What happens when members of a diaspora return to their ancestral homeland, forcing a collision between fluid ideas about citizenship, nationhood and “authentic” ethnic belonging? This talk takes up these questions by centering on the everyday lives of Korean Americans and Korean Chinese and the multiple logics they use to help them make sense of the world around them. I use the term “logics” in a broad sense, to capture how South Koreans see these co-ethnic return migrants and in turn, how these return migrants see South Koreans and how they talk about what they are experiencing at both the broader and individual levels. These logics give substance to what it means to be Korean in this particular moment in South Korea’s history. Their stories also highlight how these return migrants contribute to, but also challenge, inequality within diaspora-homeland relations. I trace how the value of co-ethnicity with immigration histories, national citizenship, resources and skill sets embodied by return migrants reflects the demands of the global economy as well as South Korea’s globalization project. I focus on the complications of maintaining a transnational identity in which Korean Americans and Korean Chinese use “Koreanness” as a proxy for talking about the contested components of their class, ethnic and national identities in both their nations of origin and the ethnic homeland.
Helene K. Lee received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009. She is an Associate Professor at Dickinson College in the Department of Sociology. Her book, Between Foreign and Family: Return Migration and Identity Construction among Korean Americans and Korean Chinese, explores the impact of return migration on two diasporic Korean communities – Korean Americans and Korean Chinese to their ancestral homeland, South Korea. Her current research interests focus on how families negotiate the economic, emotional and social dimensions of aging and elder care, particularly in terms of how this shapes relationships between Asian immigrant elders and their second-generation Asian American children.