Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro


Download Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro


Preview text

City University of New York (CUNY)
CUNY Academic Works

Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

CUNY Graduate Center

9-2021
Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro Effects of Family Reunification on the Lee Siblings and Their Spouses
Carol Joo Lee The Graduate Center, City University of New York

How does access to this work benefit you? Let us know!
More information about this work at: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/4508 Discover additional works at: https://academicworks.cuny.edu
This work is made publicly available by the City University of New York (CUNY). Contact: [email protected]

!
REMARKABLY ORDINARY, AN ORAL HISTORY: EXAMINING THE MICRO EFFECTS OF FAMILY REUNIFICATION
ON THE LEE SIBLINGS AND THEIR SPOUSES by
CAROL JOO LEE
A master"s thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty in Liberal Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, The City University of New York 2021


!
© 2021 CAROL JOO LEE All Rights Reserved
ii

Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro Effects of Family Reunification on the
Lee Siblings and Their Spouses by
Carol Joo Lee
This manuscript has been read and accepted for the Graduate Faculty in Liberal Studies in satisfaction of the thesis requirement for the degree of Master of Arts.

!

Date

Monica Varsanyi

Thesis Advisor

Date

Elizabeth Macaulay

Executive Officer

THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK
iii


Abstract
Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro Effects of Family Reunification on the Lee Siblings and Their Spouses
by Carol Joo Lee
Advisor: Monica Varsanyi
Family reunification accounts for a majority of entry mechanisms by which current Korean immigrants arrived in the U.S. The peak Korean immigration period from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s saw a dwindling of skill-based immigration and a rapid increase of immigrants who arrived through family preferences as a direct result of the Immigration Act of 1965. Despite there being ample studies and aggregate data on the post-1965 immigrants from Korea, not enough micro-level research has been conducted on the ways in which the family reunification provisions affected individuals, their brothers and sisters, and the inter-family dynamic both prior and post immigration. This lacuna in individualized and inter-personal analyses from the perspective of the immigrants led to a lack of more nuanced understanding of ”individual migration behavior” in family reunification scholarship. The aim of this paper is to bridge this gap by assessing legal, material and emotional processes during the pre-departure (preparation) period and different family cohorts that emerged during the post-arrival (adjustment) period. The examination of the effects and affects of immigration policies also shed light on the intersection of law and personal choice. By utilizing oral history as main methodology, the narratives that emerged from personal recollections and “embodied knowledge” became the basis for humanizing the immigration multiplier theory. Furthermore, the immigration genealogy of one extended family and the new family dynamic that was born out of their chain migration provided novel ways to explore some of the conventional myths surrounding the family structure as a wellspring of support and intimacy, and its influence on the economic success of Korean immigrants.
Keywords Family reunification, Korean immigration, post-1965 immigration, immigration multiplier, individual migration behavior, narrative analysis, immigrant narrative, oral history!
iv


Acknowledgement
This paper would not be possible without the generosity of time and memory of my relatives and my parents who became participants in this research. Their remarkably ordinary acts of immigration to the United States inspired me to learn more about the history of immigration laws in this country and appreciate their contribution to Korean Americans and culture becoming more accepted and celebrated over the past decades. Their identities are often defined by their profession in mainstream America and their struggles and achievements blur into statistics in immigration scholarship. But their lives as individuals are much more nuanced and contoured, and their presence is integral – more than they realize – to the transformation of America as the country we now know and is becoming. To that end, their lives are nothing less than remarkable.
With much gratitude, this thesis is dedicated to: Rosa and Henry Cho;
Choo Ja Lee and her memory of Kwang Moo Dan; Soon and Young K. Choi;
Yong Jae and Kwang Sook Lee; Young Hee and Kee Hyun Kwon;
Chang and Hae Sook Lee; Katarina Lee and Sung Woo Hong;
Sonhui Lee and Taesoo Kwon; and finally
Song Jae and Son Sook Lee.
v


Table of Contents
Abstract ...................................................................................................................................................................iv Acknowledgement ...................................................................................................................................................v Tables .....................................................................................................................................................................vii Chapter 1: Introduction & Methodology .................................................................................................................1
The U.S.-South Korea Linkage .............................................................................................................3 Methodology .........................................................................................................................................7 Who They Are .......................................................................................................................................9 Chapter 2: Literature Review.................................................................................................................................14 Chapter 3: The Process of Family Reunification ...................................................................................................26 Why They Left ....................................................................................................................................26 Petitioning ...........................................................................................................................................32 Preparing .............................................................................................................................................39 Arriving ...............................................................................................................................................43 Imagined vs. Reality............................................................................................................................48 Finding Spouses in Korea ...................................................................................................................54 Chapter 4: The Process of Staying .........................................................................................................................59 The Period of Struggle ........................................................................................................................59 The American System .........................................................................................................................65 The New Family Dynamic ..................................................................................................................67 New Work............................................................................................................................................74 Achievements & Disappointments......................................................................................................78 Citizenship vs. Feeling American .......................................................................................................83 Chapter 5: Conclusion............................................................................................................................................88 Works Cited ...........................................................................................................................................................94
vi

Tables
Table 1. Immigration Statistics of the Siblings & Spouses .................................................................................. 13 Table 2. Breakdown of Family Reunification Provisions .................................................................................... 34 Table 3. Immigration Chronology and Entry Mechanisms .................................................................................. 36 Table 4. Number of Korean Immigrants to the U.S., 1965-2009 ......................................................................... 38
vii


Chapter 1: Introduction & Methodology
Oscar Handlin has said the history of America is history of immigrants (Handlin 2002:3). Like the tens of millions who have entered America from both coasts and across polar borders since its making, my family became immigrants in America and with that ordinary action our family history was altered in ways that was not fathomable half a century ago. One by one my aunts, uncles, and my own parents arrived in the United States and stayed – shedding their identity as citizens in their native South Korea and becoming immigrants.
The family that began as three multiplied under the family reunification provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Through sponsorship and chain migration nine Lee siblings, their spouses, parents and children, and later their children, all 56 of them, now came to call America their home. The re-establishing of an entire extended family structure in the United States is an outcome that now seems inevitable but was not a given. The ennead of siblings and their spouses arrived in the U.S. at different junctures in their lives with varied aspirations and expectations, and staying in the U.S. was not always the plan. But family made accepting disappointments easier and gave justification to their compromise.
The family history that we now embody, the one that the first generation tells their children and their grandchildren will only be able to glean gossamer-like impressions of began in 1947 when Korea was poor and its fate was precarious with a man I never met. He’s the eldest brother of my first uncle by marriage. When my uncle Henry’s brother sailed across the Pacific Ocean to study in America, sent by his father in the hope of being spared of the impending war in
1

1947, he was one of roughly 6,000 Korean students who came to the United States seeking higher education between 1945 and 1965 (W. Kim 1971).
Twenty three years later, in January 1970 when my eldest aunt Rosa and her husband Henry just made out of a blizzard in Seoul and landed in California, they were among 9,314 other Koreans who immigrated to America that year (Min 2011a). They removed the thermal underclothing that kept them warm against the blustery cold of Korea during a layover in Hawaii and set out to visit Henry’s eldest brother whom he had not seen over two decades in Los Angeles. After a brief reunion Henry and Rosa continued on to Philadelphia, where other members of Henry’s family awaited them and the first place they called home in America. The rest of the extended family arrived between 1979 and 1987 with spurts between 1980-1981 and 1985-1987 overlapping with the peak Korean immigration years of 1976-1990. In 1986, the year my own family immigrated to the United States, we were among 35,557 Koreans who sought similar fate (Min 2011a).
The pull of the immigrant’s family members already in the United States was a weighty factor in their decision to uproot themselves as was the case in my own family. Nevertheless, this motivation for immigration and the multi-faceted nature of family reunification processes have not been as thoroughly analyzed as other classical push-pull factors. Additionally, reunited extended family in the U.S. was a much more complex unit than previously understood. Family reunification is often seen as a mechanism to bolster the economic standing of immigrants but that is just one piece of the puzzle. As such, this thesis aims to explore how the personal decision making process collided with familial bonds and responsibilities and the ways in which it dovetailed with geopolitical and economic ties that were almost a century old in the making.
2

Preparing to load PDF file. please wait...

0 of 0
100%
Remarkably Ordinary, an Oral History: Examining the Micro