Economy should not be sole or main reason
Jasmine Lee, a Filipina-Korean, will no doubt become one of the most watched lawmakers in the 19th National Assembly. The 35-year-old mother of two will feel especially burdened because of some Korean tweets heaping near curses with respect to her qualifications and election pledges. The manifestation of ugly racism and sexism among many Koreans is lamentable.
Korea, like it nor not, is already a multicultural country. There are currently 1.4 million expatriates, including naturalized Koreans, about 3 percent of the population. So the ruling Saenuri Party’s pick of Lee as a proportional representation candidate for the first time, while the right move and clever election strategy, was a belated admission of reality.
In a rapidly aging society where the birthrate is the lowest in the world, the economy simply cannot operate without migrant workers, who take up most of the 3D (dirty, difficult and dangerous) jobs. Many Korean men, especially those in rural areas, cannot find women to wed without these immigrant wives.
Yet the negative reaction of many Koreans to Lee’s new status also reflects how state multiculturalism has failed to permeate among its people, at least so far.
A recent governmental survey shows why. Out of the 2,500 respondents aged between 19 and 74, only 36 percent answered favorably about the coexistence of diverse races, religions and cultures here, less than half of the average 74 percent among 18 European countries.
More surprising is the reason. Only 39.4 percent of respondents (compared with Germany’s 83.6 percent) were negative because of the expats’ possible negative influence on Korea, and a mere 30.1 percent worried about potential job loss (72.5 percent for France). The predominant reason was pure bloodline: 86.5 percent said Koreans should have Korean ancestors, more than double Sweden’s 30 percent and even higher than Japan’s 72.1 percent.
Which explains why Korea is a utopia as dreamed only by a horrible mass murderer from Norway.
Two recent murder cases here, both committed by ethnic Koreans from China ― one a psychopath and the other an employee frustrated with not receiving his back pay ― were enough to stir calls for the expulsion of all Korean-Chinese, by mistakenly, or intentionally, liking a few exceptions to entire groups.
Blind ethnocentrism is irrational and groundless. Seoul didn’t need to promise unconditional support for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, not much more than it apologized for Cho Seung-hi, the Virginia Tech gunman, while lashing at Jasmine Lee. Would it be too much to compare this to the difference between Coca Cola Korea and Hyundai Motor Atlanta?
Multiculturalism should not only be about the economy. It’s about life in the future, technically, historically, and most of all humanly.