Black and White voices are not the only voices that need to be heard in facing the realities of race in America. Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans and First or Native Americans also need to be heard. This older work (1996) from Andrew Sung Park offers a distinctively Korean-American perspective on both racial conflict and the healing that is needed.
Park begins with a cultural anthropology of the Korean-American community centered around the concept of Han which he describes as the unbearable pain, resentment, and bitterness resulting from intense suffering, particularly from oppression and injustice. The first part explores the experience of Han during the Korean war and the division of the country, the abandonment of wives in mixed marriages with servicemen, the experience of “comfort women” and experiences of discrimination in the US context with the white church and with other racial groups, particularly in the South L.A. context. He also looks at the distinctive sins he sees in Korean communities including racism, sexism and the exploitation of labor.
Part Two explores what he sees as the need of a common vision to bridge the racial divides in our society. He speaks particularly here of an “inmost vision” rooted in the parable of the lost sheep where none are considered dispensable. He extends this inmost vision to the church which brings its expectation of the return of Christ into the present through dealing with injustices and through reconciliation with our ethnic neighbors. Before moving on, Park also looks at Western and Eastern views of the self and the difference of individualism versus one’s relation within family.
Part Three then turns to sociological analysis of models of interracial relationships, looking at assimilation, amalgamation, cultural pluralist, “triple melting pot”, and newly synthesized ethnic identities. He then applies these to the Korean-American church, suggesting that none of these are adequate. He proposes instead a “transcendent, transmutational” model where the work of Christ transcends unity and diversity polarities holding these together in paradoxical tension while transmutation speaks to internal changes in prejudice and external changes in discriminatory practice that overcome racism. The aim is the formation of a “Christic” community, one characterized by paradoxical inclusiveness (hahn), affectionate attachment (jung), and graceful gusto (mut). He believes the filial piety of Korean extended families can be a place where this community is embodied in an American culture where family is in decline.
Part Four expands on the elements in Parts Two and Three that have to do with a “theology of seeing”. This is a “seeing” that both understands the han or pain of the oppressed and also that envisions a new community through visual, intellectual, spiritual and soul seeing that contribute hermeneutics of questioning, construction, affection, and celebration that bring healing.
I have to admit that I struggled as I read this book between appreciating the sociological and cultural anthropology that explored the character of Korean-American community and its experience of race in America and what I felt were at best preliminary theological formulations that seemed to me a synthesis of Christian language with Korean and Taoist conceptions. It seemed to mean to illustrate the fine line between contextualization and syncretism and I’m not sure which side of the line this fell on. My caution comes as a result of being an “outsider” to Korean culture on the one hand, and on the other to a cursory connection between Christian theological concepts and biblical texts and ideas like han, hahn, jung, and mut. I would have liked to seen further work in “connecting the dots”. I feel that a more honest subtitle might have been “toward an Asian-American theological perspective”. Nevertheless, there is value in this work in both the description and analysis of Korean-American experience and the awareness and exploration of how cultural conceptions native to Korean-Americans might shape a theology of racial conflict and healing.