“A new American comes ‘home’”: Race, nation, and the immigration of Korean War adoptees, “GI babies,” and brides

“A new American comes ‘home’”: Race, nation, and the immigration of Korean War adoptees, “GI babies,” and brides

Yale University
May 2010
355 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3395980
ISBN: 9781109588873

Susie Woo

A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Yale University
in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Between 1950 and 1965, an estimated 2000 Korean children, 3500 mixed-race “GI babies,” and 7700 military brides entered the United States as the sons, daughters and wives of predominantly white, middle-class families. Together, they signaled the corporeal return of U.S. neocolonial endeavors in South Korea stateside, and embodied the possibilities and limits of Cold War liberalism. Through analysis of U.S. and South Korean government records, archival documents, mainstream and minority press, and interviews with Korean wartime orphanage employees, this dissertation focuses on the living legacies of a “forgotten war.” It traces the roots and routes of Korean and mixed-race adoptee and war bride immigration that were intimately shaped by ordinary Americans at work in South Korea between 1950 and 1965, and the complex political, social, and legal effects that this gendered and raced immigrant group had upon both countries.

This dissertation argues that the U.S. servicemen, missionaries, social workers, and voluntary aid workers, the latter three that flooded South Korea to spearhead the postwar recovery campaign, advocated for the legal and binding formation of mixed Korean/American families and brought empire home. Ironically, by adhering to its government’s cultural policy of integration intended to bolster U.S. expansionist and Cold War efforts, enthusiastic internationalist citizens tethered Americans at home to South Koreans in sentimental, material, and, eventually, familial ways that unraveled the government’s ability to contain its neocolonial objectives “over there.” Thus, by being American, U.S. citizens profoundly affected both sides of the Pacific—they forever changed the lives of thousands of Korean women and children, permanently shaped South Korea’s child welfare system, and unexpectedly forced openings in U.S. national and familial borders subsequently challenging Americans at home to broaden their conceptions of race, kinship, gender, sexuality, and national belonging during the tumultuous Cold War/civil rights era.

Table of Contents

  • INTRODUCTION: On Being American
  • CHAPTER ONE: Wartime Sentiment: American GI’s and the Militarization of Korean Women and Children
  • CHAPTER TWO: Picturing the Korean “Waif: American Campaigns of Rescue
  • CHAPTER THREE: Private Matters of Public Concern: U.S. Social and Legal Management of Korean Adoptee Immigrants
  • CHAPTER FOUR: A “Pre”-History of Korean War Adoptions: Racial and Institutional Legacies of Neocolonial Care in South Korea
  • CHAPTER FIVE: Model Minority or Miscegenation Threat?: The Cultural Domestication of Korean War Immigrants
  • CONCLUSION: Mixed Kin: U.S. Neocolonial Legacies at Home and Abroad

Purchase the dissertation here.

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