Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Soldier's Last Flight

From Human's of New York's Facebook page:

"I was on a commercial flight yesterday, heading back from a visit to Atlanta, when the captain announced that the plane was transporting the body of a slain serviceman. I was sitting at the back of the plane, so when we finally arrived at LaGuardia, I had to wait several minutes for my turn to exit. When I finally stood up from my seat, the scene was surreal. The entire left side of the plane was empty. But everyone on the right side of the plane was still in their seats-- faces pressed against the window. I walked past thirty rows of seats before I finally found an open window, and could see what everyone was looking at. The soldier's name was Ibraham Torres. UPDATE: I'd encourage everyone to look at the top comment from Ibraham's friend."
Ibraham was born in Mexico. He immigrated to New York with his mother, with whom I worked with for six years. His life is among the thousands that inspire and motivate my interest and work regarding immigration (along with ICA-related immigration, including my own).

I last saw him with his son at that job just before I left for Korea. I'm not a fan of the "all soldiers are heroes" meme that came about after the Vietnam War era vets were so badly mistreated. Here in Korea nearly all men must do military service, and a lot of them would've loved to have gotten pardoned from that duty. So, to me Ibraham was much more than a soldier. He was his mother's baby, his baby's father, his little sisters' brother, and of course his father's son. For those reasons he should be honored. That he was a soldier is important, but a fact beside the main point.

Ibraham Torres 1988-2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

International Migrants Day 2013

"There are 232 million people living outside their country of birth, including myself."~
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Whether we choose to migrate, or it was imposed on us by other people, economics, climate change, or politics, we all deserve to live with dignity, in safety, and in peace. As a migrant across international borders, I especially urge both countries I have lived in to uphold the letter and spirit of the UN Declaration on International Migration.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Getting Documented

Migrating back  to Korea has given me firsthand experience with going through the documentation process. Because, even though I was born here, I am treated legally as a foreigner.  Just like in the US.

When I first arrived in Korea, I only had a tourist visa. I had to wait about a month to get my work visa. Without the work visa (or another valid resident visa) I was unable to get most things done. Foreigners in Korea need an Alien Registration Card (ARC). You can’t get one without a visa. Without the ARC I couldn’t get a cell phone. I couldn’t open a bank account. Because I didn’t have a phone, I couldn’t get anything delivered because the apartment building I lived in at that time had no door buzzer/intercom system (delivery men telephone recipients to open the door). I broke the cheap chair my apartment came with, but I couldn’t buy a new one at the first two stores I went to because they only display chairs. Then they order them for delivery to your house. I could use my US-issued credit card or ATM card to get cash, but I couldn’t get a credit card that would work with the Korean websites (and then there was the delivery issue again.)

Things are different in the US. There you can open bank accounts with a foreign passport and proof of address, like a bill. You can buy a phone and get an account without a bank account, credit card, or even ID. It’s not so difficult to spend money in the US.

All this and I should have an F4 visa which is for overseas Koreans. You have to prove that you gave up your Korean citizenship by showing an original naturalization certificate. When I left my adopter’s house back when I was 18, I didn’t take my certificate. I have a US Passport, which in my ignorable opinion, proves my US citizenship, but the government of the Republic of Korea doesn’t seem to agree with that logic.

Before I left the US (even before I got a job offer in ROK) I started the procedure to get a replacement certificate. I had no information about it. No certificate number, no date of issuance; I didn’t know which court swore me. I made an appointment at a USCIS service center in Suffolk County, NY. It would have been a 2-3 hour trip by subway, commuter train, and taxi, to ask what my “A” number was. That’s the file number that identifies you with USCIS, or their processor INS. I kept trying and got another appointment just 15 minutes away by subway. The agent there jotted it down on a notepad slip and handed my TWO A numbers to me. Plus the date that was on my naturalization certificate: 01/00/1980. Yes, that’s right January 00. Do you remember where you were on January 0, 1980?

I sent them the form and payment $345 and passport photos for the new certificate. They sent me a receipt for it and then I moved to Korea. I changed my address with them before I left. My friend who would be receiving the mail from them got a notice that I changed my address. Then I got a notice that they needed further documentation from me. I receive this notification via email. I didn’t know what kind of documentation they wanted. I waited. And waited. And called. And waited. They re-issued the letter and re-sent it. My friend received the letter, finally. They had sent the first letter to my address in New York after I received the change of address acknowledgement. Hrmph! They wanted proof that my name changed legally and they needed it 80 days after the first letter was issued. That gave me two weeks to get my marriage certificate, or an official copy, to them. Since I didn’t know how to get an official copy from Brooklyn to Korea to send to Texas, I just sent the original one to them via Korean express post and my Maine friend and USPS first class mail.

They acknowledged receipt and issued the decision that they will re-issue the certificate. I’m still waiting for the certificate. Hopefully in January 2014 I can apply for an F4 visa. To be continued…

PS People who were adopted away from the ROK can reclaim their citizenship, but that has advantages and disadvantages, particularly for adoptees. I probably will not be getting dual citizenship after getting an F4.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Returning Home

I haven't updated this blog in forever. There are thousands of "My Year-Long Teaching Adventure In the Land of the Morning Calm" blogs written by Americans and other foreigners. They gripe about the shower/bathrooms, lament about the scarcity of cheese, and make fun of the Engrish. There are scores of "Adoptees Return Home/Search/Reunite" blogs, too, so I'm not going to do any of those things. I have found Korea to be confounding in the practicalities, but easy to adjust to culturally, if you can divorce language from culture.

Since my last post I have returned to the country in which I was born. I'm no longer an immigrant, and again, I'm just part of a larger social trend. Korea is changing from a country of 'one blood' to a 'multicultural' one. Half of the children in the rural areas will be half (not fully) Korean soon. Migrants are coming from South and Southeast Asia to work on farms and in factories. There are Turkish entrepreneurs in Itaewon and West Africans selling the same stuff in the same way as in New York. There are the military personnel and contractors who live in the American bubble as they have since the middle of the last century. Then there are the English teachers and other westerners who are usually called 'ex-pats' rather than 'migrants.' Somewhere in this mix are the Koreans who come from the US, Australia, Europe, China, the former USSR and other countries as the children of emmigrants, refugees, settlers, and adoptees.

Although I'm not an immigrant anymore, I am here in Korea on a visa. I have no right to live and work here; I have to ask permission. To get that permission, I have to prove that I am a naturalized citizen of the US, the country to which I involuntarily immigrated. Ironically, though, in the US, I had a lot of privileges, while here I have very few: I am fortunate to look like a typical Korean person physically so I attract no unwanted attention in public. My other privileges include being a female-bodied straight woman, educated, earning a substantial income, speaking English with native fluency, and legal immigration status. I lack privilege because I am not a man, not thin, not married, not a mother, not rich, not a citizen, not a native Korean speaker, and not white.

Yes, one of the most difficult things about living in Korea is all the white men here. Because I'm living in Daejeon, not Seoul, I have only co-workers to socialize with, and at the university where I teach, more than 80% of the foreign professors are white men. In New York City, my friends and associates were mostly non-white. Being thrust back into white society is a culture shock I was not prepared for.

So, hopefully, after a long hiatus, I hope to be exploring the legalities of migrating to Korea; the non-Korean communities of migrants, especially in comparison to the ex-pat community; ex-diasporic Koreans; and the effects of colonialism and forced migration.