- Century of the Tiger: One Hundred Years of Korean Culture in America 1903-2003
In 1903, the first wave of Korean immigrants to the United States arrived in Hawai'i to begin working in the sugarcane fields. One hundred years later, in 2003, the Centennial of Korean immigration to the United States was commemorated across the United States in ceremonies large and small, along with the usual speeches and pronouncements that, in general, generated more heat than light. One product of the Centennial celebration of a more enduring nature, however, was the publication of the volume under review, a special issue of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, a semiannual journal.
The reader will notice at the outset the unusual shape of the book—nearly square—designed, apparently, more for coffee table display than for a bookshelf. Inside, the reader will find bold color prints, attractively placed as insets, of Korean art, ceramics, photographs, and calligraphy, as well as sidebars containing poetry, folk songs, mythology, or brief biographies of famous Koreans or Korean Americans. The bulk of the text, consisting of about twenty-five vignettes, is divided into five sections chronologically arranged and devoted primarily to literature, both fiction and nonfiction, either by or about Koreans and Korean Americans. The volume appears to be aimed at readers who are generally unfamiliar with modern Korean and Korean American history since better than half of the selections have been published elsewhere and will already be familiar to those conversant with the literature in these two related fields. Inasmuch as it is impossible to summarize adequately the contents of more than two dozen articles in the space of a short review, I will instead try to give the reader an overview of the contents.
The first section, titled "Land of Morning Calm," is the briefest and features a two-page overview of Korean history up to 1450 by Edward J. Shultz, followed by an excerpt from Younghill Kang's autobiographical work, The Grass Roof, about his small village hometown in turn-of-the-century Korea. Some readers will be familiar with Kang as one of the earliest Korean American novelists. The editors evidently admire Kang's reminiscences because his other work, East Goes West: The Making of an Oriental Yankee, leads off the second section, titled "Sailing to the Garden of Mugunghwa."
That second section, consisting of four pieces, covers the immigration experience of Koreans who came to America early in the twentieth century. In addition to Kang's description of his first days in New York City after landing in [End Page 323] America are two accounts by second-generation Koreans (Morris Pang and Mary Paik Lee, taken from her Quiet Odyssey) of the experiences of their first-generation (ilse) parents. The section leads off with a brief historical introduction of the early Korean experience in Hawai'i by Esther Kwon Arinaga.
The third section emphasizes the plight of Koreans and Korean Americans due to the loss of Korean independence at the hand of Japan, and its title, "Mansei!," means "Long Live [Korean Independence]." After another brief historical introduction by Arinaga, the four selections by Connie Kang (Home Was the Land of Morning Calm), Kim Ronyoung (Clay Walls), Margaret Pai (The Dreams of Two Yi-Min), and Richard Kim (Lost Names) nicely juxtapose the nationalist activities in Korea (Kang and Richard Kim) with those in the United States (Pai and Kim Ronyoung).
The fourth section, titled "War and Liberation," begins with a brief historical piece by Michael E. Macmillan on the wartime experience of the Koreans in Hawai'i. Because Korea was part of the Japanese empire, Koreans were treated as enemy aliens by the military government, much to their chagrin. Following that are six selections, half of which represent reprises of the aforementioned nonfiction accounts by Kim Ronyoung, Margaret Pai, and...