They left South Korea for the American Dream. Now their children are moving back.
Growing up in North Carolina, Kevin Lambert always felt like an outsider. His Korean features stood out from his White peers, and he constantly faced offensive stereotypes of Asian culture. That feeling followed him into adulthood, leading him to move to South Korea in 2009 in search of acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Lambert is one of many Asian Americans born or raised in the US, whose parents immigrated to the country in pursuit of the American Dream decades ago, only to see their children make the reverse journey back. While it may seem like an odd desire to some, the racism, gun violence, and anti-Asian hate crimes prevalent in the US only strengthen the allure of an ancestral homeland.
Factors driving this reverse migration include the easier accessibility for “overseas Koreans” to return to South Korea through a 1999 law, as well as the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 that pushed many to take jobs teaching English in South Korean schools to escape the US job market. Yet one overarching factor remains: race, racism, and ethnicity.
Many Asian Americans face a constant battle with casual racism and a feeling of being outcast from American society. Despite assimilating to American culture, they are still seen as “foreign” and “Asian” in the eyes of many. By moving back to South Korea, where they can blend into the crowd and feel a sense of belonging, they hope to escape the constant discrimination they face in the US.
There are economic motivations as well, with several Korean American musicians making it big in South Korea’s exploding K-pop industry. However, some first-generation Korean American immigrants are also choosing to retire in South Korea for reasons such as affordable healthcare and proximity to family.
But life in South Korea is not without its own challenges. Many migrants experience a “honeymoon phase” where they feel a sense of belonging, but eventually, they may find that even moving thousands of miles away brings them no closer to finding home.
– While Asian Americans make up only 6% of the US population, they have experienced an increase in hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
– There is a long history of racist attitudes towards Asians in America, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.
– South Korea has its own issues with racism, particularly towards Southeast Asian migrant workers.
The reverse migration of Asian Americans from the US to South Korea underscores the deep-rooted issue of racism in American society. Despite assimilating to American culture, many Asian Americans still experience discrimination and a sense of not belonging. Moving back to an ancestral homeland where they can blend in and feel a sense of belonging provides an attractive alternative. However, the challenges of life in South Korea may eventually force some to return to the US, highlighting the complexity of finding a true sense of home.
In conclusion, the reverse migration of Asian Americans from the US to South Korea may seem like an odd desire to some, but it speaks to a deep-seated issue of racism and discrimination in American society. While South Korea may offer a reprieve from such discrimination, it also presents its own unique challenges. Ultimately, the decision to move back comes down to finding a sense of belonging and acceptance, something that many Asian Americans find difficult to achieve in the US.