Yo soy coreano

Latin America (South America), Here We Are !

Today, we’ll explore the brief rundown of the migration that occurred which only depicts a handful of events and occurrences amongst a sea of information.  The aim of this article is to promote a general understanding of how the mass emigration occurred, how the Koreans survived and made a living, and anything interesting that we did given our unique circumstances.  Enjoy.

How Did We End Up Here ? 

In 1962, the Overseas Emigration Law was enacted by both countries with a huge intention to strengthen the textile trade.  However, migration to Latin America occurred on a sizeable scale (120,000 Koreans) in Paraguay between 1975 and 1990.

Also, this Law aimed to specifically send Korean farmers and peasants to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia.  This was the plan anyway.

Even though peasants and farmers made the journey to South America, in 1977, only about 1 percent of the Korean migrants were still farmers, the other 99% moved into other vocations.

Hold on second.
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Every single farmer or peasant who was Korean just decided to give up farming?!

It turned out that many of the Koreans who made the voyage to Paraguay weren’t all peasants and farmers. They were actually middle-class and had a bit of cash flow as well!  Furthermore, when the Koreans did arrive, the soils weren’t exactly fertile, and so the land was not suitable for farming anyway.

Where Are We Now? 

Now, as far as documentations, the government did keep track of many things and the Koreans weren’t much help in this sector.  Unlike the Swedish, South America had a hard time keeping track of what was what.  Paraguayan visas don’t distinguish between immigrants, long-term residents, temporary workers, and tourists.  So really, there’s no way to tell how many actual residents are living in Paraguay as of now.

To make matters more interesting, Brazil was an attractive place for many people because of their economic and technological sophistication.  Many Koreans moved there without registering themselves with the South Korea’s Representatives, and many just decided not to.

Yup, we just decided not to.
Because we boss like that.
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So then, where are we now exactly?

South America MapIn Brazil, 90% of Koreans live in Sao Paulo in Liberdade, Bom Retiro, or Brás. (48,400 in total)

In Paraguay the majority of Koreans live in Asunción or in Puerto Stroessner. (5200 in total)

In Argentina, the 35,000 population is split between Flores and Balvanera.

Chile has about 2000 people or so.

Each country has their own background and population on wiki: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile.

So roughly, 90,600 Koreans (documented) are in South America.

Characteristic of Koreans in South America

Sometimes, when you’re not Asian, it’s hard to distinguish between a Chinese or Japanese from a Korean.  But we stood out and for the right reasons too.

Compared to the Chinese and Japanese, Koreans brought around $30,000 in order to financially secure ourselves, which was a lot more than what others brought.  You will never see a Korean in the agricultural department.  Nope, you just won’t.

Also, if you ever come to Paraguay and Brazil, you’ll notice that many families have brothers, sisters, cousins, in other countries including the United States and Canada.  Many Koreans who grow up in South America also end up moving to another country to work, giving them a linguistic advantage over other contenders.  So if you’re in the states, don’t be surprised to hear perfect Spanish or Portuguese coming from a Korean person.  I attended an SAT school in Rowland Heights run by a Korean teacher who grew up in Argentina so I can attest to this!

Oh, Siestas ? We don’t do siestas.

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Many Hispanic cultures do a siesta (a nap) during the day, and consequently, their shops remain closed for a few hours.  Well, many Koreans who opened up a store remained opened while most were having a snooze.

As more and more second generations are made, many can be heard referring to themselves as “Porteño” meaning people from Buenos Aires. It’s probably synonymous to Korean-Americans saying they’re “American”.

What Kind of Work Do We Do ?

Well, we did the normal stuff like beekeeping and door-to-door sales.  In the end, many Koreans found their way by opening up their own businesses.

Today, there are about 2500 businesses owned and run by Koreans, mainly in textile industry, electronic engineering, and export-import trades.

Keeping Us Culturally Rooted

With respect to our native roots, in 1972, the Colegio Coreano del Parguay was established and it aimed to bring the Korean culture and language to Paraguay.  You can find this school in San Vicente, in Asunción.

The Kimchi Bus campaign has been touring all over South America so you if you’re lucky, you might be able to eat some homemade kimchi!

To conclude, we’ve only scratched the surface of the Korean diaspora in the South-Western Hemisphere.  If you’d like to read a detailed paper on South Korea’s engagement in Latin America, go here.

The New York Times had an archive about the migration history from real Koreans titled Don’t Cry, This Land Is Rich in Kims and Lees. This was also written in 1995 so if you have a story to tell, please do via email.

If you’d like to learn more about the Korean diaspora in Latin America, here are a few sources I used in writing this article:
Korea, migration late 19thcentury to present by John Lie, Asians in South America by Jeffrey Lesser, and Wikipedia.

Till next time.
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your Kyopo friend,