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Journal of Asian American Studies 4.3 (2001) 298-300

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Book Review

The Ilse: First Generation Korean Immigrants in Hawai'i , 1903-1973

The Ilse: First Generation Korean Immigrants in Hawai'i , 1903-1973.By Wayne Patterson. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press and Center for Korean Studies, 2000.

In The Ilse: First Generation Immigrant in Hawaii, Wayne Patterson descriptively chronicles the lives of Korean immigrants to Hawaii from 1903 to1973. Using published articles and books, Patterson provides a vivid picture of Koreans' daily activities, and allows the reader to hear the voices of Koreans themselves through student journals, published interviews, and minutes from plantation meetings. In his first book, Korean Immigration to Hawaii, Patterson examines the role of the U.S. government, Hawaii Sugar Plantation Association, and Japan in Korean migration to Hawai'i from 1903-1910. This book, however, examines ten different events over a seventy-year period that transforms Koreans in Hawaii. Specifically, events that occurred prior to World War II greatly shaped Korean [End Page 298] Americans' plantation life while events that took place afterwards affected Koreans' social position in Hawaii, race relations, and transnational ties to Korea.

Prior to World War II, Patterson reveals the churches' integral role in sustaining Koreans in Hawai'i , and in particular, on the plantations. While Koreans were seen as inferior to other ethnic groups as plantation workers, they were nonetheless needed after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and as plantation strike breakers. The church was instrumental in convincing urban Koreans to migrate to Hawai'i and then to keep them on the plantations. Patterson describes two essential problems with Koreans on the plantations. First, because most Korean immigrants were from the urban areas, they were unaccustomed to agrarian life, thus they kept leaving the plantation for the urban areas. Second, those few who remained engaged in drinking and gambling, which brought chaos to the plantation. In an effort to confront these two problems, the plantations sought the assistance of other Koreans to establish structured systems of accountability and punishment. Patterson argues that these organizations, which were established to unite Koreans, instead, factionalized them. The plantation even sought the assistance of the church to prevent Koreans from leaving the plantations. The church helped recruit picture brides in hopes that wives would keep men on the plantations; instead the wives encouraged their husbands to leave for the city. Patterson points out that in some ways, the picture bride system liberated Korean women in Korea. Korea's strict segregation of the sexes, arranged marriages, concubinage, wife beating, and domination by mother in laws, and obligation to care for elderly led some to participate in the picture bride system. In Hawai'i , Patterson argues, that the church promoted more gender equality due to desegregation in the church. While desegregation is a start, it seems far from gender equality. Regardless of the efforts made to keep Koreans on the plantation, Koreans left the plantations for the cities. In the cities, Koreans entered commerce and trade which was thought to be an indicator of Americanization, although Koreans maintained ties with Korea.

After World War II, Patterson describes a different series of events that affected Koreans' inter- and intraracial relations in Hawai'i. Patterson argues that the bombing of Pearl Harbor only validated Koreans' resentment and mistrust of the Japanese. Ironically, because Korea was still under Japan's rule, Koreans were treated as enemy aliens. Patterson nicely documents the efforts of Koreans to challenge and fight the label of "enemy alien" and move to campaign for freedom. Throughout the book, Patterson brings voices to the often unheard and unrecognized early Korean immigrants. What is telling about his findings is that while Patterson chronicles the lives of Koreans from 1903 to 1970, issues facing [End Page 299] Koreans in Hawaii have in many ways remained the same. The role of the church continues to play an integral part of Korean American life and with continuing immigration from Korea, there are still intergenerational, interethnic relations, and diasporic issues that face Korean...


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