Korean Family Dynamics

Posted by christinejaylee
2018.03.13 19:15 EDITORIAL/문화 & 예술 :: Culture & Art



Korean Family Dynamics | English Columnist Shelby Kim


Every time I make my annual visit back to my motherland, my weekends are bombarded with huge family gatherings. Having lived in the States for most of my life, I am almost too excited every time I visit my grandparents in Korea, because it means I get to reunite with my relatives I haven’t seen for a year or two, or haven’t met ever. Every family gathering, I get a new taste of Korean culture that can seldom be experienced in the States.





Korean Family Tree



When I was young, I hadn’t paid much attention to the subtle nuances in Korean family culture--everything seemed natural, in-place, and orderly. I was taught by my parents to formally bow to elders on New Year’s Day and make red carnations for all of my aunts and uncles on Parents’ Day. I was used to eating hot rice cake soup on the morning of New Year’s and playing Yut with my cousins in the evening. However, as I was growing up, I remember my mom slowly teaching me the titles of each family member I met, emphasizing the importance of remembering each title and matching the right person to it. My uncles and aunts had different titles according to if they were from my dad’s side or my mom’s side. My grandparents weren’t just “parents-in-law” for my parents--they had specific titles used in Korean households, passed on from many, many generations ago. Because of the nature of Korean honorifics and politeness for the elders, there is a certain alert conscientiousness between the adults during family gatherings, and a greater necessity for respect amongst the members of the family. This often results in seemingly innocuous tension and strict family dynamics for certain households, and this atmosphere is usually determined by the oldest members of the family (the grandparents).


When I meet with my friends that have been born and raised in Korea for all of their lives, I am able to learn more about their perspective regarding this atmosphere set by the elderly. A lot of Korean households, especially when they are not religious, hold memorials for passed ancestors and relatives. This ritual contains a deep meaning of respect and recognition of the elders, but also carries many implications of the strict hierarchy of adults when preparing for the ritual. When the memorials are celebrated in men’s households, the grandparents not only expect the wives of the men, but also the partners of his siblings to aid them in successfully holding the memorials from start to finish.



The Infamous Triplets from the show “Return of Superman”



However, the recent trend of family dynamics portrayed in Korean media is quite different from what it used to be in the early 1900s. Since early 2010s, the most popular Korean variety shows have slowly transitioned into family-oriented shows, starring the celebrities’ family members, including their parents and children. These variety shows offer a glimpse into the seemingly ordinary everyday lives of celebrities living with their families, which do not seem too far off from the lives of most Korean families. Recently, these shows have been helping Korean families ease the tension between the oldest to the youngest generations, because they have been serving a pivotal role in reversing the standards and stereotypes of filial piety and respect. For example, these shows have each family member, regardless of age, to be matched to another person to complete a mission together. The process of accomplishing this mission alleviates the strict boundaries of age, which is highly valued in Korean households, and allows everyone to understand the significance behind respecting each other for who they are, not how old they are. The recurrence of these types of shows help Korean families to progress away from the harsh cultural traditions to ones that can be enjoyed by every member of the family equally.


This movement for changing Asian family dynamics into a more comfortable setting is also on the rise in America. This movement, I believe, is a very complex movement with multiple layers. A lot of the reasoning behind it comes from second generation Asian Americans wanting to change these formalities that they have been experiencing for years. Many immigrant households are regularly exposed to the media in the States that portrays equality amongst family members, but when they go back to the motherland, they are stumped by the amount of stress they receive from relatives during family gatherings. Once someone graduates college, the elders ask about their potential job options. Once someone gets a job, the elders ask them when they are going to get married. And when that person does get married, the adults pester them about their plans for children. Due to these chronic stressors, many wives feel seasonal depression during family holiday seasons and experience disagreements with their parents-in-law and their husbands about this subject matter. Holiday seasons are meant to be a time for relaxation, but many women endure times of uncomfortableness, pressure, and stress.



The Huang Family from the show Fresh Off the Boat


One variety show that dramatically changed the American view about Asian households is Fresh Off the Boat on ABC, a sitcom series starring Hollywood’s all-time favorite Asian celebrities Constance Wu and Hudson Yang. The plot follows the story of Eddie Huang’s immigrant family from Taiwan as they try to make it from Chinatown in Washington, DC to a mostly Caucasian neighborhood in Orlando, Florida in the hopes of successfully achieving the “American Dream” by opening up a restaurant. Based Huang’s true narrative, the story illustrates the hardships coming from cultural differences in Asian American households, and their struggles for assimilation. The culture clash that occurs between the mostly-white Orlando community and the Huang family provides interesting insight to the common beliefs and stereotypes about Asian American families and the overlapping cultural traditions followed by both white and Asian Americans.


I have always been intrigued by family dynamics in both Korean and American households due to my upbringing. After taking Korean and Chinese history classes during high school and at Berkeley, I have come to appreciate and understand the background behind the use of honorifics and filial piety emphasized so strongly in Asian households. The changing of family dynamics has greatly impacted my own family’s experiences, beliefs, and standards about respect. These change of ideals have been shaping me to better understand these high-level ideas and converting them to visualize them for my own family that I will have in the future. Personally, I am thankful for my Korean extended family’s cultural traditions, which have helped shape my perspective and open-mindedness for cultures that I am able to see and experience all around me here in California.


Sources:

http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-abc.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/for-south-koreas-seniors-a-return-to-poverty-as-confucian-filial-piety-weakens/2014/01/20/19769cf2-7b85-11e3-97d3-b9925ce2c57b_story.html?utm_term=.86bdd260bf00

https://academic.oup.com/innovateage/article/1/suppl_1/603/3899052


Author’s Note:

I would like to give all of this article’s credits to my mother, for allowing me to experience both cultures, for helping me to possess an open mind about Asian-American family politics and how these values and traditions are portrayed differently in American media, and last but not least, for inspiring me to write this article.



출처: http://www.berkeleyopinion.com/857 [BERKELEY OPINION]

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