“Your face gives you away. They always make sure you know they can tell the difference.”

Carolina Mera is Academic Coordinator of the Korea Argentina Study Center (Centro de Estudios Corea Argentina) at the University of Buenos Aires and has written a number of books and articles on the Korean community in that country. Mera argues that second-generation Korean-Argentines are caught between two worlds and struggle with their identities: are they Koreans, Argentines, or something in-between? Unlike immigrants to the United States and other settler societies with a long history of so-called “hyphenated” ethnic identities, immigrants to Argentina have generally blended into the Argentine crisol de razas (“melting pot,” lit. crucible of races) shedding most markers of ethnic identity. However, because Koreans look different from most other Argentines, who are mainly of Spanish and Italian stock, many in the Korean Argentine community feel that they will always be outsiders, no matter how well they speak Spanish and how Argentine they act. One of Mera’s interviewees gave an example of how this visible difference plays out in everyday life:

“…yo me siento argentina hasta ahí nomás, la diferencia me la hacen sentir los argentinos, por la cara… me pasó que viajaba en un taxi y te dicen: ‘¿de dónde sos?’ y le digo ‘soy argentina’, y me dice, ‘no, pero de dónde’, le digo ‘nací acá’, ‘¿y tus padres dónde nacieron?’; dice ‘¡ah!’ ¿entendés?, la cara te delata, siempre te marcan la diferencia.”

I feel Argentine only up to a certain point. Argentines make me feel that I am different, because of my face. Once I was traveling in a taxi and the guys says, ‘Where are you from?’ I tell him, ‘I’m Argentine,’ and he says ‘No, but from where?’ I tell him, ‘I was born here.’ ‘Where were your parents born, then?’ [I tell him Korea], then he says, ‘Ah!’ You see? Your face gives you away. They always make sure you know they can tell the difference. (Mera 2005: 92)

This is an illustration from Argentina of the perpetual foreigner problem prevalent all over the West; no matter how culturally and structurally assimilated, the widespread assumption is that Asians can never be a full part of local society.
Photo: Inside a car in Seoul. Creative Commons credit: 黑忍者.

Mera, Carolina.2005. “Migración coreana: identidades entre desplazamientos y anclajes” [Korean migration: identities between displacement and anchorage]. Relaciones interculturales: experiencias y representación social de los migrantes [Intercultural relations: migrants’ experiences and social representation]. Eds. Néstor Cohen and Carolina Mera. Buenos Aires: Antropofagia.


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