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The Cost of Diaspora

If I may say this about Koreans in general, I don’t think we’re too good at this diaspora thing yet.

When I think about diaspora, I think of the Jewish people and the Chinese. I think these two people groups, while there are certainly other groups who qualify as diaspora people, have a great deal of wisdom when it comes to maintaining their identity while living peaceably in another’s land.

For instance, Jewish people have a notion of charity or tzedaka, that is not meant only for fellow Jews, but for the community as a whole. I think in general, there is a great deal of accumulated sophistication on how to negotiate racial identity formation in the face of a dominant culture.

I also believe that the Chinese people are much better at diaspora as well. I don’t know how to put it in words, but there is a sort of pragmatism about them that lends itself well to brushing off potential offenses and gets on to the business of living and working. While that may not have done all that much in advancing civil rights or whatnot, it has helped the Chinese establish a positive impression in the community as a whole. It may be perhaps that they have called other lands “home” for many generations and centuries, much longer than Koreans have.

Most Koreans are fairly recent immigrants. Thanks to the immigration policies of the 1970s and 1980s, the great majority of us are really only living a grand experiment in Korean history. Furthermore, even if the case is made that Koreans have been doing this for centuries I would be get to differ in that the Korean sense of exclusivism is so strong that I don’t think it would take much for Korea to cast individuals off that have left, after all they weren’t called the Hermit Kingdom for nothing.

Perhaps what’s even more interesting as to the timing of our diaspora is with globalization in this age, Koreans living outside Korea can still resist being a citizen of the world. Sometimes what is being fostered in the Korean diaspora is a new sense of nationalism, rather than a sense that we become invested in the land, the community, we live in. The fascinating thing is that this departure from the mother country was voluntary, but somehow not altogether desireable.

The catch is that for us as their children, as believers in the Gospel, need to begin to create a balance of what it means to be Korean and American and Christian. They are not mutually exclusive, but often I feel that in many cases 2 out of 3 cultures lose out. We tend to live in that tension which can often crowd out the Gospel. Yet the design of the Gospel is to transform culture; in my opinion, to bring out the best in culture. The tensions of living in the world and not being of it, is a God-sized task.

I often feel like we are at the epicenter of two (in our case, three) tectonic plates, and we either let our sin, to take us down into the Marianas Trench, or be challenged to let the Gospel work through our culture to take us up to the heights of the Himalayas.

In essence, I think the cost of discipleship is an addition onto the cost of diaspora for the families of immigrants . Are we willing to pay that price to follow Jesus?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

4 responses to “The Cost of Diaspora

  1. djchuang

    Yes, one word to describe the Chinese way of getting along is pragmatism. Another word is the strong Chinese value for harmony (don’t rock the boat, save face, genteel, etc.) I’d also like to see your observations about the Indian diaspora around many parts of the world too; as I’ve read somewhere that the population of India may soon surpass that of China’s. Now, granted, both the Chinese and Korean are fiercely proud of their heritage and culture, respectively, but there are a few notable differences in how they deal with foreigners in a foreign land.

  2. elderj

    “Sometimes what is being fostered in the Korean diaspora is a new sense of nationalism, rather than a sense that we become invested in the land, the community, we live in.”

    It is interesting that you would say this, because many people would say that Jewish national consciousness did not really happen until they are living as exiles in Babylon. Prior to that, they certainly thought of themselves as God’s people, and knew their lineage, but they really became “the Jews” because of their experience in Babylon — in the same way that they became the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt.

    Perhaps the problem is that American’s insist that to be American you must cease to be whatever else you was.

  3. This is a dynamic that is worth exploring, because I think it leads to some differences in identity formation. In some cases, being a part of a majority can lead to a “numbness” to how race as a characteristic defines one. Whereas, being an acute minority, being Asian in the South or for Josh’s example, to be a Jew in Babylon, I think is a much more defensive position, where the “other” has a more significant role in defining self.

    When “the other” defines me, and I believe Miroslav Volf goes into this a great deal, it’s almost as if I need “the other” or else, my own construct tends to lose its weight, which is a frightening proposition.

    How much more frightening that Christ will use “the other” in that sense to re-define me?

  4. elderj

    Now you’ve got me thinking David… a blog entry will probably come from this. 🙂

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