KOREAN DIASPORA: Language and Identity

March 19 (Fri) 8:00-10:00pm (EST)

Via Zoom (a link will be provided to the AATK members on 3/15 and 3/18 via email)
If you are interested in this event, you can renew or join the AATK membership here.

Moderator: Hi-Sun Kim (Harvard University)

On the topic of Korean diaspora, the research areas most widely discussed in our field (e.g. AATK) include issues of language acquisition, development, maintenance, and pedagogy of Korean heritage language learners. The context of research on Korean heritage language learners tend to be limited to North America, who are second generation of Korean-Americans and Korean-Canadians in higher education, as well as K-12 students. As we anticipate a third-generation of Korean heritage learners, this panel aims to expand the boundary beyond North America to revisit, explore, and understand the experiences of Koreans living outside of their homeland in other regions with different histories. Through a discussion of Professor David Chung’s documentary film Koryo Saram-The Unreliable People, which explores the history of Koreans in Kazakhstan, director Joseph Juhn’s Jeronimo, a documentary depicting the experience of Koreans in Cuba, and Professor Jiyeon Jo’s research on legacy migrants, who are later-generation diaspora Koreans who return to South Korea, this colloquium hopes to discover new insights and perspectives on the experiences of heritage language learners, not only from the angle of language acquisition, but also in relation to the broader, more complex process of identity formation that compels them to reconnect with their Korean heritage in the first place.


Terror on the Steppe: The Story of the Koryo Saram, the Koreans of Kazakhstan

Chung, David (University of Michigan)

The documentary film, Koryo Saram, tells the harrowing saga of survival in the open steppe country and the sweep of Soviet history through the eyes of deported Koreans, who were designated by Stalin as an “unreliable people” and enemies of the state. Through recently uncovered archival footage and new interviews, the film follows the deportees’ history of integrating into the Soviet system while working under punishing conditions in Kazakhstan, a country that came to house concentration camps of exiled people from throughout the Soviet Union.


At the height of the Great Terror, Stalin implemented a plan to move every single Korean living in the Far East Soviet Union to new territories in Central Asia. The official reason was collusion with Japan, but it was clear that Stalin wanted to populate these remote Soviet republics.

All 180,000 Koreans were packed into crowded cattle cars to make the 4000-mile journey to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This grueling, month-long deportation is vividly brought to life through the memories of first-hand survivors. About 98,000 Koreans were brought into Kazakhstan and disbursed throughout the country to establish collective farms. In the first years, many Koreans were relocated to uninhabited lands without any housing. At a small village named Ushtobe, 34,000 Koreans were brought and thousands lived out in the open steppe, digging holes in the ground for shelter.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, Koreans were allowed to leave their collective farms and many began to move to the large urban areas to begin lives in professional or administrative fields. Many Koreans who remained in the collective farms participated in the Virgin Lands program during the Kruschev era. These collective farms were eventually privatized. Today, 100,000 Koreans still live among the “hundred” nationalities that make up modern Kazakhstan.

How these Koreans integrated with Soviet society while maintaining their traditional language and identity alongside other deported people is a fascinating testament to the power of cultural heritage. Today, many immigrants struggle with the same questions of inter-marriage, language, and customs. In a world where culture is no longer tied to territory, how do people from one culture forge an identity with the dominant society? The story of the Korean-Kazakhs sheds light on the legacy of Soviet ethnic policy and provides insight into the repercussions of a world made of increasingly displaced people.

*For viewing of the documentary film, Koryo Saram, the Unreliable People, please go to (Free, password: koryo37)
Also, if any members are interested in purchasing the film for educational purposes, the film’s website has a page with links for DVD or on-demand streaming.


Diaspora is the Future

Juhn, Joseph (Film Director)

‘Korean diaspora’ will be used as a guiding principle to understand ourselves and our role as members of 1) the Korean community, 2) the Korean American community, 3) Korean diasporic communities in general, and 4) the cosmopolitan community. The presentation will also touch upon how Joseph’s feature documentary, Jeronimo, came about years after Joseph had begun contemplating the notion of the Korean diaspora. Through the life and legacy of Jeronimo Lim, born in 1926 to Korean indentured servant parents in Cuba, only to eventually join the Cuban revolution and cross paths with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara before turning to his Korean roots and identity, Joseph questions, using the words and letters of Jeronimo Lim, what makes one Korean and the essence, if at all, of Korean identity. Joseph will also briefly discuss his new documentary project, Chosen, which chronicles the journey of five Korean Americans who ran for election to the US Congress in 2020, thereby introducing and exploring the Korean American narrative of Korean diaspora.

*To view the documentary film, Jeronimo, please go to: ($2.99)


Language of Past, Present, and Future: Korean Language and Diasporic Circulation of Affect

Jo, Jiyeon (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Over 7.5 million ethnic Koreans have emigrated to different parts of the world during the course of Korea’s modern history. Taken together, the various Korean diasporas have a population equal to almost 10 percent that of North Korea and South Korea combined—one of the world’s largest proportions of diaspora to homeland populations. Since the early 1990s, however, South Korea has experienced “migration transition”: it has shifted from a country of emigration to a country of immigration and undergone a dramatic increase in its foreign-resident population. About one-third of South Korea’s foreign-resident population is ethnic Korean legacy migrants—later-generation diaspora Koreans who “return” to South Korea—from countries such as China, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the United States.

These legacy migrants’ proficiency in and affective connection to the Korean language is shaped not only by their diasporic generations and regions but also by the historical ebbs and flows related to language policies and politics in their diasporic homelands. After migrating to South Korea, however, their relationship with the Korean language shifts again. They are “familiar” co-ethnics but at the same time cultural and linguistic foreigners in their ancestral homeland.

To understand legacy migrants’ past and present relationships with the Korean language, I bring a historical and comparative analysis of Korean diasporas into conversation with personal narratives of legacy migrants. Their narratives invite us to reexamine the meanings of proficiency, authenticity, and value in relation to the Korean language and highlight the importance of understanding the affective dimension of language for legacy migrants. A better understanding of how the affect formed around the Korean language circulates through different diasporic generations and spaces will help us envision what the future of the Korean language will look like for Korean diasporas and legacy migrants.

About the presenters (in alphabetical order):

Professor David Chung is an acclaimed visual artist and filmmaker. His work focuses on how identities are shaped in immigrant communities and the challenges of refugees as they integrate into new homelands. Chung has exhibited at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Asia Society, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Gwangju Biennale, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Chung has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the National Board Film Board of Canada’s Award for Best Documentary Film. He is professor and director of the MFA Graduate Program at the University of Michigan and recently, he was the Kim Koo Visiting Professor at Harvard University.

Professor Ji-Yeon Jo is Director of the Carolina Asia Center and Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jo’s research interests center around race, ethnicity, citizenship, belonging, education, and language issues, with a particular focus on the Korean diaspora and minority populations in South Korea and the United States. Her first book, Homing: An Affective Topography of Ethnic Korean Return Migration (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017) addresses some of the most vexing and pressing issues of contemporary transnational migration―citizenship, cultural belonging, language, and family relationships―and highlights their affective dimensions. Jo is currently working on her second monograph, tentatively titled Unsettling: Korean Diaspora Cinema and the Circulation of Affect.

Film Director Joseph Juhn is a Korean-American lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker. Prior to becoming a full-time doc-maker, Joseph worked as a New York attorney for four years at a Korean government agency based in Manhattan, specializing in Intellectual Property and Startup law. A serendipitous backpacking trip to Cuba in 2015 changed Joseph’s life when he ran in to a Korean descendant by chance, inspiring him to rekindle his storytelling aspirations. “Jeronimo” is Joseph’s first feature film. “Jeronimo” has been accepted to 17 film festivals around the globe and opened in theaters in Korea in November 2019, drawing over 20,000 audiences and receiving one of the highest audience ratings that year. He is currently working on his next feature documentary project, “CHOSEN,” which is about five Korean Americans that ran for US Congress in 2020, four of whom were elected. Joseph earned a BA in Film & Video at UC San Diego, and a JD at Syracuse University College of Law.