Caring across Generations: The Linked Lives of Korean American Families

Caring across Generations: The Linked Lives of Korean American Families

Caring across Generations: The Linked Lives of Korean American Families

Caring across Generations: The Linked Lives of Korean American Families

Synopsis

More than 1.3 million Korean Americans live in the United States, the majority of them foreign-born immigrants and their children, the so-called 1.5 and second generations. While many sons and daughters of Korean immigrants outwardly conform to the stereotyped image of the upwardly mobile, highly educated super-achiever, the realities and challenges that the children of Korean immigrants face in their adult lives as their immigrant parents grow older and confront health issues that are far more complex. In Caring Across Generations, Grace J. Yoo and Barbara W. Kim explore how earlier experiences helping immigrant parents navigate American society have prepared Korean American children for negotiating and redefining the traditional gender norms, close familial relationships, and cultural practices that their parents expect them to adhere to as they reach adulthood. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 137 second and 1.5 generation Korean Americans, Yoo & Kim explore issues such as their childhood experiences, their interpreted cultural traditions and values in regards to care and respect for the elderly, their attitudes and values regarding care for aging parents, their observations of parents facing retirement and life changes, and their experiences with providing care when parents face illness or the prospects of dying. A unique study at the intersection of immigration and aging, Caring Across Generations provides a new look at the linked lives of immigrants and their families, and the struggles and triumphs that they face over many generations.

Excerpt

When we immigrated to the United States, the relationship
was more of a 180-degree type of thing. I became pretty
much the parent to my parents and my younger brother. It
meant that when we had documents to review and take care
of [it was my responsibility]. My parents were not able to do
that because their English was non-existent. I had to explain
what it was that they were signing, whether it be school doc
uments, documents from work, things like that. So the rela
tionship was more business-like, more parenting the parent
than the child that I was.

—Joel

In 1979, Joel’s parents decided to emigrate from South Korea to the United States. They were seeking better opportunities for their sons, Joel, thirteen at the time, and his younger brother, who was eleven, and they settled in Los Angeles near other Korean immigrants. Both parents were college-educated. Joel’s father had worked in Korea as a mid-level manager, and his mother had been a homemaker. After immigration, however, the family’s life changed dramatically. His father faced downward mobility and his mother needed to find work to help support the family. While she found a job as a seamstress at a local Korean immigrant-owned garment factory, he worked as a laborer at a manufacturing plant. Reproducing a pattern common for immigrants, Joel’s parents began to rely on their older son, the most fluent English speaker in the household, to interact with the dominant English-speaking American . . .

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