The exhibition is also to focus on how Korea has been multicultural from times back.

A photo of a baby on a hammock used by Ploenchit Winthachai

Shim Min-ho, curator of the Jokbo Museum, said that Korea has been long haunted by a fantasy of “minjok,” based on the perception of a single-race nation. “But if we see the genealogies, we can know many historical records show various ethnic roots. We cannot see Korea as a single-race nation anymore. As Korean society is now going multicultural, we are beginning to change its longstanding identity,” he said.

“Winthachai shows a good example for us. She is widely engaged in various volunteer and cultural activities despite the difficulties. We want to focus on their motherhood. Mothers are less appreciated in historical records,” he added.

The museum displays 518 items and documents related to immigrant lives. To vitalize the exhibition, hands-on investigations and interviews on immigrant women living in Daejeon, Incheon, Ansan and Geoje Island are shown through the videos.

According to the museum, such women pointed out that the term of “multiculture” itself contains discrimination, hoping that it would disappear in Korea.

The museum said that interracial marriages are found in many historical documents. “Interracial marriage is not a phenomenon only for today. It is a cultural phenomenon which has taken place through the history,” he said.

Historically, its ethnic roots are traced back to a mixture of various tribes such as Kitans, Malgal, Mongolian, Han and Yemaek.

According to the chronicle of Garakgukgi of Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), King Suro’s queen Heo Hwang-ok was a princess from the Indian country of Ayuta. Heo’s descendants are Gimhae Kim, Gimhae Heo and Incheon Lee clans. Heo who is believed to have arrived in Gaya by boat is described in “Yeolseongjosugyo,” an ancient book written during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). The book was made for the descendants of Kim Yu-shin, a Silla general under the commission of the previous kings.

Vietnamese Prince Ly Long Tuong who moved to Korea during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) and changed his name to Yi Yong-sang was a progenitor of the Hwasan Yi clan.

“If we look into various genealogies, we can find many records of foreigners who moved or married here. The genealogies record what history doesn’t remember. Particularly, women who are mostly underestimated in history are recorded in genealogies,” he said.

“Our exhibition is designed to shed light on immigrant women who have children because they are mothers of the next generation who will lead the nation. Some of our ancestors came from other countries such as China, India, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. We hope the exhibition will raise the awareness about the importance of immigrant women,” he said.

The exhibition showcases historical documents, marriage rings and other items used by migrant women.