needs of 1.5 generation Korean Asian Americans

June 6, 2007

This article, “‘Nightmare of Nightmares’: Virginia Tech’s Korean Christians wrestle with the aftermath of a massacre.“, provides a recap of the April 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, but also gives some helpful statistics and insights into the subcultural context of the “1.5 generation” Korean American, which has many similarities to other “1.5 generation” Asian Americans as well. [ht: Warren Bird] These excerpts highlight the particular issues related to contextualizing ministry for this under-served group:

… In America, Koreans are Christian or attend church at nearly three times the rate found in their mother country. Some 25 percent of Koreans in South Korea identify themselves as Christian. But about 70 percent of Koreans in the United States are affiliated with a church, if not for spiritual guidance, then at least for cultural connection. Within the U.S. population of 300 million, there are only about 1 million Koreans, and they are concentrated in gateway cities such as Los Angeles. Only 10 percent of the 10.2 million Asians in the U.S. are Korean.

As a result, immigrant Koreans often stick together. Kang said this “stick-togetherness” helps them whether they are first generation (having arrived in the United States after age 16 or so) or “1.5 generation” (having immigrated as children, sometimes old enough to remember their lives in Korea).

… Blacksburg’s other Korean church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, is a 1.5- and second-generation church that favors English-language worship. Korea Campus Crusade for Christ, the Baptist church’s de facto student outreach arm, arrived at Virginia Tech about 10 years ago. Perhaps a quarter of the 90 students involved with KCCC are “seekers”—young people interested in knowing more about a relationship with Christ.

The dynamic within the Korean American community is not unlike that of many American communities. University students leave their families, which range in faith from unchurched and uninterested to devoutly Christian. Like other students, they are dealing with identity issues and deciding where God and the church fit into their lives.

Korean American Christian leaders focus on relational dynamics. They fellowship over familiar Korean foods, share their faith, and strengthen each other’s walk with Christ.

Each fall, Virginia Tech’s KCCC “servants” (as leaders are called) dig through freshman rosters, looking for Korean names. Going two by two, they visit dorm rooms and leave fliers with contact information and invitations to a cookout, fellowships, and Bible studies. They help newcomers by taking them shopping and helping them move into their dorms. All hear the gospel eventually.

According to Gordon-Conwell’s Kang, that kind of gospel-centered support is vital to overcoming a strong sense of isolation. Because Korean parents come to the United States eager to provide materially for their children in ways they believed they could not in Korea, mothers and fathers often work 60 hours a week or more. “The younger generation is left alone to grow up by themselves [and] figure out their life by themselves, whether at home or at the church,” Kang said.

Because many 1.5-generation and second-generation children adopt American culture and English as their preferred language, he said, parents and children find communication increasingly difficult as the years go by. Cho himself was a 1.5-generation child.

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Wayne Park
June 18th, 2007

the “stick-togetherness” is something I know from first hand experience really well. Growing up I was able to hang out with all races, but eventually got drawn into the “stickyness” of Korean-Am subculture. Trying to extract myself from that and become comfortable with other races again took too long of a time. It’s a blessing but also a trap.

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