Daily RC Article 75

Korean Americans and Ethnic identity


Paragraph 1

In April 1990 representatives of the Pico Korea Union of electronics workers in Buchon city, south Korea, traveled to the United States in order to demand just settlement of their claims from the parent company of their employers, who upon the formation of the union had shut down operations without paying the workers. From the beginning, the union cause was championed by an unprecedented coalition of Korean American groups and deeply affected the Korean American community on several levels.

Paragraph 2

First, it served as a rallying focus for a diverse community often divided by generation, class and political ideologies. Most notably, the Pico cause mobilized many young second-generation Korean Americans, many of whom had never been part of a political campaign before, let alone one involving Korean issues. Members of this generation, unlike first-generation Korean Americans, generally fall within the more privileged sectors of the Korean American community and often feel alienated from their Korean roots. In addition to raising the political consciousness of young Korean Americans, the Pico struggle sparked among them new interest in their cultural identity. The Pico workers also suggested new roles that can be played by recent immigrants, particularly working-class immigrants. These immigrants’ knowledge of working conditions overseas can help to globalize the perspective of their communities and can help to establish international ties on a more personal level, as witnessed in the especially warm exchange between the Pico workers and recent working-class immigrants from China. In addition to broadening the political base within the Korean American community, the Pico struggle also led to new alliances between the Korean American community and progressive labor and social justice groups within the larger society—as evidenced in the support received from the Coalition of Labor Union Women and leading African American unionists.

Paragraph 3

The reasons for these effects lie in the nature of the cause. The issues raised by the Pico unionists had such a strong human component that differences within the community became secondary to larger concerns for social justice and workers’ rights. The workers’ demands for compensation and respect were unencumbered with strong ideological trappings. The economic exploitation faced by the Pico workers underscored the common interests of Korean workers, Korean Americans, the working class more inclusively, and a broad spectrum of community leaders.

Paragraph 4

The Pico workers’ campaign thus offers an important lesson. It demonstrates that ethnic communities need more than just a knowledge of history and culture as artifacts of the past in order to strengthen their ethnic identity. It shows that perhaps the most effective means of empowerment for many ethnic communities of immigrant derivation may be an identification with and participation in current struggles for economic and social justice in their countries of origin.

Topic and Scope:  

Korean Americans; specifically, the effect on the Korean American community of a specific Korean labor struggle.

Purpose and Main Idea:

The author’s purpose is to explore how the Pico Korea Union struggle impacted Korean Americans in a variety of ways. The Main Idea takes that a step further, in that the author moves from that specific example to the implications for other ethnic communities whose forebears were immigrants. They, like Korean Americans, would do well to get involved with similar campaigns in their countries of origin.

Paragraph structure:

Paragraph 1 provides the factual background—the formation of the union, the subsequent plant closing, and the 1990 visit of some of the workers that galvanized the Korean American community. Then the author announces his purpose, to demonstrate the “[deep effects]...on several levels” (lines 9-10) that the whole situation had on Korean Americans.

Paragraph 2 amply lives up to its promise to detail those “several levels.” The plethora of Continuation Keywords— “First...In addition...also...In addition...also”—nicely highlights the function of the paragraph: to describe the effects of the Pico Korea Union visit. No matter how you slice up Paragraph 2, the author sees a wide range of positive things coming out of the Pico workers’ story. You didn’t need to memorize all the details here; you just needed to know where to look for them.

Paragraph 3 announces its scope early: reasons for the effects mentioned in Paragraph 2. You might have summarized them in your head as “The Pico struggle was non-political and economically based, and spoke to Korean Americans’ hearts.” That’s more or less why the Pico struggle was able to engage them so profoundly, as the author sees it.

Paragraph 4 is, of course, the “important lesson” (line 52) offered by lines 1-50. The author never mentions Koreans, but broadens out his interest to the implications for all ethnic communities. This is how we know that Paragraph 4 holds the Main Idea, as described above.

The Big Picture:

  • The passage will always live up to its early promises. Here, when the author says that the Pico situation “affected...on several levels,” you know you will hear about those effects. Be aggressive and seek all of this out: Find those effects; don’t just passively wait for the author to “tell you stuff.”
  • Circle or underline important Keywords, and use them to help you establish the author’s main interests and organize the passage. Be especially watchful for Emphasis Keywords, such as “an unprecedented...deeply affected”, or “Most notably” (line 13), or “an important lesson”.
  • A passage need not end (as this one does) with an appeal to broader ideas, but when it does, you will usually find there an expression of the author’s main concerns. Keep such a Paragraph in mind when attacking Global questions.

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