The experiences of growing up as a second-generation Korean American and a “mixed-race” American, have shaped my career as a “native” anthropologist. As an undergraduate, my first class in Anthropology changed my worldview and career goals. I knew immediately that I wanted to be an anthropologist; even though at the time I was a psychology and sociology double major. The two fields didn’t answer my questions about culture, life and people. I saw anthropology as offering us tools to resolve the challenges we face in our world today.
At the end of my senior year, I was awarded a Fulbright to go to South Korea from 1995-1996. This was the first visit to my mother’s homeland and it further solidified my desire to become an anthropologist. Since then I have conducted long-term research in South Korea and the United States. My research has primarily concentrated on identity, race, belonging and citizenship. I work primarily with four groups: Amerasians or “mixed” Asian and American descendants born in Asia that the US government has historically ignored, Korean women in the US military camptown areas of South Korea that are ostracized for their relations with “American soldiers,” the US military stationed in South Korea and in the "homefront," as well as those within the political umbrella of "Asian America."
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” When I read this for the first time a few years ago, it reminded me of what one US Embassy official told me when I was interviewing him about Amerasians in South Korea. He commented, “Why are you wasting your time with this group? They’re small. If I were you, I’d consider your career and look for something else to study.” This, of course, angered me and provided even more incentive to follow through with working with Amerasians as a long-term commitment and helping them to gain some recognition. Although Amerasians may seem small in terms of historical voice, they lead transnational lives and their very presence challenges ideas of purity, citizenship and nation.
My research has concentrated in East Asia and the United States focusing on identity and race, more specifically on belonging and citizenship and the dimensions of state power in defining its citizenry. Other research interests include media representation, mental health and medical anthropology, shamanism, gender, globalization, and the notions of "empire" of the US military.
I enjoy time with my child, who teaches me more about the world and joy than anyone I have ever met. Along with motherhood and teaching, my favorite pastimes are hiking, running, swimming, sledding, cooking and watching films and documentaries.