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  • Homing: An Affective Topography of Ethnic Korean Return Migration by Ji-Yeon O. Jo
  • Hee Eun Kwon (bio)
Homing: An Affective Topography of Ethnic Korean Return Migration, by Ji-Yeon O. Jo. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017. 248 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8248-6775-1. $65.00 hardcover.

In the early 1990s, South Korea experienced a turning point in its migration pattern, transitioning from a nation of emigration to immigration. Joining in this immigration flow were diaspora Koreans, whose “return” was largely influenced by the nation’s shifting geopolitical relationships, economic prosperity, and global visibility. In Homing: An Affective Topography of Ethnic Korean Return Migration, Ji-Yeon O. Jo provides a framework for understanding legacy migration through the concept of transborder belongings; this expresses the topography of social, legal, lingual, and familial borders across transborder spaces.

Jo focuses on diaspora Koreans from China, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the United States—the three largest groups of returnees—mainly using in-depth interviews with sixty-three later-generation ethnic diaspora Koreans who have migrated to South Korea. She supplements this with fieldwork in Seoul and Busan in South Korea, and also Yanji, China. The legacy migrants arrive with unique histories that form varying imagined relationships with the ancestral homeland; Jo then demonstrates how these images and narratives are reconstructed in their experiences of migration, thereby challenging the monolithic conception [End Page 149] of Korea’s peoplehood. Homing unfolds the richly textured experiences of the legacy migrants in two parts: Part 1 focuses on the sociohistorical and political contexts behind diaspora subjectivity, and part 2 on its transformation through “homing.”

Part 1 provides an overview of diaspora communities residing in the three regions. Jo interweaves collective history and personal narratives to explain the contexts in and process by which the diaspora Koreans form their subjectivities and sense of belonging to Korea. The Koreans in China have preserved their affective connections to the ancestral homeland through metaphorical imagery, intergenerational storytelling, and vicarious longings; the majority lived in ethnic enclaves in the northeastern region of China, which helped preserve traditions, ethnic identity, and ethnic education.

The Koreans in the CIS, in contrast, have endured conditions of instability and turbulence, and can be divided into two categories following the forced deportation of 1937: Koryŏ Saram (“diaspora Koreans in Central Asia and Russia”) and Sahallin Saram (“diaspora Koreans on the Russian island of Sakhalin”). The changing geopolitical circumstances mark their precariousness and feelings of estrangement from the diaspora, which fuel their desire to reconstitute affective connections to the ancestral homeland.

Lastly, the Koreans in the United States struggled with invisibility in representation, but with hypervisibility around ethnic stereotypes. This translated into paradoxical reactions to Korea as either a nostalgia of a lost homeland or a foreignness to be refused. Although demarcating themselves from recent Korean immigrants and Koreans in Korea, the Korean Americans still expressed strong feelings of connection to the South Korean state.

As a result, Jo illustrates how the Korean diaspora in the three communities—while broadly sharing the affective conditions of longing, suffering, and pride—have varying contexts that inform their transborder belongings. Homing’s strength, however, lies in part 2 where Jo examines how the diaspora Koreans’ images and narratives of ancestral homeland are changed and reinforced upon legacy migration, which in turn also reconstruct the Korean peoplehood. The legacy migrants, who move to Korea with optimism that they would face fewer difficulties due to co-ethnic status and affective investments made, often find themselves as marginalized minorities again in their ethnic homeland. Jo’s careful analysis of crossover dynamics in social fields extends the scholarship on hierarchical nationhood. The legacy migrants find their social spaces and [End Page 150] the nature of engagement with native Koreans to be stratified by the diaspora community in ways that exemplify the global hierarchy. For example, in trying to reconnect with their long-lost family members, the CIS Koreans and Korean Chinese might be pitied as “poor cousins” or even suspected of planning to claim the family inheritance, whereas Korean Americans experienced more welcoming and positive reunions. Furthermore, while the CIS Korean legacy migrants felt socially distanced due...


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