Beware of xenophobiaOne of the most welcome bits of news from the April 11 legislative election was the election of a naturalized foreigner as a member of our National Assembly. Jasmine Lee, who comes from the Philippines, became a proportional representative for the ruling Saenuri Party. Multiethnic families have increased as a result of the many marriages between Korean males in rural areas with foreign spouses, beginning in the late 1980s. The number of foreign brides marrying Korean males is over 210,000, with the number of children from mixed marriages more than 150,000. As they now form one of the biggest minority groups in this country, the election of a foreign-born citizen as a lawmaker is welcome, if not a little belated.
But some unscrupulous netizens’ personal attacks on Jasmine Lee went way beyond our worst expectations. Total garbage circulated in cyberspace, including rumors that Lee made commitments during the campaign to offer free medical services to illegal immigrants and provide privileges for multiethnic students in the college admissions process, not to mention a promise to pay for the costs of relatives to come to Korea to visit. Fortunately, the wretched cyberattacks began to subside after public condemnation.
The shameful attack on Lee in cyberspace was led by netizens in the liberal camp who were dismayed at the remarkable victory of the ruling party in the election. Though the sparring over Lee began as a contest between the conservative and liberal camp, by the end, liberals jumped on the bandwagon to criticize the malicious attacks. Therefore, it’s too early to directly link the attacks to Korean xenophobia.
Regardless, we must exercise vigilance against those who try to propagate xenophobia based on a lack of understanding of the importance of multiculturalism.
In a global era characterized by a free exchange of people, becoming a multiethnic society is a must, not a matter of choice for Korea. Currently, over 10 million ethnic Koreans live overseas. Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, and Lucy Koh, a federal judge in the United States, are both from immigrant families. Providing medical and educational benefits to children of illegal immigrants is recommended by the international community. The “Jasmine Lee’s Commitments” floating in cyberspace is part of a multicultural policy we should pursue. We welcome her successful entry into the National Assembly and look forward to her contributions to our society.