My talk examines the understudied history of Korean immigrants on the homefront during World War II. While only about 7,000 in numbers, Koreans in Hawai‘i and the continental United States faced the most vexing predicament when the United States declared war on Japan after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Because Korea no longer existed as an independent nation after Japanese annexation in 1910, Korean immigrants in the United States and Hawai‘i (only a territory of the United States at the time) were considered Japanese subjects and therefore were legally classified as “enemy aliens” along with the Japanese.
The irony of being lumped together with their colonizers whom they despised and now being accused of having loyalty to Japan was unthinkable for Korean immigrants, and this unexpected development on the homefront significantly dampened their celebration of U.S. declaration of war against Japan, which they saw as their best hope for a liberated Korea. Furthermore, in addition to their shared legal classification with the Japanese as “enemy aliens,” Koreans were often mistaken for Japanese in everyday life based on their physical appearance. This talk explores the complicated ways in which Koreans responded to their predicament on the homefront given their precarious status as enemy immigrants and colonized subjects. My study challenges the long-held historiography of World War II as a “watershed” moment that dichotomously elevated socioeconomic position of all non-Japanese Asian immigrants and devastated Japanese immigrants vis-à-vis Japanese American internment during World War II.
Speaker: Lili M. Kim, PhD
Associate Professor of History and Global Migrations
School of Critical Social Inquiry
Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
2017-2018 Fulbright Senior Scholar
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
Seoul, South Korea