100 Years of Korean Immigration
In 2008 there were more than 1.3 million people of Korean ancestry living in the United States, making Koreans the fourth largest group of Asian Americans, after Asian Indians, Chinese and Filipinos. As of 2000, roughly one-third of Korean Americans had been born in the United States, one-third are U.S. citizens born in Korea, and one-third are non-citizens.
The first wave of Korean immigrants came to harvest sugar on the Hawaiian Islands at the turn of the twentieth century, long before Hawaii became the 50th state. These migrants were part of a larger group of Asians who made the trans-Pacific voyage to work in the US and Latin America, often finding difficult and repressive conditions in the agricultural sector. Few other Koreans migrated to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, because of race-based laws that excluded most Asians. Some interesting exceptions, however, included the imported wives of Korean laborers living in the United States and the brides of U.S. servicemen returning from the Korean War.
Major reform to the US's immigration laws, the spirit of which was foreshadowed by President John F. Kennedy's book A Nation of Immigrants, dramatically changed the rules of entry. From 1965 the main sources of new immigrants shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia.
Today, Korean Americans live all over the USA, though they are concentrated in California and New York. Like many immigrant communities, they have been drawn to urban areas, and a number of U.S. cities have vibrant "Koreatowns.
Many present-day Korean Americans stay connected to one another through KoreAm Journal, the monthly magazine to which Sung J. Woo has contributed. Established in 1990, it claims to be "the most widely circulated (more than 40,000 readers), longest-running, independent English-language publication serving the Korean American community."
This article was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the
July 2010 paperback release.
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