- Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America
Over the past several decades, Korean military brides have received unsavory media coverage. They have been portrayed as former prostitutes and victims of their husbands' abuse. This negative stereotype, the "shadow," is common in Korea as well as America. Ji-Yeon Yuh attempts to move analysis beyond this shadow and provide a more nuanced perception of the approximately 100,000 Korean military brides who immigrated to the United States since the 1950s by exploring the personal lives of these women.
Beyond the Shadow of Camptown is a readable and poignant piece of scholarship. Much of Yuh's research is based on interviews with 16 military brides and observations of another 150 over the course of two and a half years in the mid-1990s. Her reliance on a handful of interviews offers a sense of continuity, as the reader follows the lives of these women from one chapter to the next.
Yuh divides her book into six chapters that whisk the reader from the women's childhood, to the meeting of their husbands, marriage, immigration, and their trials and triumphs in America. Chapter 1 examines the camptown system in Korea and the American military's involvement in its perpetuation. As previously noted, women who marry servicemen are often assumed to have been prostitutes. Yet, most women (especially in the past two decades) met their husbands through other avenues.
Chapter 2 provides a synopsis of why these Korean women married American servicemen. The reasons ranged from love to desperation to hope for a better life. Indeed, most brides expected to find economic and social liberation in America, but, as outlined in chapter 3, all too often these dreams were shattered by reality. Instead of streets paved with gold, they found poverty, racism, and loneliness. Furthermore, many husbands expected their wives to abandon all things Korean and become Americanized.
Chapter 4, "Cooking America, Eating Korea," expands on the theme of resistance. Yuh's coverage of military brides in the United States revolved around "food wars" and language barriers. To Yuh, food exemplifies Americanization and the brides' resistance to abandoning Korean culture. Korean wives often found ways to resist assimilation—often by eating Korean food in private. Chapter 5 delves into the marginalization of military brides who are still scorned by their families in Korea and the subject of quiet whispers in America. And chapter 6 examines how these women have manufactured an identity for themselves in spite of, or rather because of, their alienation at church and home. Military brides have organized a handful of support groups to provide services for themselves [End Page 160] and others. Yuh ably draws on Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities" to explain the lives and experiences of these military brides.
This work skirts around a host of issues that would have greatly contributed to the value the work. For instance, divorce, domestic abuse, and economic hardships receive minimal attention. This may be a careful exclusion because Yuh attempts to present her work as an antithesis to the negative stereotype. A more aggressive treatment of domestic abuse would have been useful. Furthermore, outside of the "food war" in chapter 4, the husbands play a barely discernible role in their wives' lives. There is negligible discussion of the husbands' occupations, whether they stayed in the military, and whether they were saints or fiends. Although a minor quibble, the romanization of Korean words is rather haphazard. For example, "keem" and "kimchee" are written with the same han'gul letters, but are romanized differently. Also, she used "Yuhbo" (p. 190), instead of yŏbo (following the McCune-Reischauer system).
I felt that Yuh's treatment of military brides could have been extended to women who married nonmilitary foreigners. I felt she could have strengthened the book by addressing two questions: How are the experiences of military brides similar to or different from nonmilitary wives? And, do other Korean women married to foreigners live under the...