Prior to the seventeenth century, encompassing more than two and a half centuries, Korea held firm to the tradition of non-reciprocity with countries other than China due to its devastating history of being invaded by neighboring countries. Such invasions included the Japanese invasions of 1592 and 1597 and the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1636. Due to their closed borders, Korea became known as the “Hermit Kingdom” (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008). It wasn’t until 1875 that Korea had no choice but to accept foreign relations and sign the Treaty of Kanghwa of 1876 with Japan, to their disadvantage (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008; Kim 1980). This treaty allowed Japan to appropriate Korea’s right to foreign trade and brought Korea’s self-imposed isolation to an end, eventually making way for other unequal international treaties with Western powers. Japan formally claimed Korea as its protectorate, to the disgruntlement of Korea’s people, after winning the two major battles of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. Both of which were fought on the Korean peninsula (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008).
The beginnings of Korean relocation to America started with Horace N. Allen, a Protestant medical missionary and a diplomat from the United States, taking advantage of the socioeconomic crises of the early 1900s, brought on by massive natural disasters of famine and drought, to convince King Kojong to permit Koreans to begin immigrating to Hawaii to work on plantations. Allen, along with other recruiters, looked to farmers who had lost their main source of income and had relocated to port cities such as P’yŏngyang and Inch’ŏn in search of employment as their best recruiting opportunity with little success (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008). It wasn’t until the missionaries like the Rev. George H. Jones, Dr. and Mrs. H. G. Underwood, and the Rev. Henry G. Appenzeller took up convincing members of their congregations to go to Hawaii and look at it as a Land of Christians, just ripe with opportunities (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008). This religious affiliation with American relocation has carried on into the current era, as will be mentioned later in the paper.
Of course, bringing immigrant workers into a new country is never inexpensive for the immigrant. Many Korean immigrants borrowed money from a bank in Inch’ŏn, established by recruiter David Deshler, and funded only by the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Association. This bank loaned Koreans one hundred dollars to cover transportation fees with the expectation that once the workers arrived and began working on the plantations, the bank could simply recoup its money from their paychecks. This financing from the bank resulted in immigrant workers originating in many different social positions (Eunjung and Wolpin 2008).
During this period, Korean immigrants were brought in as strike breakers to be used against Japanese workers and their demand for higher wages and better working conditions. Plantation owners...