Tuesday, December 13, 2005

December 10, 1965 archives: Confucius' Outcasts

Though this archived story is forty years old this week, I think it underscores a lot of the images that linger even today. For Korea's baby boomer generation, which includes the parents of many young people today, humiliating stories like Annie Park's are a dominant image when they think about issues such as the US military, mixed-race dating and marriage, prostitution, and even adoption. Images that heavily erode the overwhelming positives that the US military has brought to South Korea. Of course, none of that justifies xenophobia or maltreatment of young children or even opposition to "international marriage" today (or then), but old attitudes die hard.

At six, she followed her Korean mother to a ramshackle bar and discovered that her mother was for sale to U.S. servicemen. On the way home, alone, the little girl had an even more traumatic experience: a man lured her into an alley and assaulted her. At eight, she learned why classmates jeered "half-caste!" at her: her father had been a white G.I. At 16, she was a full-fledged prostitute working among American soldiers who liked her slim Occidental legs and ample breasts.

Now, at 19, after six abortions and uncounted liaisons with every variety of G.I., Annie Park is the most-talked-about girl in South Korea. With the help of a ghostwriter, she has published a bestselling autobiography that at last forces Koreans to think about something they would rather forget—the problem of illegitimate half-castes.

There are an estimated 20,000 half-caste children in Korea; 500 to 600 more are born each year. Sadly, even in their homeland, they are displaced persons from birth. Under the Confucian concept of tightly knit families, Korea's half-castes are considered outcasts. And the mixed-blood children remind many Koreans of the shame of widespread prostitution and of the subservient role Koreans have often had to play to the bigger and richer G.I.'s.

My Forsaken Star has been serialized in newspapers. Work began last week on a movie based on the book, and a television series is planned. But Koreans seem to savor the book more for its lurid details of commercial love than for the insights it gives into the plight of half-castes.

Some U.S. welfare groups have actually come to grips with the half-caste problem. In the past ten years, 5,670 mixed-blood children have been adopted by families in the U.S. through such groups as the Holt Adoption Program, the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the Child Placement Service. But the vast majority of these children are the offspring of white G.I.s. Finding foster parents for Negro-fathered children is much harder. With that in mind, the Pearl S. Buck Foundation began operating in Korea just last month. Its initial hopes are modest: to provide funds directly to mothers of Negro-Korean children so that the little lost half-castes will have at least some chance of growing up with enough food to eat in homes of their own.

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