Korean women married to foreigners seek anti-discrimination law
SEOUL — All marriages have misunderstandings. But combining two languages, two cultures, and two sets of traditions into a family can multiply into a barrage of problems, especially if both sides have challenges speaking each other’s language.
Those problems can turn into more than yelling matches, Chon Edwards says. Sometimes, they can escalate into abuse and stereotyping, and even resonate outside of the house and into the community.
“It’s better than before,” says Edwards, a Korean-born woman who married an American embassy worker five decades ago. But now, Edwards says, it’s sometimes the Korean people who turn their backs on wives like her and discriminate against mixed-race children.
This week, about 75 Korean women from 12 different countries gathered in Seoul to talk about these issues. They are asking President Roh Moo-hyun and the National Assembly to consider passing an anti-discrimination law to combat what Edwards says is unfair treatment toward Koreans who marry citizens of other countries. The group also hopes the law would stop discrimination against Amerasian children, who have parents of mixed races.
The three-day conference was organized by the Korean-American Women’s Association of the USA and the National Association of Inter-cultural Family Missions. Representatives from both groups, along with Edwards, presented a letter to the National Assembly this week requesting the law.
Edwards said she couldn’t name any tangible or systematic Korean custom that discriminates against women who marry American men. Instead, she said, it’s more a feeling that women like herself are looked down upon, “treated as second-class citizens,” for marrying outside their nation and race.
“We strongly feel the Amerasian people in Korea should be assured equal rights and opportunities in all aspects of life,” the letter said. “They are our flesh and blood, and they are also part of the future of Korea.”
Edwards has been working for most of her adult life to help Korean women who marry U.S. servicemembers. In the late 1950s in Seoul mixed couples began seeking her help in settling fights and misunderstandings. In 1957, she created a “bride class” on Yongsan Garrison, helping Korean women better understand American traditions, recipes and even table settings.
Since then, she’s worked to set up Korean-American groups in eight U.S. cities. She says she still meets Korean wives who need help getting to know their husbands’ country and customs. But she says the younger generation is better prepared.
“These days, the girls are better understood, and better educated,” she said.