Today, here in the United States, we live in a multicultural melting pot where ethnicities around the world are welcome to stay and live. Contrast this to Korea, there is a prevailing idea that homogeneity of the Korean population is essential to keep their cultural and national identity on the peninsula. According to official statistics from Korea’s Ministry of Justice, 1.8 percent of Korea’s 50 million people are foreign citizens with resident status in Korea. The idea of Korean racial purity and xenophobia ultimately results in discrimination and prejudice against foreigners living in Korea and children of mixed Korean blood and is rapidly becoming a social problem that must be dealt with. This can be observed in the 2011 Korean movie Punch (완득이) where despite discrimination and prejudice not being the main topic of the movie, it can be observed as part of the background of the plot.
Although the main story of Punch is about a high school student named Wandeuk coming-of-age through the game of kick-boxing, the secondary story of foreigners, including his Filipino mother, shows the general hard time they have in a country that takes pride in its homogenous society. Take for example in the movie (warning, spoiler’s ahead), Wandeuk initially views his Filipino mother as a stranger when he first meets her. Not only that, the high school teacher’s father is a rich factory owner who abuses foreigners for their cheap labor due to them being in Korea illegally and uses the fear of deportation to continue these abuses. The high school teacher, nicknamed, “Dong-zoo” (똥주), therefore confronts his father as a human rights advocate albeit secretly as he is a high school teacher first. Ultimately, the plot leads to Wandeuk finally accepting his mother and the establishment of a multicultural center with his teacher, Dong-zoo. The story of illegal immigrant being abused in Korea that were mentioned in the movie is analogous to illegal Mexican migrants working in the United States to seek a better life and having to work with the abuses to earn better wages and sending the money back home to their families.
As for the background on discriminatory practices against foreigners, one must look into the beliefs Korea has regarding a pure society. Having been conquered by its neighbors throughout its history, Korea has looked to its “racial purity” as a form of nationalism to stand out as they consider themselves a “shrimp among whales”.
Not only are foreign workers discriminated against, but children of mixed Korean descent. A prominent case can be seen with American football player Hines Ward. Hines was born in Seoul to a Korean mother and African American father. After winning the Most Valuable Player award during Super Bowl XL back in 2006, his mixed ancestry came as the center of attention in South Korean media...