The world is now using mobile video calling in real-time with foreigners, sharing their daily lives and making foreign friends with SNS. In addition, people exchange massive amounts of information by enjoying the same music and movies. Furthermore, as a lot of foreigners have visited Korea under the influence of 'Korean Wave', they have brought their own cultures deeply into our everyday lives. Therefore, we are living in a 'Global' age. However, our glancing at foreigners in the subway shows that we are not globalized enough. Though we are living in the global age, we can't confidently answer the question, "Do you recognize multicultural people as part of our ethnic group?" This reality reveals uncomfortable aspects of Korean society. In this cover story, we'll talk about multicultural people co-existing in our society. We can't ignore them anymore. In the 21st century, Korea has become a multicultural society and this trend seems to be growing more and more. In this situation, one task for Korean society is to solve the problem of understanding multicultural people and dealing with problems in the course of changing to a multicultural society. Let's look into what multicultural means:
- What is multicultural?
If you are a Korean, you have heard about 'homogeneous Korea', and the 'Korean race'. A homogeneous nation refers to a nation consisting of a single pure race. However, it is not true in Korea anymore. The number of foreign people who stay in Korea is over 1.60 million, which is 3.2% of the whole population. In other words, there are about 3 foreigners among every 100 people in Korea. The multicultural people in Korean society are made up of immigrant workers, international marriage immigrants, naturalized citizens, international students, and North Korean refugees. Recently, the percentage of immigrant workers and multicultural families has been growing and in a time of low birthrates and an aging Korean society. In 2050, it is expected that the percentage of immigrant foreigners will reach 5.1% of the total population. For these reasons, Korea is not a homogeneous nation any longer and Korea has to face the multicultural phenomena with a long-term viewpoint.
- 1.60 million foreign residents, but they are still strangers.
As I mentioned above, multicultural people occupy a big portion of Korean society. However, there is a feeling that they are still strangers. According to interview results done by the Multicultural Family Support Center, an immigrant worker from Uzbekistan spoke at an immigrant worker's meeting about what he has gone through, like difficulty communicating, lack of money, difference of culture, and the most bitter memory was being insulted. He said, "A word I have heard a lot in Korea is ‘son of a bitch’. We are not dogs. We are men." At the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and various world-famous festivals here in Korea, people from the all over the world have enjoyed themselves and have helped make Korean people have a better attitude toward foreigners. But people's attitudes are still cold to multicultural families. According to a poll from multicultural foreigners, 80% of them mention that they have experienced violent language, violence, and discrimination in Korea due to the fact that they come from a different race and culture. And 37% of children of multicultural families say they have experienced intergroup bullying. Especially, there is serious discrimination and intergroup bullying caused by their lack of Korean speaking skills. This has become a big social issue. For example, Minwoo Whang who gained recognition with his dancing skills and got the nickname, 'Little PSY' after appearing in a music video with PSY had to drop out in tears after vicious comments about his mother being Vietnamese. He also said that he had gotten intergroup bullying and teasing several times at school at the age of 10. This shows that Korean society's recognition of multicultural people is seriously insufficient. But the most serious thing is that there is no social atmosphere to take discrimination earnestly and to change. We need to accept that foreigners deserve to be respected, and that they are a driving force in Korea and members of our society who will lead to a better future for Korea.
- Supremacy resulting from Nationalism
And now, we have a question about where this exclusive attitude and discrimination came from. One of the reasons for our cognition is related to nationalism. Korean society has always had a critical attitude towards the multicultural phenomenon because Korean society emphasizes pride in being a single race nation. We also worry that increasing numbers of multicultural families can disturb social unification. As a result, there has been rejection of other cultures, prejudice about skin color and mixed-blood and discrimination. Of course, there are positive aspects to Korea's pure blood heritage and homogenous nationalism in that they are the basic idea and foundation that has supported our people throughout history. However, extreme nationalism might be in danger of changing into ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is a psychological propensity related to discriminative and exclusive behavior toward external groups. In other words, ethnocentric people think they are superior and other groups are inferior. Considering Korean people's negative cognition of multicultural foreigners, it might be said that Korean nationalism is apt to be seen as supremacy.
- Who protect them?
To make matters worse, there aren't any legal actions or institutions which protect them. Immigrant workers and multicultural foreigners are usually working in primary industries such as agriculture, livestock and fishing. But in the farming and fishing community, discrimination and prejudice against foreigners is severe and the law is unfavorably applied to them. In the case of immigrant foreigners, they can't receive extra pay, rest, holiday regulation, overtime work, or holiday work, which are specified in the Labor Standards Law. And if they get hurt during their work, they aren’t protected by insurance because occupational health and safety insurance is applied to them at a lower rate. Moreover, they are exposed to frequent ill-treatment and forced labor and they are not guaranteed minimum wage. In these dark realities, an immigrant workers' union hasn't been recognized as a legal labor union for 9 years. They are in the ironic situation that they cannot be guaranteed labor's three primary rights though foreigner employment law is applied to them. Their unstable employment and poor labor environment are also repeated against their children.
Discriminative policies that treat multicultural foreigners as strangers are passed down to their children. Immigrant children can't register their birth because they're not Korean citizens. It puts them be in danger of being trafficked. Also, there are a lot of cases in which they can’t enjoy basic rights in their daily life such as medical insurance and the benefits of healthcare. As for their right of to education, though the law guarantees multicultural children's education, it is rarely applied to them. In addition, as I mentioned, intergroup bullying of multicultural children in school is a serious problem. It is no exaggeration to say that the bullying problem is caused by an insufficient national policy. Captured by hasty judgments that multicultural students are not good at studying, schools put them in supplementary classes causing discrimination within their peer groups. Furthermore, teaching Korean, which is the most important thing to them, is not sufficiently supported. We need a proper education policy that gives them an identity as a Korean and gives peers the correct recognition of multicultural foreigners, instead of compulsory education which only ends up like carving a scarlet letter on them.
- Admitting 'They are Different', instead of Saying 'They are Incorrect'
As a result, it can be said that discriminating against multicultural people came from our incorrect recognition rather than from policy deficiency. It means that improving people’s recognition is the most important step in solving discrimination. Then, is it impossible to improve people’s recognition? The answer is No. It is not difficult and it starts with a little change. In fact, there are some little changes for people’s recognition. Recognition Improvement about Multicultural People Forums have been held nationwide, and public campaigns for exact understanding of multicultural people have been made. International world festivals with multicultural people contribute to improving Koreans’ recognition of them. Also, a lot of TV shows have played crucial roles in changing people's recognition by encouraging North Korean immigrants and various races of foreigners as guest appearances. For example, in 2014 one of the most famous TV shows "Unusual Conference" grabbed the viewers’ attention by showing a lot of foreigners talking in Korean about their culture and values. It makes people feel close to foreigners and improve the recognition toward multicultural people. I think this means that Korean society begins to accept them and admit those people as individuals. The most important thing is to admit their difference, not their incorrectness, from which true understanding of them and harmony with them will begin.
After Korean society starts to accept their difference, institutional social systems which can give them an identity and self-confidence as a Korean have to be settled. Of course, we are trying. With the awareness of the importance of national protection of multicultural people, the support budget has increased 52 times in 4 years. Many programs supporting them are continuously increasing. However, we need more efficient political change because there are some problems; their support occasionally are overlapped in their target and contents, and don’t provide practical help. From now on, efficient supporting should be provided which doesn’t trigger social discrimination by understanding physical, economical, and cultural differences of multicultural people. A true policy will make it possible to give support that can be applied to both their homeland and Korean culture, and to enable people to accept various cultures without any bias.
-Growing into Global Korea.< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
Accepting multicultural people is a way for Korea to be able to grow into a global civil society. If we truly understand them by recognizing their different cultures, we can develop an open mind and wider field of view, which will eventually contribute to the development of Korean industries. So as to live in a global world in which diversity is acknowledged, we need to learn how to understand others who have different cultures and growth backgrounds, and how to live together. We can easily accept a global world if we accept multicultural people first. To get out of a single-race nation and develop into a global Korea, we also need to cultivate the abilities of sympathy, communication, consideration, and cooperation.
The starting point of these changes is inside each of us. Changing ‘my’ recognition is very crucial. It’s because multicultural people have a close association to our daily life. In fact, we can easily find them in our own backyards, streets, subways, restaurants, even in the classrooms. If you are ready to be considerate toward other people and willingly embrace them, you could be a global leader which is the educational objective of Gachon University.