Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America

Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America

Lee, Sara

Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America. By Ji-Ycon Yuh. New York: New York University Press, 2002. Pp. 283. $25.95 (cloth).

Since the passage of the War Brides Act of 1945, more than 100,000 Korean military wives have entered the United States. In Beyond the Shadow of Camptown, Yi-Yeon Yuh examines the history, life experiences, and identities of such Korean military wives. Yuh argues that Korean military wives provide a unique lens through which to view cultural and social contact between South Korea and the United States.

One of the two main themes that stand out from this book is the impact of the political and imperialist relations between the United States and South Korea that emerged as a result of the Korean War. Large-scale marriages of Korean women to American military men began around 1945, as a direct result of America’s deployment of its military troops in South Korea. Many marriages of Korean women to American military men, however, had a lamentable beginning as they resulted from the prostitution of Korean women to American soldiers, a system that both the Korean government and the American military tacitly promoted. Yuh argues that as a consequence of this history and the continuation of prostitution in American military camptowns in South Korea, all international marriages of Korean women to American men are “stained” and are imputed with negative meanings and connotations of sexual subjugation and domination. The struggles and challenges of the Korean military wives due to their presumed association with prostitution are well captured by the book’s qualitative data.

The second theme addresses the challenges that Korean military wives pose to the hegemonic notions of Korean womanhood and the rigid definitions of who is an American. The author demonstrates that Korean military women refuse to erase or sanitize their own experiences as a part of Korea’s history, even though it is a part of Korean history that many Koreans would rather forget. Korean military women assert their Korean pride and identity despite being ostracized by their co-ethnic members. They also practice and promote their Korean culture, thereby countering the pressures to assimilate into a particular mold of Americanness. By asserting their own identities and resisting the pressures to conform, Korean military wives challenge both the gendered and monolithic notions of who is a “good” Korean and the rigid notions of who is an American. Chapter 4, “Cooking American, Eating Korean,” for example, effectively demonstrates how food becomes the contested site of such identity struggles in the everyday lives of Korean military wives.

The book is based primarily on fieldwork: sixteen oral history interviews and participant observations of approximately one hundred and fifty Korean military wives and their families living in the Delaware Valley region. Various archival and historical research also complement the fieldwork. The study’s participants were selected through Yuh’s personal contacrs throughout the local Korean immigrant communities of eastern metropolitan regions, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While Yuh introduces self-selection bias in the sample by relying on her personal connections to recruit participants, the bias would have been difficult to avoid given the small size of the population under study. Nonetheless, one wonders how different Yuh’s findings might have been, particularly those that pertain to identity issues, had she the opportunity to interview Korean military wives who do not maintain tics with other Koreans.

The methodological limitation of the book, however, does not take away from the strengths of the book. Beyond the Shadow of Camptown reveals that the history and the lives of Korean military brides have profound ramifications for American history, Asian/Asian American history, international migration studies, and global gender relations, and I recommend this book to those interested in any or all of these areas.

SARA LEE

Kent State University

Copyright Center for Migration Studies Summer 2004

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