The 1.5 Generation – Becoming Korean American in Hawai’i
by Mary Yu Danico
University of Hawai’i Press
Review by Joomi Lee
I wasn’t born or raised in Korea and didn’t grow up in Hawai’i. But, I still found much that I could identify with in Mary Yu Danico’s thoughtful treatise on the 1.5 generation of Korean Americans in Hawai’i.
“One point fivers” feel neither first-generation Korean nor second generation but somewhere “in-between” – they are generally bicultural and bilingual who immigrated to the United States during their formative years.
Danico does a fine job of detailing the attitudes and ethnographic patterns that “successful” 1.5’ers have in common. I agree with her that it is through the “process of interacting with other Koreans and non-Koreans that they construct their 1.5 ethnic identity.” She believed it was important to note that not all child immigrants go through the 1.5 process.
I will outline some of the things with which I did or did not identify. Before I begin, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I fit the 1.5 definition only in the secondary sense of Danico’s definition. I was born of Korean parents in West Germany and lived there until I was nine years old. That makes me a second generation Korean-German. At age nine, my family moved to the United States. That makes me a 1.5’er. But because I wasn’t born or raised in Korea, my Korean is minimal at best. In fact, my German is better than my Korean, to my sorrow.
Things I identified with:
• The ability to express myself as more American when with non-Koreans, but as more Korean when with first-generation Koreans.
• Code switching between English and Konglish (a mix of Korean and English)
• Realizing that even though I have U.S. citizenship, I am not seen as other Americans. I have the label of being a minority along with the social reality that comes along with that label.
• I served as translator for my parents and was the primary caregiver for my younger siblings.
• Observations of my peers’ families confirmed that my family is different from other families.
• Not wishing to marry a Korean but someone with Korean-type characteristics.
• Feeling that “I never had a childhood.”
• Adopting a sense of filial obligation.
• Being viewed as “aggressive, rude and hot-tempered.”
Things I didn’t identify with:
• Memories of Korea. I have no childhood memories of Korea.
• Wanting to pass or passing as other ethnic groups, such as Chinese or Japanese.
• Meeting other 1.5’ers in college. I’ve known them all my life.
I do have a couple of minor complaints about this ethnography. The first is probably the proofreader’s fault. The footnote numbers are missing from the main pages of the book, so that the reader is forced to hunt down the references from the back of the book. The second is that because of the snowball effect methodology of gathering her subjects, Danico ended up studying Korean Americans who were successful in the business world. Those members of the 1.5 generation who aren’t part of that particular success story will feel misrepresented at the least.
What about those who are dispossessed, mentally ill or homeless? Where do they fit in? I think it would be an interesting ethnography to find out how Korean Americans of first, 1.5 and second generations feel about the mentally ill and others who don’t quite fit the typical American success story. How do they talk about and treat them? How do 1.5’ers who are mentally ill survive and live in this world?
I recommend this book for anyone interested in this topic and well-written ethnographies in general. This book does a very good job of fostering dialogue and promoting an understanding of a little-studied group of people. This study has implications for other 1.5 ethnic groups.