Kwang Lim and Hesung Chun Koh: A Study in Korean Diaspora (Joint project of the C.G.C.M. and East Rock Institute)
Researchers: (front row, left) Prof. Dana L. Robert, Hajung Lee, (back row, left) Jaeguen Lee, Paul Choi
This website is a result of the joint project of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University and East Rock Institute. It will focus on the Korean diaspora in Boston from 1950 to 1964. In those years, a small but influential number of Korean intellectuals made their home in the Boston area, drawn as students to the region’s numerous colleges and universities. The initial foundation of this movement came as a result of American Christian missions that had established educational institutions in Korea and churches that provided scholarships for promising Korean students to continue their studies in America. As American and South Korean geopolitical interests came together, new, secular sources of funding expanded opportunities for Korean students in America. For example, in 1953, the Yenching Institute, an independent foundation at Harvard University dedicated to promoting higher education in Asian studies, began offering fellowships to post-doctoral scholars in South Korea. In 1965, changes in American immigration law opened the door to increased Korean immigration to the United States. The number of Koreans in the Boston area increased significantly and the new immigrants were not only academics.
These Korean intellectuals lived through a time of great change both in the United States and Korea. Following World War II, both the United States and Korea emerged to new positions in the world and struggled with internal conflicts that reflected their changed geopolitical roles. The United States became a dominant world power and constructed a new international order designed to contain and oppose Communist regimes around the world. Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation to become not one, but two new countries divided along the 38th parallel. Although most Americans saw their new role in the world to be promoters of freedom and democracy, the United States struggled with these very issues domestically as African Americans fought to secure rights of access to public accommodations and political participation. Those often violent conflicts for civil rights, however, paled in comparison to conflicts in Korea at the time. From 1950 to 1953, a proxy war raged in Korea between the United States, its South Korean, and international allies and North Korea and its Communist allies of the Soviet Union and China. Even after active fighting stopped, South Koreans continued to live under the domestic turmoil of autocratic regimes, student uprisings, and military rule.
Researching the first Koreans in Boston is a meaningful project for a number of reasons. First, faced with ravages of the Korean War and the reconstruction of their country, many of these individuals stayed in the U.S. as professionals such as professors, doctors, and engineers. Those who did return to Korea often played important roles in Korean society. Second, war and political turbulence at home and social marginalization in the United States prompted these expatriates to form the Korea Institute of Boston to promote positive images of Korean culture and Korean identity to both Koreans and Americans. In time, the Korea Institute would move to New Haven, Connecticut, to become the East Rock Institute. Third, these immigrants initiated the formation of a Korean church in 1953 at Marsh Chapel to address spiritual and practical needs of the Korean community emerging from unexpected illnesses, injury, and the formation of marriages and Korean families. This church also served as a crucial bridge to help new immigrants assimilate by providing social connections.
Key themes this site will address include: introducing the historical background and the birth of the Korean diaspora community in Boston, tracing the predicaments and the challenges that the first Koreans had to face, unearthing important events, episodes and news material relating to the period, identifying key people and the influence of political issues on the Korean diaspora community, and tracing the establishment and development of the Korean community in the Boston area, including formation of the first Korean church and the Korean Society.
This site will pay particular attention to the life and roles of the Koh family as leading representatives of Korean diaspora experience in the period. The Koh family is important for their important contributions in founding two important communities: the Korean American Society and the first Korean church, and their valuable efforts to research and introduce Korean culture to American society. The Korean American Society was founded and developed through weekly meetings at the Koh home. These meetings became an important center for Koreans to enjoy Korean food and hospitality. The indispensable roles of the Koh family, thus, will be highlighted and introduced in this project .