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KOREANS

KOREANS. Koreans in Texas are one prime facet of the recent but fast-growing immigration from East Asia. Except for wives of American servicemen who had fought in the Korean war (1950–53) or been stationed in South Korea afterwards, few Koreans lived in Texas until the late 1960s. As late as 1970 the census recorded only 2,090 Koreans in the state. Twenty years later the Korean population had increased fifteen-fold to 31,775. In 1990 Koreans ranked fifth in population among Asians and Pacific Islanders, behind the Vietnamese, Chinese, Asian Indians, and Filipinos, but ahead of the Japanese. As with the other Asians, this extraordinary increase in the number of Koreans was due largely to the 1965 liberalization of United States immigration laws, which previously had denied entry to all but a few Asians. Many of these post-1965 immigrants originally came to the United States and to Texas in search of economic opportunities; others came later to join relatives who were already here. Almost half of the Koreans in Texas in 1990 were evenly divided between Dallas (7,290) and Harris (6,571) counties; other counties with a sizable Korean population were Bell, Bexar, Travis, Tarrant, and El Paso. The Koreans in Texas, as elsewhere in the United States, are largely made up of three groups: wives of American servicemen previously stationed in Korea, small business entrepreneurs, and professional people. Because of the ongoing presence of many American troops in South Korea, war brides have continued to arrive in large numbers, accompanying their husbands as they were transferred home. They are scattered across the state, particularly among various military bases such as Fort Hood in Bell County and others in Bexar and El Paso counties. Because of the preponderance of the war brides, the Koreans in Texas-as in the U.S. as a whole-are, unlike the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Asian Indians, a predominantly female population. In 1990, among the Koreans, women outnumbered men three to two.

Entrepreneurs make up a second large category of Koreans in Texas. Their operations are generally small in scale and thus do not need much in the way of startup capital, and they are run almost entirely by family members who work long hours and pool their resources. Such "mom-and-pop" businesses include gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores, and fast-food restaurants, most of which require only a limited knowledge of English when communicating with customers. Korean entrepreneurs also operate ethnic businesses like groceries and restaurants that sell Oriental produce and serve a mixture of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. These businesses prominently feature signs written in Hangul, the distinctive phonetic writing system of Korea. There is some clustering of Korean businesses, such as in the Spring Branch area of Houston. But because they cater mostly to the general public, they are not so concentrated anywhere in Texas as to form "Koreatowns."

Many of the professional Koreans came originally as students and then remained after their graduation. For example, Sung Kwak, who was born in Seoul, arrived in the United States in the mid-1960s, graduated from a music school in New York, and was appointed the conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra in 1982. A number of Korean professionals are college teachers. Wendy Lee, a Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University, came in 1970 to teach at Texas A&M University, where she married her colleague, Phil Gramm. When her husband was elected in 1978 to the United States House and later to the Senate, Wendy Lee Gramm joined him in Washington, where she worked as an economist; from 1988 to 1993 she chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The three main groups of Koreans in Texas generally have little to do with each other. The war brides, in particular, tend to be dispersed and isolated; moreover, they often differ in education and socioeconomic origins from the entrepreneurs and the professionals. But even though because of the restrictive requirements of the immigration laws the latter two groups are generally well educated and come from the upper middle class of Korean society, their occupational lifestyle in the United States lead them in separate directions. Nevertheless, the two principal centers of Korean social activity are the Christian church and the Korean Association. Unlike other East Asians except Filipinos, the vast majority of Koreans arrive in the United States already as Christians, especially Protestants. In Texas cities with a large Korean population, a number of different denominations offer services in Korean as well as English; in Austin in the early 1990s, for example, there were eight Korean churches, seven Protestant and one Catholic. Typically, as in Austin, the largest of the Korean churches in each city is the Presbyterian church. There is generally only one Korean Association in each city. It sponsors community-wide celebrations, assists new arrivals, and speaks for the local Korean community in its dealings with the outside world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jong Suck Ahn, Korean Immigrants in the U.S.: Historical Analysis of their Assimilation and Settlement (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1992). Houston Chronicle, March 21, 1993. Won Moo Hurh and Kwang Chung Kim, Korean Immigrants in America: A Structural Analysis of Ethnic Confinement and Adhesive Adaptation (Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1984). Stephan Thernstrom, ed., Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980).

Edward J. M. Rhoads

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Edward J. M. Rhoads, "KOREANS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/pjk01), accessed October 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.