Koreans in Canada trace their ancestral origins to the land of Korea, even though a certain number may have been born or lived somewhere else before coming to this country. Historic Korea is in the centre of East Asia between China and Japan, two countries that have had a profound impact on the political and cultural evolution of Korean civilization. Geographically, Korea is a peninsula covering 219,000 square kilometres and surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the Korean Strait, and the Yellow Sea; it is bordered on the north by China and a small portion of Russia. Since World War II, the peninsula has been divided into two countries: North Korea, with slightly over half the territorial size and an estimated 21 million people (1987); and South Korea, with an estimated 42.1 million people (1989). Korea is ethnically and racially homogeneous with only a small number of other peoples within its borders living there on a temporary basis. There are, however, an estimated 5 million Koreans (1993) living in 129 countries abroad, mainly in China (1.7 million), the United States (840,000), and Japan (85,000), as well as in Central and South America, the Middle East, western Europe, other Asian countries, and Africa. The majority of Koreans in Canada have come from South Korea.
Although for most of the twentieth century Korea has either been occupied or politically divided, the country before then had a long tradition of independent statehood extending back nearly 5,000 years. The Koreans commonly trace their origins to the founding of the state of Old Chosŏn in the northwestern corner of the peninsula about 2,300 B.C.E. During the last half of the first century B.C.E., three kingdoms (Kogurygŏ, Paekche, and Silla) arose, which about 676 C.E. united under the leadership of the Kingdom of Silla. This was a period in which Buddhism was introduced from China (c. 372 C.E.) and adopted as the official religion and when, beginning in the sixth century, Confucian philosophy came to influence Korea’s government and life in general.
The outset of the tenth century was marked by civil war but during the 930s Korea was united under the Korygŏ dynasty, which was to rule for nearly 500 years. The artistic, literary, medical, and technological achievements of the previous Silla Kingdom were advanced further under Korygŏ rule. For instance, in 1240 Korea became the first country in the world to use movable cast-metal type printing, preceding by two centuries Gutenberg’s later achievement in Europe. Korea was also subjected to the Mongol invasions that started about 1231 and that exposed the country to various forms of cultural influence, known as mongolization, as well as political subordination that was to last until nearly the end of the fourteenth century.
Following the retreat of the Mongol rulers at the end of the fourteenth century, a rebellion broke out against Korygŏ rule that led to the creation of the Yi dynasty, which was to govern the country from 1392 to the outset of the twentieth century. Under the first of the Yi rulers, the capital was moved to Hanyang, now known as Seoul, which henceforth was to remain the political, economic, and cultural centre of Korea. The Yi dynasty replaced Buddhism with Confucianism as the state ideology not only for official matters but also for people’s private lives. Confucianism set out specific ethical codes that emphasized rationality and a tightly structured hierarchal society. The highest respect was accorded family elders, the monarch, and China as the older, more established country.
The peaceful order of Korea under Yi rule was disrupted by devastating invasions from the south by the Japanese in the 1590s and by China’s Manchu rulers from the north in the 1620s and 1630s. Following this experience, Korea retreated into strict isolationism and became known as the “Hermit Kingdom.” The isolationist policy was further buttressed by the cultural chauvinism of the ruling class, to whom it was inconceivable that anything of value could be learned from any foreign country other than China.
Korea’s self-imposed isolation was to be challenged in the nineteenth century. British, French, Russian, and American ships landed at various times but were rebuffed by the Koreans. Finally, in 1876, Korea’s first foreign trade treaty was made with Japan, followed by the United States in 1882 and several European countries shortly thereafter. Before long, Korea was to become caught up in the larger struggle among its neighbours for control of all of East Asia. Japan invaded Korea following its defeat of China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95); then, in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), which marked another Japanese victory, and the intervention of U.S. diplomacy, Korea was forced into becoming a protectorate of Japan. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea outright and was to rule the country as a colony for the next thirty-six years.
As part of Japan, Korea’s economy was transformed, with the introduction of modern agricultural practices in the south and industrialization in the northern part of the country. At the same time, Japan set out to eradicate the Korean national identity. Large-scale protests that occurred in 1919 were brutally repressed, leaving an estimated 7,000 protestors killed or wounded and another 47,000 arrested. Subsequently, Koreans were ordered to adopt Japanese names, to use only the Japanese language in schools, and to replace their native religions with Shintoism, the national religion of Japan. Koreans clung tenaciously to their traditions, however, and very few remnants of Japanese rule remained after its defeat. Discontent with Japanese rule also led to the emigration of thousands of Koreans to China (Manchuria and Shanghai), to Soviet Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok, and to the United States (including Hawaii).
It was among the immigrant communities abroad that a movement for Korean independence began in the 1910s and 1920s. The movement was continued by underground guerrilla forces active at home during World War II, when Japan was fighting on the side of Nazi Germany against the Allies. Among the nationalist activists at that time was Syngman Rhee, residing in the United States, who later became the first president of South Korea, and Kim Il Sung, head of a guerilla unit in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo (Manchuria), who later became the first president of North Korea.
During World War II, Korean nationalists abroad established a provisional government and an army that fought alongside the Allies in the Pacific theatre. When Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, Koreans welcomed the opportunity to restore an independent state, but they soon found themselves under the control of the Soviet military in the northern part of the country and the American military in the south. Korea had effectively become divided along the 38th parallel. In their respective zones, the two wartime Allies set up provisional governments that in 1948 became the pro-Western Republic of Korea in the south and the pro-Communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north. Discussions about unifying the country foundered with the onset of the Cold War and disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Backed by Communist China and the Soviet Union, the forces of North Korea launched an attack on South Korea in the summer of 1950, setting off a three-year struggle known as the Korean War. A coalition force under United Nations auspices and led by the United States came to the aid of South Korea. When a truce was finally signed in July 1953, Korea still remained divided but the country was devastated. An estimated four million soldiers were killed or wounded and approximately one million civilians died as a result of the conflict.
Both North and South Korea were quickly able to rebuild their economies. The industrialized north restored its pre-war production levels within three years through the adoption of a Communist-style centralized command economy with significant assistance from the former Soviet Union. The traditionally agricultural south evolved into an industrial society linked to the West and, by the 1980s, had become one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of automobiles and other advanced technological products.
In recent years North Korea has not been able to match the enormous economic growth of the south. By the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the north’s Gross Domestic Product had slipped to one-eighth the level of South Korea. Rigid political and economic policies have only worsened the economic status of North Korea and contributed to ongoing political alienation from South Korea. There have been periodical efforts at normalizing relations between the two parts of the country, but these have not been successful and both countries remain technically in a state of war. Nevertheless, all Koreans – north, south, and abroad – continue, despite their political and geographical differences, to share a common belief that they are one people who someday must be once again united in a single state.
An important aspect contributing to a sense of Korean unity has been a common culture and language. The Korean language belongs to the Ural-Altaic language group which also includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Japanese. Until the creation of their own script (Han’ gŭl) in 1443, Koreans borrowed Chinese characters for their tones and/or meanings, known as hyangchal and idu.
The Korean religious heritage is much more complex. Over the centuries, Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism were combined to form the Korean belief system. Later, Roman Catholicism in the sixteenth century and Protestantism in the nineteenth century were introduced by Europeans and accepted by a certain number of Korean converts. Since World War II, North Korea has been an officially atheistic country whose regime frowns on religious belief and practice. In South Korea (1994), where all religions are tolerated, the population is 40 percent Buddhist, 27 percent Christian (nearly fourth-fifths Protestant, the rest Roman Catholic), and 15 percent Confucian. Data on Shamanism is difficult to determine because of its lack of organizational structures, but shamanistic rituals take place throughout Korea and are a part of most people’s lives regardless of what other religion they may practise.
Koreans first began to emigrate abroad in 1863, when thirteen farming households settled in the Posyeta region of what was then imperial Russia. Around the same time, Koreans also penetrated Kando in Manchuria. The emigrants of this period were looking for better farm land rather than improved political conditions. After 1905, however, the motivation changed from farming to patriotism in response to Japanese interference in Korea’s internal affairs. Because of Japanese pressure, emigration to Hawaii, which had started in 1903, was ended two years later. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910, a large number of its citizens became refugees and were forced to flee to Russia or Manchuria. Under Japanese rule, Korean farmers were subsequently compelled to work as labourers in Japan, and during World War II many more individuals were conscripted for that country’s mines and war industries. It was also during the Japanese era that the first Koreans came to Canada as students (mid-1910s) supported by Christian missionary scholarships. Most returned home after completing their studies.
Massive migration took place during the Korean War, when two million people migrated from North to South Korea. Since then, emigration to such countries as Canada and the United States has been possible for South Koreans since the war, but the north maintains no official diplomatic relationships with these countries so that movement from that region is still not possible. In the 1950s Koreans were looking for political stability at home, and those who left sought primarily to escape the terror-filled atmosphere that characterized the peninsula during the Cold War. The circumstances triggering migration underwent a significant change in the 1960s, when the government of South Korea officially encouraged an exodus to Canada, the United States, Brazil, and other countries. Several hundred young men and women went to West Germany as miners and nurses in 1962. The following year the first group of ninety-one immigrants arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, and the movement to the United States began in 1965. During this decade, Koreans also began to settle in Canada, largely because information about the country had been disseminated by Canadian missionaries working in Korea. In fact, missionaries had begun helping individuals to come to this country as students even before the 1960s.
Koreans have always emigrated in the hope of achieving a better life. Individuals intending to establish permanent residence in Canada had arrived before the 1960s, and two such persons were particularly prominent in the history of Korean immigration to this country. The first was Tae-ygŏn Hwang, a medical doctor who arrived in Canada in 1948 and worked first as an intern at Lamont Hospital in Alberta. After his internship, he settled in Blind River, Ontario, where he practised medicine from 1958 to 1978. Early in the 1960s, he bought an eighty-hectare piece of land near Sault Ste Marie and established a poultry ranch called the Parkinson Farm Co-op. Eventually, Hwang’s farm was able to sponsor individual Korean immigrants, such as Yun-gŏ Ro, who arrived in 1962.
The second prominent figure was Taek-bo Chŏn, the president of Seoul’s Chŏnusa Company, who also encouraged Koreans to emigrate to Canada. In 1964 he met with C.M. Isbister, then the deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Isbister sent him a letter endorsing Korean immigration to Canada, thus formally opening the country to regular settlers. The fact that it had begun so late was a result of policy introduced by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1947 that was used to exclude Asian immigrants until the early 1960s. Under the administration of Lester Pearson in 1966, Canada’s immigration policy was changed from one that emphasized racial criteria to one that focused on the country’s economic needs. A result was that more non-Europeans were able to settle in Canada.
Until investment immigrants were allowed to enter in the 1980s, Koreans either came independently or were assisted by relatives who had already established themselves in this country. These newcomers sought to adapt rapidly to the new society. The fact that Koreans for the most part have always been voluntary emigrants helps to explain why they have been so willing to assimilate to the culture of the host country. Despite such good intentions, however, many Koreans have had difficulties in adapting because of their lack of knowledge of either of the official languages.
According to Statistics Canada, 93 Koreans immigrated to this country in 1965, 138 and 620 in the following two years, and 1,119 and 6,347 in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Three years later some 12,686 Koreans (or 4,075 households) were living in Canada; 8,560 had settled in Ontario, 620 in Quebec, 88 in New Brunswick, 91 in Nova Scotia, 41 in Newfoundland, 1,670 in British Columbia, 80 in Saskatchewan, 1,190 in Alberta, and 346 in Manitoba. In addition to those who came directly from Korea, immigrants also arrived from other countries such as West Germany, from South America starting in the 1960s, and from Vietnam after the war in that country. Because such newcomers were the result of a second-stage migration, it has been difficult to gather verifiable data on them.
The 1991 census reported that 45,890 Koreans (single and multiple responses combined) lived in Canada, as opposed to the 29,705 individuals counted five years earlier, indicating that the population had grown by 54 percent in that period. In the case of Ontario, the census recorded 18,425 residents with some Korean ancestry in 1986 and 27,550 five years later, an increase of approximately 50 percent. Admittedly, these counts are only a rough estimate. The difference between the census figures and the actual number of Canadians of Korean origin is significant because of several factors. These include a lack of participation in the census by new immigrants, a mistrust of government bureaucracy in general, and the large number of transients forced to wander from place to place in search of work. A more realistic estimate of the number of Koreans in Canada in the mid-1990s would be 70,000, a figure calculated from a variety of community sources. Over half the population (or 40,000 individuals) reside in Ontario, followed by 20,000 in British Columbia; the remainder are scattered throughout the other provinces. More than half those in Ontario are to be found in metropolitan Toronto. The principal reasons are the city’s multilingual and multicultural society and the possibility of finding a job in the large Korean community.
A survey of the group in Toronto in 1990 showed that 27 percent of the respondents had lived in Canada for more than sixteen years and 27 percent for between thirteen and fifteen years. Most (75 percent) were from Seoul, with only 11 percent having come from small towns or the countryside. Some 81 percent had relatives in Canada and 58 percent had received help from their kin, an indication that most Korean immigrants to Canada still fell within the family-related category and that traditional ties have been maintained in the new homeland. A large number (42 percent) of the survey’s respondents had come to Canada between the ages of twenty-six and thirty-five, with sixteen- to twenty-six-year-olds being the next largest group (26 percent).
In Quebec regular immigration started only in the early 1970s. The province’s Korean population by the mid-1990s numbered about four thousand individuals, and 40 percent of these had arrived since 1986. These data reflect the fact that many Korean entrepreneurs were lured to Quebec after the provincial government began encouraging the immigration of investors in that year. More than half the Koreans in the province were economic immigrants, and only 20 percent were family-class arrivals. Koreans appear to have had greater difficulty achieving socio-cultural integration in Quebec than in English-speaking Canada. Some 80 percent of those surveyed in 1990 acknowledged that they had trouble conducting their businesses because of their lack of facility in the French language, and 88 percent of the province’s Korean high school students favoured English-language institutions of higher education as compared with only 12 percent for French-language institutions. The political instability caused by the Parti Québécois’s campaign for independence, coupled with language difficulties, caused a sizable number of Korean immigrants to leave the province in the early 1990s and migrate elsewhere, primarily to Vancouver or Toronto.
In the mid-1960s there were only about a hundred Koreans in Toronto. Thirty years later, forty thousand lived in Ontario, the majority in the metropolitan Toronto area. In that city there even developed a commercial area known as Korea Town, located along Bloor Street between Bathurst and Christie. According to the yellow pages of the Korean Business Directory of Ontario (1993– 94), members of the community have established businesses in 188 different categories in the province, accounting for 1,142 enterprises. They own real estate companies, restaurants, Korean-language schools, dry-cleaning shops, grocery and convenience stores, beauty parlours and barber shops, and service stations. Economic success in small business, with as little government interference as possible, has been the primary goal of many immigrants. By 1993 there were 3,323 Korean entrepreneurs in Canada: 2,003 in Ontario, 512 in British Columbia, 400 in Quebec, 330 in Alberta, and 78 in Manitoba. In Quebec 74 percent of the community were owners of small businesses, with 60 percent of these being involved in corner stores or other retail outlets.
These businesses are usually family concerns. Once an enterprise is started, the entire family will work to maintain it. The operation of a convenience store averages more than twelve hours a day, and such shops are open every day of the year. As one immigrant poet has suggested, storekeepers see the stars twice a day; they open their businesses before dawn and do not close them until long after nightfall. Despite this hard work, an economic recession in the 1990s, the legalization of Sunday shopping in some provinces, and the expansion of the underground economy have destroyed many immigrants’ dreams. Some Koreans are economically trapped by their stores and, more serious, physically endangered by the ever-increasing threat of robbery. Convenience-store burglaries have resulted in the death of the store owner on a number of occasions. Recent statistics show that economic and social insecurity, as well as the sudden growth of the economic sector in the home country, resulted in 398 out of 3,407 immigrants returning to Korea in 1992.
Korean small-business people, who were often professionals in the homeland, are characterized by a high level of education. Overworked, they gain little financial return. There is a tendency for families and friends to pool the money needed to buy such operations, the profits of which are used to establish another business for friends or other family members. Despite such dedication, Korean small businesses, especially convenience stores, face a bleak future because of their owners’ unhappiness in the face of the social and economic challenges confronting them. In Quebec in the mid-1990s, 74 percent of all Korean entrepreneurs were dissatisfied with their businesses, and 95 percent did not want their children to take over those enterprises. Some agencies of the Korean government and community leaders in Canada have tried to rectify the situation by holding seminars or conferences to exchange business information. They have also begun founding self-help institutions such as the Business Academy for Korean Immigrants, started in Toronto in 1993. In addition to the ubiquitous convenience stores, a number of other businesses are run by Koreans, including several bookstores and farms. In Toronto there are three Korean banks – Korea Exchange, Chohung, and Hanil – branches of a number of companies such as Hy gung,
undae and Sams gand three Korean credit unions. Vancouver claims the second-highest Korean population in Canada (an estimated 17,000), and members of that community are involved in various businesses, including convenience stores and motels. There are also two Korean banks and one credit union. The city has seen a growth in its Korean population since 1993, when Canada and Korea signed a visa-exemption agreement that made travel between the two countries more convenient. Because of its geographical closeness to Korea, Vancouver has had more visitors from that country, and in 1994 alone there were about 2,700 programs for trainees in English as a second language. In both cities, as well as in other parts of the country, Korean Canadians work as family physicians and medical specialists, dentists, lawyers, and college and university teachers.
Wherever Koreans migrate, they tend to found haninhoe (Korean community associations), whether or not they intend to settle permanently in the host country. As of 1993, there were seventeen such organizations in Canada. The oldest was founded in Ottawa in 1964 and the most recent in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1991 and in Jasper, Alberta, the following year. Among the largest and most active are those in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Korean community associations generally sponsor cultural activities during such events as Caravan in Toronto, Folklorama in Winnipeg, the Heritage Festival in Edmonton, and the Asian Music Festival in Vancouver. They also hold sports programs in order to encourage fellowship among immigrants and promote the celebration of Korean national holidays, including Independence Day on 15 August. In addition to these local institutions, there is the Federation of Korean Associations in Canada. This organization was established in 1979 and sponsors major events such as Korean Heritage Day on 3 October, the traditional founding day of Korea.
Korean immigrants also tend to congregate in other types of associations in order to share information and support one another in the new country. There are a number of tongchanghoe, or alumni associations, for school and college graduates and hyanguhoe (associations based on regions in the homeland) in Toronto. Other associations or clubs bring together people with common interests. Honourary, or fictive, kinships have emerged as one of the most vital institutions in the immigrant community for the maintenance of its cultural heritage. For example, among graduates of a particular academic institution, an earlier or later graduation date establishes a relationship as an older or younger brother. Senior alumni exercise authority over their juniors, who in turn respect the elders. Classmates and schoolfellows must look after each other when one of them is in need. To act otherwise would be contrary to moral behaviour and the proper order of things. Thus, traditional Asian patterns such as group orientation coexist within a society that emphasizes individualism.
Koreans have generally arrived in Canada with a high level of education. A random survey conducted in 1990 among 858 residents of Korean background in Toronto revealed that 33 percent were high school graduates, 13 percent had two years of college, and 39 percent had university degrees. Most of the immigrants questioned (81 percent) had no experience of Canadian education, but 7.5 percent had attended university, 8.6 percent college, and 2.9 percent high school in this country. Among the respondents to this survey, 81 percent of the males and 68 percent of the females were employed or self-employed; the average individual income was between $30,000 and $45,000. The study also showed that for the majority of Korean immigrants (72 percent), the motivation for emigrating was to ensure better instruction for their children.
Korean-Canadian parents are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children’s education and put every effort into assuring that they reach the highest level possible. They do not expect them to continue in the family business but instead want them to join the professional workforce. Of all the ethnic groups in Toronto, Koreans have the greatest ratio of students in post-secondary education.
The vast majority of Korean immigrants to Canada have been Christians because that faith has been second to Buddhism as Korea’s dominant religion. Statistics from 1993 show that among Toronto’s Koreans, 66 percent are Protestant (largely United Church and Presbyterian), 16 percent Roman Catholic, and 4 percent Buddhist, while 14 percent professed no religion. The stress of adapting to a new society appears to have made some new immigrants into churchgoers. Whether or not they had been Christians in Korea, they usually became members of congregations upon their arrival in Canada. Not only could they find comfort among people who spoke the same language, but they were also able to make vital connections, since the churches functioned as information centres. No data are available to explain why so few members of the majority religion of the homeland, Buddhism, remain adherents in the new country, but the phenomenon appears to illustrate the rapid acculturation of Korean immigrants in general.
The first Korean church in Canada was established in 1965 in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church on Jeanne-Mance Street in Montreal, when the Reverend Isim Ro preached a sermon to a congregation of twenty-three members. Two years later, the community in Toronto founded its own church in St Luke’s United Church on Sherbourne Street. About sixty Koreans attended the inaugural service. Roman Catholics observed their first Mass at the Catholic Information Centre in Toronto in 1968. Surveys conducted in 1975 reveal much about the development of religious institutions in the Korean community in Canada. By that year thirteen Protestant churches and one Roman Catholic institution had been established in Toronto to serve a community of some 8,560. Since then the number of Protestant churches has mushroomed. As of 1995, the 40,000 Koreans in the Toronto area supported about 150 Protestant (largely Presbyterian) and two Roman Catholic churches, as well as four Buddhist temples and thirteen other religious organizations, such as kidowon (prayer houses).
In Montreal in 1975 there was one Korean Presbyterian church to serve the province’s 602 immigrants. Eighteen years later, the number of churches had increased to nine, one of which was Roman Catholic. In Vancouver three Protestant churches and one Roman Catholic institution ministered to 1,592 Korean residents in 1975; by the early 1990s there were thirty-four Protestant (primarily Presbyterian) churches, one Roman Catholic place of worship, and a Buddhist temple. By that time there were over two hundred Korean ministers in the Toronto area alone, many of them unemployed. As a result, there has been strong competition among ministers and members of individual congregations to attract new members. Recent immigrants are particularly sought after.
Korean Christians take their faith and their stewardship responsibilities seriously. Those who immigrated to Canada have found themselves relegated to a minority status with no real standing in Canadian society, an experience that has been highly traumatic for many who belonged to the upper classes in the homeland. Recognition of class status has been obtainable only within the structure of their own churches. As a result, an undercurrent of class difference among congregation members has exerted a powerful influence over both the church and the lives of the people themselves. Moreover, maintaining the younger generation’s involvement in church affairs has been crucial, since the churches are practically the only places where traditional Korean values and those of the new Canadian society can coexist under one roof.
While churches provide guidance for newcomers, they also tend to promote ethnic homogeneity, thus isolating the Korean community from the larger society. The ritual activities of the religious institutions – Protestant and Catholic churches and Buddhist temples – are characterized by the lifestyle of the homeland and the use of the Korean language, thus creating a cultural ghetto for their members. The attitude of ministers towards adopting the culture of the host country and serving second-generation Korean Canadians has also created problems. Many of these individuals were educated in Korea a number of years ago, and some may not have received any formal theological training.
Korea is an homogeneous society, having developed within a single cultural system with little outside contact except during the Japanese occupation. Confucianism has powerfully influenced the country’s lifestyle in terms of both behavioral norms and social attitudes. In traditional Korean society, seniors and parents were highly respected, and the young were taught to obey their parents, honour their elders, and protect the family name. Modern Korean cultural values and social structures are still based on the vertical, hierarchical model derived from Confucianism.
Canada, on the other hand, is a culturally diverse country in terms of the languages, religions, and lifestyles of its citizens. It encourages immigrants to retain their cultural heritage while participating in a common Canadian culture. Society is organized on an egalitarian, or horizontal, model, however – the very antithesis of the traditional Korean way of life. Thus, when Koreans immigrate to Canada, they are forced to cope with a radically different value system. They are confronted by the fact that in a capitalist-materialist society, human beings are judged largely by how much money they make, rather than by who they are or where they came from. The traditional Korean values of respect for elders, obedience to parents, and relations between husband and wife are disrupted.
As a result, though the 1991 census revealed that the Koreans had the highest rate (96 percent) of endogamy among Asian groups in Canada, there has been pronounced conflict between members of the first and second generations. The older members are still bound by a closed Confucian ideology, but the young people have grown up in a more open society. The coexistence of these two opposing views has proved very difficult. For the young, a Confucian value such as respect for one’s elders seems to have little or no significance in an egalitarian and individualistic milieu. One sad outcome is that many older Korean immigrants have no existence except as housebound domestics or babysitters. When their grandchildren grow up, these individuals are no longer needed and spend the rest of their lives in nursing homes, where they face cultural differences, language problems, and alienation from their families. Given the increasing numbers of elderly people in the Korean immigrant community, the establishment of nursing homes and the provision of care for older members is an emerging concern among community leaders.
One solution to this problem was implemented in 1992 by the Calvary Korean Presbyterian Church when it built a 100-unit nursing home called Calvary House attached to church premises in Markham, north of Toronto, a project that received financial assistance from the federal government. As of the mid-1990s, thirty Korean residents shared the home with elderly people from other ethnic backgrounds. Another such project was under way in Toronto. In 1981 a non-profit organization, the Korean Nursing Home Development Association, was organized to provide similar facilities in the city.
Another problem arises from the influx of unsupervised young people from wealthy South Korean families to study in major Canadian cities such as Toronto. These students, often just out of high school, tend to receive substantial financial support from their families but arrive without adequate guidance or knowledge about the country in which they will be living. Faced with many problems, particularly those created by linguistic and cultural differences, they develop excessive, often self-destructive, lifestyles. The established community in Canada has become increasingly concerned about this issue. In Toronto, existing service-oriented community centres, such as hanin pongsahoe (Korean social service and information), have expanded their programs to include these troubled young adults. The centre helps them by providing various types of counselling, translation services, and general information.
It is not unusual for immigrants to be caught in social discord and cultural conflict. When such upheaval disrupts the family unit, however, it is seen by Koreans as endangering the entire community. Friction between those espousing the traditional Confucian relationship between husband and wife and individuals who have adopted the more egalitarian Western model has surfaced as a third serious social problem in Canada’s Korean community. Divorce and wife abuse seem to be on the rise. Community leaders have been informed by counsellors from both the Toronto-based Korean-Canadian Women’s Association and the Korean-Canadian Family Ministry that the situation is serious and getting worse. In Toronto alone, six Korean women committed suicide between 1987 and 1993 because they were not able to cope with abuse by their husbands.
Counsellors have theorized that worsening economic conditions and the inability of Korean husbands to act as all-powerful patriarchs have led such men to make their wives the victims of their anger. Women who have access to well-paying jobs are increasingly refusing to take on the traditional role of subordinate wife. For most Korean males, the ideal spouse is obedient, feminine, and devoted to home-making, as prescribed by traditional Confucian teachings. Thus, marriage with a woman from “the old country” still has appeal. Such unions, referred to as sopo kyŏlhon (parcel marriages), have become a modern version of the picture brides of early Korean immigrants to Hawaii. In Canada’s egalitarian society, however, they usually end in divorce. Imported brides (and, rarely, grooms) are confronted not only with the high expectations of a total stranger but also with the difficult process of adapting to a very different society.
The Korean-Canadian community has been split by dissension over political affairs in the homeland. Immigrants remained somewhat detached from the independence movement during the period of Japanese occupation, but after the liberation of Korea, ideological differences caused factionalism and even personal antagonism among community members. Koreans in Canada voiced strong support for bringing democracy to the home country, however, and sent emphatic statements of opposition to the military regime that ruled South Korea from the 1960s onward. One example of such activity was the minjukŏnsŏl wiwŏnhoe (Council for Democracy in Korea) in Toronto, founded by Chaerin Moon in 1974. This organization demonstrated its determination to fight for democracy by holding conferences, prayer meetings, demonstrations, and fund-raising events in support of anti-government movements in the homeland.
With the establishment of a new and relatively democratic civilian government in 1993, groups such as the Council for Democracy in Korea began to lose their raison d’être and became inactive. Recently, a Korea-based organization, the minjupyŏnghwa tongil chamunhoeŭi (Advisory Council on Democracy and Peaceful Unification of Korea), established a branch in Canada to help to bring about the peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula. Another group, the haeoedongpo isangajok chatgihoe (Organization for the Reunification of Separated Korean Families), founded by Choong-lim Chŏ n in Toronto in 1978, has enjoyed a good deal of success. Since it was established, the association has helped more than 5,000 people to locate family members in North Korea, and over 7,000 individuals have made trips to that country to meet relatives.
Given its comparatively short history and small numbers, the Korean community has not been very active in Canadian politics. Since the late 1980s, however, individuals in Ontario have started to show an interest in participating. In 1986 Toronto-based Koreans founded their own political group, the Ontario Korean Liberal Association, under the leadership of Bryan Byŏng-kuon Kim. This organization’s objective is to encourage second-generation Korean Canadians to get involved in politics. By the mid-1990s its official membership had reached about 350, 7 percent of whom were from the second generation. The association has encouraged other minorities such as the Chinese, African Canadians, South Asians, and Filipinos to form their own political groups. They have joined together to establish the Federation of Ontario Liberal Satellites, an organization dedicated to informing ethnic minority groups about Canadian politics. In 1987 the Korean Advisory Party to the Ontario New Democratic Party was founded by Kyung-bok Lee. Four years earlier two Koreans in Ontario, Raymond Sung-joon Cho of Toronto and Youngchil Lee of Grimsby, were elected to municipal office; the former was re-elected to the Toronto City Council in 1997. In the federal election of 1993, a Korean Canadian, Kwang-yŏl Paik, ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in Vancouver.
Korean immigrants have responded with some enthusiasm to Canada’s policy of multiculturalism, participating in various activities as a way of becoming part of Canadian society. They regularly display traditional costumes, food, arts, and dances at many cultural festivals such as Caravan in Toronto and observe Korean Heritage Day by staging cultural events for the general public. A number of literary and other cultural organizations are supported by Korean immigrants; most of these nationwide organizations are based in Toronto. The Korean-Canadian Pen Club was founded in 1977 and has about forty members spread across Canada. It holds an annual literary contest and organizes conferences and seminars. The members publish their own work and anthologies such as Saeul (New Boundary; 1977), Iminmunhak (Immigrant Literature; 1979), and Imindosi (Immigrant City; 1980). There is also a second-generation literary group known as the Kurâ mdari (Bridge of Clouds). Two Korean musical ensembles are based in Toronto: the Toronto Korean Canadian Choir, founded by Jae-hun Pak in 1979, and the Korean-Canadian Symphony Orchestra, begun by Sng-sun Kim the following year. Both present annual concerts.
In 1986 the haninhakkyo hyŏpuihoe (Korean-Canadian Schools Association), headed by Jong-kyŏng Lee, was founded in Toronto to promote the teaching of the Korean heritage and language to second-generation Canadians, to improve the quality of instruction, and to exchange materials and information among Korean-language teachers. Classes are held for children at the churches established wherever Koreans live. As of 1994, sixty-two heritage language schools were registered across the country. The association holds annual contests in dance, speech, and essay-writing for children enrolled in heritage language programs.
A few Korean-Canadian artists have become well known, among them Yŏn-tak Chang in sculpture, Boo-nam Pak (under the professional of Sŏk Kang), who has created a unique style combining the eastern medium of ink with western drawing techniques, and Young-ju Pak, who teaches Asian art and calligraphy. A theatre group called All, founded in Toronto by Chang-sŏng Lee in 1982, is made up of first-generation Korean Canadians, and there is also a second-generation acting troupe. These two groups join together to perform theatrical works on an ad hoc basis. In 1994 Sandra Oh received a Genie award as best actress in Canadian film. Sally Lee is a playwright and is also involved in making films.
The work of journalists is vital to immigrant life, and their output provides signposts for the community in various ways. The first Korean immigrant paper was Hanka Jubo (Korean Canada Times; Toronto, 1971–72), founded by Tae-hun Chung. Other newspapers have included: Young-rin Yu’s Korea Journal (Toronto, 1972– ); Myong-kyu Kim’s Canada News (Toronto, 1975–84), which merged with Han’guk Ilbo (Korea Times Daily; Toronto, 1984– ); Choong-lim Chun’s New Korea Times (Toronto, 1979– ); Chul-lo Chong’s Minjung Shinmoon (Toronto, 1979–92), Tong-A Ilbo (Toronto, 1984–91); Hyo Kim’s Jung Ang Ilbo (Korea Central Daily; Toronto, 1992– ). Won-dong Kim publishes a monthly magazine, Hab’guk In (Korean People; Toronto, 1988– ); another of his ventures, a weekly religious newspaper, the Korean Christian Journal, began publication in 1993 and in 1997 was renamed the Korea News.
Second-generation Korean Canadians, such as Ben Chin with City TV, Monica Kim on the Global Television Network, and Sŏn-kyung Yi at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, all based in Toronto, have been involved in journalism. In May 1970 the Toronto Korean United Church started a radio program called Voice of Hope to provide both secular information and religious inspiration. Later, the Toronto Korean Presbyterian Church launched a television series titled Word of Life. Neither programs lasted long, however. In areas where there are large numbers of Koreans residents, both television and radio broadcasts are available in the Korean language. One radio station, Han’guk pangsongguk (Korean Community Radio) in Toronto, is on the air for fifteen hours a day.
Korean-studies programs have been established in Canada, as they have in other parts of the world. Such universities as McGill, Toronto, Guelph, Carleton, Alberta, and British Columbia have all started such instruction with substantial financial support from local communities. The first course on Korean culture taught in Canada, entitled Religion in Korean Society, was offered during the 1971–72 academic year by Ross H. McDonald of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Building upon this initiative, Chai-shin Yu in 1977 laid the foundation for a Korean-studies program at the University of Toronto and, by the mid-1990s, about 350 students were enrolled in it. The city’s Korean community established an organization called the Han’gukhakkwa Huwŏnchaedan (Foundation for the Support of Korean Studies at the University of Toronto) in 1979, and it has helped to sustain the program since its inception.
The hanin changhak chaedan (Korean-Canadian Scholarship Foundation) was founded in Toronto in 1977 by Taek-soon Yoon to provide scholarships to both Korean and non-Korean Canadians studying in Canada or the United States. Special grants are made to physically handicapped students and those considered particularly gifted. An organization known as CARAKA (Canadian Association for the Recognition and Appreciation of Korean Arts) was formed in 1984 by Tae-yŏn Hwang to promote Canadian appreciation of Korean art and provide for its display at the Royal Ontario Museum. The membership of this group consists of former Canadian missionaries to Korea and Korean Canadians primarily from the Toronto area.
Korean immigrants come to Canada with an ethic of hard work and a desire to provide their children with a better future through education. They are a religiously oriented people, and even if they have not professed their faith, they have a strong desire to be included in religious groups. Culturally, they are bound by strong family or kinship ties, a factor in their ability to survive in a new social environment. They have been successful because, although they have been separated from the culture of the homeland, they have actively sought to maintain their heritage while participating in Canada’s multicultural society. One of the principal ways of doing so has been to encourage pride for their ethnic background in their children through Korean-language programs and the support of Korean studies at the university level.
A brief and entertaining overview of Korean history, including many colour illustrations, is A Handbook of Korea (Seoul, 1990). For a more detailed, academic work, one may turn to Ki-baik Lee, A New History of Korea (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), while Donald Macdonald, The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society (Boulder, Colo., 1988), is useful for contemporary Korean politics and society, particularly in North Korea. Macdonald also considers the problem of Korean reunification.
Since Korean immigration to Canada is relatively recent, not much has been written about it. Jung-gun Kim’s “‘To God’s Country’: Canadian Missionaries in Korea and the Beginning of Korean Migration to Canada” (D.Ed. thesis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1982) chronicles how Canadian missionaries in Korea began to send Korean students to Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. It describes how these “visa students” decided to remain, in Kim’s words, in “God’s country,” thus beginning the story of Korean immigration to Canada. Jung G. Kim, “How Koreans Came to Call Toronto Their Home,” Polyphony: The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, vol.6, no.1 (1984), 176–80, is a briefer study of Korean settlement in Toronto.
A Korean version of “Korean Immigrant History in Canada,” by Chai-shin Yu and Young-sik Yoo, is available in Saegesokui Han’gukmunhwa (Korean Culture in the Globe; Seoul, 1991). This work covers the history of migration, religion, and the cultural activities of Koreans in Canada. A brief history of the group in Canada, including its cultural activities and religious life, by Young-sik Yoo is also available in “Korean Culture in Canada,” in Han’guk Minjok Munhwa Taepaekkwasajon (The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture), vol.22 (Seoul, 1993), 830–31. Information about cultural activities, the maintenance of heritage language, the economic and religious life, and the Korean studies program at the University of Toronto are contained in Chai-shin Yu’s article, “Koreans in Canada/in Toronto,” in Korea-Canada in Emerging Asia-Pacific Community, edited by Dalchoog Kim and Myungsoon Shin (Seoul, 1988), 131–49.
Joseph Chung and Seong-sook Yim, Initiation á la société québécoise pour un immigrant (Montreal, 1993), was originally compiled to provide information to Korean newcomers about Canadian life and it also supplies meticulously researched data on the life of Korean immigrants in Montreal. A few works are available for those who are interested in acculturation and sociological assessments of Korean Canadians, including Uichl Kim, “Acculturation of Korean Immigrants to Canada” (Ph.D. thesis, Queen’s University, 1988), and his article, “Acculturation Attitudes of Korean Immigrants in Toronto,” in From a Different Perspective: Studies of Behaviour Across Cultures, edited by Isabel Reyes Lagunes and Ype H. Poortinga (Lisse, Netherlands, 1985), 93–108. These studies examine the attitudes of Korean immigrants, who originated in a society where cultural values and the social structure were based on the Confucian model, and how they adjusted to Canadian conditions.
Information about the differential patterns for immigrant children and their parents regarding the speed and patterns of assimilation, the factors influencing the parent-child relationship, and its consequent impact on the children can be found in Bo Kyung Kim, “Attitudes, Parental Identification, and Locus of Control of Korean, New Korean-Canadian, and Canadian Adolescents,” in Visible Minorities and Multiculturalism: Asians in Canada, edited by K. Victor Ujimoto and Gordon Hirabayashi (Toronto, 1980), 219–42). A University of Western Ontario team headed by Samuel Noh has produced a series of articles on the mental health of Korean immigrants to Canada. One of these is “Depression in Korean Immigrants in Canada,” in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol.180, no.9 (1992), 573–82.
Some useful archival research materials are housed in the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (Toronto) and described in “Korean Collection,” in A Guide to the Collections of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, compiled by Nick Forte and edited by Gabriele Scardellato (Toronto, 1992), 294–304. Much of the MHSO materials were collected under the auspices of Jung G. Kim while he was the Society’s librarian. Kim has written about one aspect of the Korean-Canadian experience in “Korean-language Press in Ontario,” Polyphony, vol.4, no.1 (Toronto, 1982), 82–6. Important research material is also available in the Korean Immigration Archives at the Han’guk Ilbo (Korea Times Daily) in Toronto.