Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Vulnerability, Resilience and Well-Being of Intermarriage: An Ethnographic Approach to Korean Women

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Vulnerability, Resilience and Well-Being of Intermarriage: An Ethnographic Approach to Korean Women

Article excerpt


Korean women who immigrate into the U.S. following their American husbands face a harsh reality. A new Korean wife and American husband may find themselves in unfamiliar situations that expose their marital life to vulnerability and cause their marriage to end quickly. This study endeavors to describe the diverse patterns of inequality in the marital life of select couples, and the resilience that Korean women display in their American lives after marital crises, such as divorce. The study also explores the relationship between "social factors," including financial status, familial relations, age, activities in the community, and the situation of "psychosocial well-being" among such Korean women. Through intensive interviews of Korean women who married American soldiers, the study shows that differences in culture, income, and the historical hierarchy inherent in the political/military relationship between South Korea and the U.S. are significant in explaining the social and psychological well-being of Korean women and their modes of survival and adaptation to life in American society. The cases analyzed in this study demonstrated that these women were weak and vulnerable socially as well as psychologically.

Keywords: Intermarriage, Korean women, well-being


Since the war, over 100,000 Korean women have come to the U.S. as wives of servicemen. But all are stigmatized both in Korean and American communities for having married foreigners and soldiers at that... A woman who marries to a GI and comes to the U.S. might find a whole set of different difficult circumstances after she gets here. There might be anti-immigrant sentiment, racism against her as a person of color and she might find herself without job skills that she would need to take advantage of the favored opportunity for social mobility. In the end, she might end up working in a night club, in a bar, in a massage parlor, or somewhere else in the sex trade industry in the U.S (from the documentary film "Women Outside" by Takagi and Park, 1996).

Korean women who immigrate to the United States by following their American military husbands face a harsh reality. The long process of immigration into the United States causes significant changes in cultural, social, and psychological aspects of a Korean woman's life. It involves an extensive process of adaptation requiring an intensive use of economic and social resources, in addition to great psychological and physical effort. This is true regardless of their views of the immigration process as positive or negative one. The stigma that has existed since the 1950 Korean War surrounds the interracial marriages between Korean women and U.S. servicemen. Yuh (2002) succinctly describes the stereotypical image of Korean military brides:

   [Korean military brides] exist as stereotypes at the fringes of
   consciousness. For Koreans, they are the women of questionable
   character who married American soldiers because it was their only
   escape from poverty. For Americans, they are the foreigners whom
   red-blooded American men inexplicably married, and the "mamasans"
   that operate illicit black-market business in PX and commissary
   goods or work in massage parlors. For second generation Korean
   Americans, they are the women sitting alone, without husbands,
   during church service and fellowship, the ones they ignore because
   everyone else does (p.2).

Since the 1990s when South Korean society became more democratized, there appeared a number of studies on Korean military brides to American servicemen. Feminism and gender studies take into account the tradition of Confucian patriarchy in Korean society as well as Korea's unequal political/military relations to the U.S. as the causal factors that force these Korean women into harsh situations (Sturdevant and Stolzfus, 1992; Moon, 1997; Kim and Choi, 1998; Jung, 2003). …

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