On a Saturday night on a collective farm in eastern Uzbekistan,
the village disco booms the latest Western dance tracks into the
still night air. Several streets away, a Uighur Muslim family and
friends celebrate the ritual circumcision of three young boys.
Whether by force or volition, different peoples and cultures have
been intermingling for centuries here at the crossroads of Europe
And at Kim Pen Hva, named for the ethnic Korean who ran this
kolkhoz, or collective farm, during Communist times, decades of
Soviet social engineering have produced a surprising cosmopolitanism
for such a seeming backwater.
The reality of life makes ethnic identity secondary to the main
task of getting by. The average monthly wage on the cotton farm is
less than $20, and many villagers look back wistfully to the days
before the collapse of the Soviet Union, when founder Chairman Kim
made the kolkhoz rich and famous, by Soviet standards.
Yet despite the homogenization and relative racial harmony,
Central Asia's ethnic groups still cling to their identities,
Of the village's 9,000 inhabitants, only about 50 percent are
ethnic Uzbeks, with Koreans, Kazakhs, Uighurs, and Russians making
the other half. They live side by side in low one-story houses
hidden from the main road by high, overgrown fences.
Korean teenagers, chatting in Russian, assemble outside the disco
while, on the other side of the village, Uighurs and Uzbeks dance to
But there is no segregation here, and the village's ethnic groups
"We have never had any conflicts," says Ella Kim, a kindergarten
teacher who during the summer sells vegetables at the sparse kolkhoz
"We all live peacefully together, work together, drink tea
together," she says.
An ethnic Korean, Ms. Kim married an Uzbek.
"At first, my parents were against the marriage," she says. "But
then they got used to him. They understood that the most important
thing was not his nationality, but his personality."
Surprisingly, Kim concedes that if her own two children had wanted
to marry Uzbeks, she would have been opposed.
Ethnic Koreans are especially rootless here, speaking Russian as
their first language and giving their children Russian names.
Fearing that ethnic Koreans in the Soviet Far East would collaborate
with the Japanese, Joseph Stalin had more than 70,000 moved to
Central Asia in 1937. …