Los Angeles Koreatown is well known as the largest Korean immigrants’ ethnic community, and thus as an iconic space of Korean-ness in the multicultural society of the U.S. Frequently generating a ‘fixed’ representation of L.A. Koreatown’s Korean-ness, ...
Los Angeles Koreatown is well known as the largest Korean immigrants’ ethnic community, and thus as an iconic space of Korean-ness in the multicultural society of the U.S. Frequently generating a ‘fixed’ representation of L.A. Koreatown’s Korean-ness, such a geographical imagination tends to mask the real variety and in-betweeness in which the Koreatown is situated in the globalized era of transnational human and capital mobility. The 2000 US Census shows that it has only about 20% Korean residents, even if it is filled mostly with Korean small and large businesses. Latino residents, mostly working at the Korean businesses, account for more than 60%. Even in the ethnic categories of Koreans and Latinos, various segmented ethnic sub-identities have culturally and politically produced, contested, and flexible reshaped. This proliferation of collective identities in Koreatown has been in recent decades affected by the interplay of American multiculturalism and Korean transnationalism.
In this paper, considering identity not as a fixed position but a process itself, we interrogate the term hybrid identity and explores how different hybrid identities are produced, contested, and negotiated in the case of Korean migrants in Los Angeles Koreatown. The reason that we draw on this particular site is two folds. First, contemporary Los Angeles Koreatown is under dramatic changes, largely influenced by a huge influx of transnational Korean capital, labor, and popular culture. Such influx reshapes as an immigrant ethnic enclave in inner city area. Second, there is an increasing internal stratification of Korean migrants in Koreatown, challenging conventional views on ethnic community as internally homogeneous and uncontested society. Such social fragmentation and fragmented identities include various groups such as wealthy transnational investors, small-business owners mainly composed of first generation Korean Americans, 1.5 and 2nd generations of Korean Americans, migrant workers, and so on. Also such identity fragmentation is expanding to embrace increasing non-Korean blood laborers in Koreatown such as Latinos and various kinds of Muslim ethnic groups. Suggesting hybrid identity is not a exclusive possession of transnational migrants, we investigate how different hybrid identities are produced among these groups.
The methods we primarily employed are based on ethnography, in which interviewee’s autobiographic narrations and unstructured in-depth interviews unfolds the discursive structure of their narrated identity. Referring and contrasting to the mainstream newspapers and the Korean ethnic newspapers, those narrations and interviews are carefully interpreted. This is crucial in investigating minority or marginalized groups, particularly in case of undocumented low-class migrants who have almost always been rendered to be invisible and unspeakable. Although the undocumented laborers play indispensable roles in the trans-local embeddedness of transnationalism, they have been rarely exposed as they are. Our points of negotiating hybrid identities will be substantiated by letting the undocumented unspeakable to speak their experiences and thoughts in this paper.