The Korean American Dream: Immigrants and Small Business in New York City

By Kyeyoung Park | Go to book overview

[7]
Conceptions of Race and Ethnicity:
Workplace Encounters

Koreans arriving at J.F.K. International Airport are impressed by the diversity of people in America. When they settle in the multiethnic community of Queens, questions arise. Who are these other people? Who are we? In "Poem by a Yellow Woman," Sook Ryul Ryu ( 1996) considers their ethnic dilemma:

When colored friends are making a rainbow coalition,
my yellow people wonder whether yellow is on the
rainbow.

They think the lighter the skin, the closer to heaven,
the darker the skin, the closer to hell.

They decide yellow is in between.

So they smile at white and frown at black.

They make money in the hope of becoming a majority
and forget about the minority,

And now here I am torn between
my own self-flattery and my own revolt.

In this chapter I explore how Koreans answer questions of ethnicity as they meet people of other ethnic backgrounds. In general, their experience in small business enterprises appears to structure emergent ideologies of race and ethnicity. In addition, neighborhood, school, church, and other settings provide contexts for building relations between Korean immigrants and other ethnicities. (For more about ethnic encounters in the neighborhood, see Chapter 8.)

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