The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 1905-1945

The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 1905-1945

The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 1905-1945

The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 1905-1945

Synopsis

In this book, Richard S. Kim examines the central role played by immigrants in the independence movement that sought to liberate Korea from Japanese colonization. Regarding Japanese rule as illegitimate, Koreans in and out of the Korean peninsula viewed themselves as a stateless people. Their independence activities had to be carried out from abroad, creating conditions for the emergence of a diasporic nationalism. Using English and Korean language sources, Kim traces how Koreans in the United States articulated visions of national sovereignty, drawing particularly on American political rhetoric and symbolism, and increasingly relied on U.S. state power to mobilize international support for their cause. Their efforts to establish an independent homeland necessitated their participation in civic and political activities in the United States, engaging in organizational activity that led to the development of an ethnic consciousness and paradoxically established them as an American ethnic group. Ultimately, Kim argues, homeland nationalism was central to the assimilation of Korean immigrants as American ethnics, even as they were denied U.S. citizenship.

Excerpt

On June 26, 1913, eleven Korean laborers arrived in the small rural town of Hemet, California. Local ranchers Joseph Simpson and William Wilson had hired the Korean men to pick apricots at their orchard during what was expected to be a record harvest season. They and their fellow ranchers were frustrated to find a shortage of available labor from the local area. According to grower estimates, over 600 laborers would be required for the harvest, but the region could supply only 350 workers. Remembering the previous year’s hardships when a large portion of their crops went unharvested due to similar labor shortages, many ranchers believed they had no choice but to hire laborers from outside areas to avoid major financial losses. Under the circumstances, Simpson and Wilson had contracted Korean laborers from nearby Riverside to pick their apricot crops.

Upon arriving in Hemet by train around midnight, the Korean workers contacted Simpson for transportation to his orchard and in the meantime they made their way to a recreation hall near the railroad station. News of the arrival of a group of “Asiatics” quickly spread throughout the small town. When they left the building, the Korean laborers suddenly found themselves surrounded by an angry mob of over 100 white men, who had been gathering in front of the recreation hall. The strong presence of Japanese tenant farmers in California agriculture had been igniting virulent anti-Asian sentiments among white workers throughout the state. In May, the California legislature, responding to the powerful anti-Japanese movement, almost unanimously passed the Alien Land Law of 1913 that prohibited Japanese, as well as other Asians, from owning land and greatly limited the length of tenure for leasing land. Consequently, anti-Asian . . .

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