Morning glory in Korean garden
Our multicultural society is often compared to a summer garden that comprises various kinds of flowers. For example, morning glory has geographical origins in India, and garden balsam, in Southeast Asia. Rose moss came from South America long, long ago.
Although their origins are different they have long assimilated to the Korean climate, coexisting with native flowers. Now they have become the most popular flowers, which make our garden beautiful and familiar.
Now we can't imagine our gardens without these flowers. Morning glory greets us with dew drops in full blossom every morning. And garden balsam colors our sisters' nails pretty during summer days and in a children's song in elementary school textbooks.
It is just the same that residents from foreign countries not only constitute an important part of the Korean society, but also make it harmonious. The number of foreign residents living in this country is estimated to be about 1.4 million, or 3 percent of the total population.
Guest workers and immigrant wives who have married Korean men account for a large portion of the foreign community. In universities, too, foreign students are seen increasingly frequently. When illegal aliens whose visas have already expired are included, the number is much larger. North Korea defectors and ethnic Koreans from China and Russia are also entering this country for jobs and shelter.
These days, it is not unusual to run into foreign residents on the streets and at workplaces. We also come across them while on the subway. And their children attend schools along with our own. Somehow, they have become our neighbors with the only difference being skin color and hair.
It is true, however, most Koreans are not prepared to face a multicultural society that has become an inevitable reality. It is regrettable that we receive so many reports on Koreans discriminating against construction workers and restaurant servers with foreign nationalities. Some Korean husbands habitually mistreat their wives who come from distant countries.
We’ve been even told some foreigners can’t enter and use a public bath only because of their skin color. Their children are bullied by their classmates. More seriously, there exists a communication gap between Koreans and foreign residents and even naturalized Koreans owing to a language barrier as well as the difference in culture and way of thinking.
The Korean government has announced a number of laws and rules aimed to help them. But they hardly meet realistic needs they feel in everyday lives. Although government officials declared Korea a multicultural society in 2006, its policies and programs still fall far short of backing it up. Loud slogans and campaigns have not led to substantive follow-up measures, leaving foreigners with many inconveniences.
The situation is even worse in the provinces and smaller localities, where officials’ good intentions often end up unaccompanied by real changes, because of insufficient financial and human resources.
The time has long past for Koreans to look back on those days when Korean workers went to other countries to earn money to remit their pay. South Korea today has become West Germany half a century ago, when the European country received Korean miners and nurses determined to get out of perennial poverty through hard labor.
It is spring now, and azaleas and forsythias have begun to bloom everywhere. Summer will follow quickly to let us enjoy morning glory flowers in addition to rose moss and garden balsam. Like our gardens that show a perfect harmony of native and foreign elements, we should try hard to realize a harmonious multicultural society.
Foreign residents are our neighbors with whom we must go together for the common future of this country. And this gives additional reasons why Koreans must refrain from falling into renewed xenophobia because of a few bad apples found among them recently.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.