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Half-Korean girl struggles to find her own identity

As this case just showed to us racism still runs completely wild in Korea. And apparently even among kids:

Eom Wu-jeong shrugs off barbs from classmates, secretly wants cell phone

GIMCHEON, North Gyeongsang - Eom Wu-jeong, 11, was born and raised by her Korean father and Filipino mother.

Wu-jeong has black hair and dark skin, slightly different from other Korean kids, but she’s just like any preteen girl who gets excited over idol stars and the latest cell phones.


Wu-jeong lives in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang, with her parents and three siblings. Her family lives in a semi-basement house that measures 33 square meters, and her parents pay 250,000 won ($214) a month in rent after a 1 million won deposit.

Though the size of the house seems to be a bit small for a family of six, the house is full of joy and happiness.

During a recent visit, Wu-jeong’s mother was busy looking after her 18-month-old baby sister, and Wu-jeong’s father had his eyes glued to a TV. The girl’s two brothers, Jeong-dae and Jeong-won, were busy playing a computer game.

Marriage migrants boomed in Korea in the late 1990s. Wu-jeong’s parents married in 1996, and her mother is considered an early marriage migrant to Korea. Wu-jeong, the couple’s first child, was born two years later.

She’s the only multiethnic student among 30 students in her class. When Wu-jeong was in second grade, her classmates teased her about her skin color.

“‘Why is your skin so dark? Where is your mom from?’ That’s what they asked me,” Wu-jeong recalled. “I know that they were asking me not because they were really curious. They just wanted to tease me.”

But the 11-year-old said now she doesn’t care what her classmates say.

“I don’t want to get into fights,” Wu-jeong said. She paused for a moment and continued: “To be honest with you, it’s not that I don’t care about it. I just try not to care.”


Wu-jeong feels that people’s eyes are on her mother when they go out together. Though the girl confessed she tries not to think of her classmates’ teasing as a big deal, she said she can’t stand the uncomfortable attention her mother gets.

“It’s very unpleasant,” Wu-jeong said. “Whenever I see people’s eyes on my mom, I can’t get away from the feeling that they are thinking and saying they don’t understand why my mom came to Korea.”


But Wu-jeong is a girl with a positive spirit, and she’s mature enough to cope with all the difficulties.

“My classmates think I’m abnormal because I have darker skin,” Wu-jeong said. “But I think of myself as a special person. My dad’s from Korea and my mom is from the Philippines. I can learn two countries’ cultures, and I feel this benefits me more than children with just Korean parents.”

Wu-jeong has never had a chance to travel to meet her grandparents in the Philippines because her family lives on 1.5 million won a month that her father earns from construction work, in addition to a 600,000 won monthly basic living subsidy provided by the Korean government.

Wu-jeong doesn’t take any hagwon lessons, and the only extracurricular activity she participates in is a calligraphy class at her school.

Last year, she desperately wanted to take piano lessons at a hagwon, and a man in her neighborhood took pity on her and offered to pay the expenses. But her dream was dashed when her family moved to another area.

“My goal is to send all four of my children to university,” Wu-jeong’s mother said.

Wu-jeong said she wants to be a Korean literature teacher. Last year, she received an award in recognition of her outstanding performance in a reading and writing contest hosted by the Gimcheon Office of Education.

“When I become a schoolteacher there will be lots of children born from multicultural families,” Wu-jeong said. “I’m not just going to teach Korean lessons to my future students. I will teach them how to appreciate and understand the cultures of other countries.”

The girl said there’s one simple wish that means a lot to her: “I want to earn lots of money, because I promised my siblings that I would take care of them.”

In the background, her father kept his eyes on the TV and stubbornly said in his heavy Gyeongsang accent, “Who says you need to earn lots of money?” But rather than being insensitive, he was focusing on the TV to hide the tears in his eyes.

Wu-jeong knows what the tears mean. “I really want to get a cell phone but I don’t tell my dad,” she whispered. “Instead, I crossed fingers with [my baby sister] Yeon-jeong.”

Source: JoongAng Daily
Tags: culture
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