The last weekend of October, I stayed in Busan for the Fireworks Festival! It was a packed weekend, as I left for Busan straight from school Friday afternoon.
I met a fellow ETA and we made it just in time for the opening concert (otherwise known as Brilliance Concert Season 3), where we saw INSOONI!!! K.Will, Hyorin from Sistar, and Ali were also there, as well as a jazz band in between the main performers.
Here are some unfortunately fuzzy pictures:
Insooni, real name Kim In Soon, is a biracial, Afro-Korean born in 1957 to a Korean mother and American GI. She had a difficult upbringing, living in poverty and unable to finish school. Some sources say she was kicked out of school due to her skin color; others cite constant bullying and harassment as the cause. However her story is a rags-to-riches narrative, with the addition of her challenges overcoming racial discrimination. Needless to say, everyone in Korea knows her now, and as far as I’ve heard she is a popular figure, widely respected for her amazing talent.
However that isn’t all that sets her apart from your run-of-the-mill Kpop idol. Insooni is a strong advocate for multiethnic Koreans, not only bringing greater visibility to this population, but speaking out against the blatant discrimination that these minority Koreans face. With a national platform and a positive public image, she is in a ideal position to bring about positive change and makes every effort to do so. Although I have mixed feelings about this, she has even opened a multicultural school for children with multiethnic backgrounds.
I have a hard time reading accounts of biracial Koreans that paint their situation as all doom and gloom, as if any biracial Korean must be depressed and psychologically scarred from their experiences, but the reality is that growing up biracial in Korea, especially 20 or more years ago, isn’t comparable to growing up biracial in America, or even modern-day South Korea. While I’m becoming accustomed to always being seen as the foreigner (unless I can pass as Korean), I can’t imagine what it would be like to always be seen as foreign in your own home country. So with great hesitation I’ll say maybe a school for multiethnic children would be helpful for these children…but it’s in no way sustainable. Despite any good intentions, this is segregation.
It’s hard for me to tell if Korea is moving forward on this issue; I only hope and assume so. Race comes up in strange, very blatant ways. While in the US, multiracial identities seem often hidden or ignored, in Korea they are advertised. Literally. I found this in the newspaper last week:
Whenever this topic is discussed in Korea, the language is almost always “multicultural”, sometimes “multiethnic”, and never “multiracial”.
I hope that this is only an affirmative action-like stage that will enable South Korea as a country to become more open and welcoming to racial diversity among their own.
Through the efforts of high profile multiracial Koreans like Insooni and Hine Ward, programs and campaigns have been launched to support, and perhaps normalize Koreans with varied ethnic backgrounds, and I don’t dispute that they are doing important work. From my limited research and few conversations in passing, Insooni is particularly instrumental in these campaigns as she is seen as a more legitimate figurehead. She was born and raised in Korea. In the end, Ward, despite his background, is still an American citizen, who didn’t experience the same discrimination growing up. While his efforts are important, it’s more important to see people in Korea standing up for this issue.
I end this section with some Insooni: