Outline: AIDS, politics of accusation, and racially bound female bodies in the Korean American public discourse

Medical Anthropology
March 3, 2005
Yongho Kim

My paper aims to make the claim that geographically and racially imagined narratives within the Korean American community (in particular New York City) that portray the AIDS/HIV epidemic as originating from outside the ehtno-nationally defined core of the Korean American community have contributed to the ongoing process of binding female bodies racially, both in terms of simple mobility between neighborhoods of color and the formation of interracial couples. Unlike previous papers, I plan to start the research process with a specific agenda/hypothesis in mind.

In the interest of avoiding the mindless blah blah and introspective speculation that often hits academia when it comes to theorizing with marginal populations (especially the researcher’s own), I intend to give primary focus to newspaper analysis of local markets and statistical data provided by health organizations, tracking AIDS coverage in four major newspapers – the Korean Times, the U.S. offices of Chosun Daily News, Donga Daily News and One People.

By the proposed hypothesis I understand the imagination of the Korean American female body as one where various discourses imposing performative roles of: a “good woman” and “cuteness”, defensive paternalistic nationalism (fear of the darkening of the skin) and anti-imperial essentialism (a counternarrative to modernist conceptions of progress and development) contend with each other. The flesh and skin of the female body is grounds for proxy battles for these sometimes diametrical ideologies. This is expressed by the social conventions/impositions of what is “a real korean woman” (as opposed to a white woman), the bitter criticism of those who engage in the (literal) darkening of kin through marriage/courtship, ideas of hygiene and custom. The close family and economic ties that connect peninsular and immigrant (first, second and subsequent generations thereof) populations imply the bidirectional propagation of dominant discourses back and forth between the U.S. and the peninsula.

AIDS is constructed in the popular imagination in Southern Korea as belonging to Africa, and in the context of the U.S., to the black population. This rhetoric is prevalent regardless of their respective political orientations, be it the fascist Chosun Daily News, or the One People, a progressive newspaper with a national liberationary tilt. ( 20 Years Since Discovery of AIDS: AIDS Realities of Southern Korea, Chosun Daily News [AIDS발견 20년: 한국의 AIDS 실태] and A Black Continent ridden by Poverty: Special Edition, One People [가난에 떠는 ‘검은 대륙’ : 특집 : 한겨레21])

These two imagined and embodied discourses on authenticity and black/brown health weave closely together to create a society where mobility is bound for female bodies and trespassing individuals are singled out for national, cultural, and medical criticism.

As I have no previous background in Asian American Studies nor Women’s and Gender Studies, my examination of current explanatory models offered in the literature for such social phenomena will be sketchy, which I will try to complement by studying how immigrant ties are manifested in claims and disclaims to authenticity in the korean immigrant community in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I have better previous training via a series of courses in Latin American Studies.

Tentative Bibliography

Briggs, Charles L. and Clara Martini-Briggs
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2000 Constructions of otherness: everyday discourses on the korean immigration to Buenos Aires. [Construcciones de alteridad: discursos cotidianos sobre la inmigración coreana en Buenos Aires.] Buenos Aires, Argentina: Eudeba.

Guy, Donna J.
1991 Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Farmer, Paul
1992 AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. University of California Press.

Kinsella, Sharon
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