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Korean-American identity in the postmodern condition: Narrative accounts of the politics of identity

Myoung-Hye Kim, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study investigates Korean-American identity in the postmodern condition. Although there have been several studies on assimilation and ethnic identity, the existing body of literature is largely divided into assimilation and cultural pluralism. It seems that these existing theories of assimilation and ethnicity do not adequately capture the complex and paradoxical nature of the postmodern condition, thus fail to lend a framework in which the issue of ethnic identity is properly examined. The postmodern perspective that this study employs is not a theory of ethnicity per se, but it renders many useful insights into ethnic identity. Postmodernism recognizes the paradoxical co-existence of "surface homogenization" and the search for deeply rooted ethnicity. Using postmodern argument, this study avoids the modernistic accounts of ethnicity which have a tendency to reduce it to mere binary oppositions of assimilation and nativism. This study offers the findings from the narratives of the second and 1.5 generation Korean-Americans as the following: (1) Korean-Americans are aware that they are not fully accepted as American, and they are often viewed together with other Asian-Americans. (2) Their connection to American history is rather weak due to Koreans' short immigration history. (3) They assert that they have both Korean and American elements in their identity neither of which they can deny. This study calls this pastiched identity. (4) However, others (whites, other Koreans) have difficulty accepting pastiched identity. They tend to reduce it to either Korean or American which makes them doubly marginalized. (5) Thus, Korean-Americans need to challenge the governing meta-narratives in America by asserting their difference and sameness simultaneously. (6) But at the same time, they need to invent a collective voice in American cultural politics and to share their stories to establish a "community of memory" for future generations.

Subject Area

Communication|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Kim, Myoung-Hye, "Korean-American identity in the postmodern condition: Narrative accounts of the politics of identity" (1992). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9233083.