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story From the Los Angeles Times Korean Mexicans learn more of their Asian roots on visit to Southern California The visitors are descendants of Koreans lured to the Yucatan Peninsula a century ago by false promises. In ensuing decades, they spread to other parts of Mexico and abandoned the Korean language. By Hector Becerra Los Angeles Times Staff Writer August 16, 2008
Beyond the silhouette of a mariachi player is an image of early Korean immigrants to Mexico. The teenagers and young adults struggled as they rehearsed an ancient Korean song, a kind of lamentation to leaving home. "Uno, dos, tres," began Fermin Kim, 48, a chaperon for the group. Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo. . . .
can also be an obstacle. 70 (not related). no longer spoke Korean -. The young Korean Mexicans had arrived from Mexico City. Tijuana and the Yucatan Peninsula on a recent afternoon and come to a sprawling Lynwood shopping center designed to look like Mexico. the fusion was literal.The words burbled out in a discordant drone. The teens and twenty-somethings bear strong Korean features but consider themselves true Mexicans. They came. Fermin Kim and David Kim. tentatively and unsteadily -. They share the immigrant experience and communication barriers that come with it. however. well. A member of the Yu Su Kyung Kah Yah Traditional Korean Dance Group performs at a cultural exchange in Lynwood that featured a visit by 20 Korean Mexican youths. The group of 20 were to perform that night for Korean and Mexican dignitaries in one of the banquet halls. as Korean Americans and . Here.and fourthgeneration Korean Mexicans who have no Mexican blood.sounding very much like.Spanish and Korean -. Even their older chaperons. perhaps fittingly.though they are third. they passed a statue of Mexican independence leader Miguel Hidalgo and a replica of the Angel of Independence in downtown Mexico City. As they were dropped off by shuttles. to Plaza Mexico -.a place that was created by a Korean American who has a habit of slipping into Spanglish. They practiced the Korean folk song over and over. Los Angeles is a city where the large Mexican and Korean communities co-exist in ways that both bring them together and separate them. Mexicans suddenly asked to sing in Korean. But the different languages -.
Korean Mexicans were flown to South Korea to get special job training. South Koreans built hospitals and schools in Mexico and were feted by Mexican officials. said that although his mother looked Korean she spoke only Spanish. Alberto King.and increasingly intermarried with Mexicans. In the ensuing decades. we almost got celebrity treatment. of Mexico City crooned. as Korea struggled under foreign rule and wars. they were sold to plantation owners and forced to cultivate henequen. Various estimates place their numbers at up to 30. in part because they were so hardy and hard-working. The Koreans and their descendants would come to be known as the Henequen. The visitors were surprised by how many people of Korean descent live in the Los Angeles area.000. they spread to other parts of Mexico -. 23. They only really felt comfortable when they started to consider which Mexican song to perform. But few ever saw their homeland again." Fermin Kim . They had fled a Korea that was under Japanese rule. They were the descendants of Koreans lured in 1905 by ship to plantations on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico. David Kim. he married a Mexican woman. In the beginning. and all for what. For decades. "That's something we never had in 99 years. Her own parents had stopped speaking Korean. Instead of finding a better life. hoping to help their countrymen gain independence. a 23-yearold college student in Tijuana. and despite their struggle." Fermin Kim said fights were a part of life in grade school. But as South Korea began to prosper economically and the centennial of the Koreans' arrival in Yucatan drew near. "We didn't even know there was such a large Korean community so close by." That year." He ended up marrying another Korean Mexican. "It went really badly for them because of the language." King said. a group of Korean Mexicans was brought by the Korean-American Foundation to Plaza Mexico in Lynwood. said that despite being one of the older Henequen. They were visited by South Korean politicians and were invited to their ancestors' homeland. when they would be called chinos (Chinese). attention focused on them. intermarriage was strongly discouraged." Fermin Kim said. "And all for what. Little by little. So their own parents decided to cut off the language and just talk Spanish. if in the end you lose?" Rafael Kim. "The Mexicans at first would not accept them. they sent money back home. He said he had a Mexican girlfriend and his grandparents reacted by asking. they abandoned the Korean language. " Where did you find her?' They got mad.Latino waiters looked on. a plant whose tough fiber was used to make things like rope. the Korean Mexicans were largely forgotten. his fellow chaperon. "When the centennial happened in 2005.
" Chae said. A Korean woman dressed in a blue sequined dress sang the American and Korean national anthems. Moments later. looking as her husband walked away up a crooked road. was the vision of Donald Chae. Arariyo. "I'm still waiting for my pasaporte. A few of the Korean Mexican youths tried to gamely mouth the words of the latter.said. . Chae said that when he spoke to the young Korean Mexicans. We hadn't integrated with Koreans here. . "They have a real Mexican way of talking. "They're real Mexicans." he quips. . "When you don't know your culture. a Korean American who grew up among Latinos and who has traveled throughout Mexico. I speak Mexican." By 6:30 p. "you get lost. Mexicans use a lot of double meanings. they come descending.." The center was built with Mexican stone and boasted touches like a swap meet with a facade designed after the colonial-era governor's mansion in Guadalajara and a shrine for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Arirang. The consul generals of Mexico and Korea gave speeches. the young Korean Mexicans looked on with mouths slightly agape as the teenage Korean girls used wooden sticks to rapidly beat elevated drums. the youths jumped into the Mexican song they had decided to sing: "Cielito Lindo. he could tell they were surprised he spoke Spanish fluently." Chae said.m. Dressed in their mix-and-match outfits. Arirang." Plaza Mexico." From the brown Sierras. Heavenly one. Chae tells people that. . They use a lot of doble sentidos (double entendres). The song describing a woman. He in turn was struck by how strongly their identity was rooted. Then the 20 Korean Mexicans took the stage. The audience smiled and clapped." "I am a Korean American Mexican. Then a Mexican folkloric group and a Korean dance troupe took turns on the stage. Four of the Korean Mexicans performed a tea ceremony as Hyun Kim led them with hand signals. the spectators had taken their seats." But he said it was important that they learn about the other culture that informed their lives and those of their ancestors. which opened in 2002. "I don't speak Spanish. "We didn't even know there was a Koreatown.
. because you're a Korean descendant. "You feel a sensation of pride. paisano!" hector. . . Waving his hand.com . Lee cried out: "Hey. . . . and that I didn't know of things like this as a child." As he walked away. . it makes me a little sad. as if they knew full well who they were." he said in Spanish. "I see them dance so beautifully. ran over to Kim so they could all take a picture together. . heavenly one. just like them. It's a feeling of discovered feelings. Ay ay ay ay. Rafael Kim said he was moved most of all by the Korean girls who danced so gracefully and full of purpose.becerra@latimes. As people streamed out of the hall. a stocky middle-aged Korean American.A pair of dark eyes. Woo Jun Lee. sing and don't cry.
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