Korean Youth Centre "Anyong" as a place of interaction for the Korean youth in the city of Tomsk
In the present-day conditions of globalization and active international contacts the communicative intensity between nations entering a different cultural area is considerably increasing, and migration flows are increasing simultaneously. This process is acсcompanied by an increase in the formation of ethnic communities and an increase in the existing diasporas. Since the 1990s diasporas have been acquiring transnational community features. As noted by Russian political expert A. S. Kim modern diasporas are specific social groups whose identity is not determined by particular territorial units, the scales of their distribution make it possible to say that the phenomenon has acquired a transnational nature.
Ethnic Koreans, having a rich history of institutional formation of their status in receiving countries, can be considered a transnational diaspora. The post-Soviet space Koreans form stable global networks. Tomsk Koreans are institutionally represented by national and cultural autonomies and the Korean Youth Center ‘Anyong’. It is fair to assume that Anyong is an example of a community with developing transnational connections, subjected to the influence of global processes.
Anyong may be considered as a symbolic place of interaction for Korean youth. As demonstrated by V.S. Malakhov, a famous Russian political expert, ethnicity possesses a symbolic nature, having been described from the perspective of social constructivism as a marker of difference, as a sign, around which any differences from biological to social are organized. Any given characteristics distinguish some individuals from others (racial, anthropological, lingual or cultural) act as a symbol in relation to which social differences can be built. It is commonly known that transnationalism is the antipode of long existing binary opposition “us” – “them” that deviate from differences, including the differences organized by the symbolic nature of community. Consequently, it seems quite interesting to observe the confrontation of symbolicity organized by Korean diaspora in the city space of Tomsk with transnationalism that is vividly traced while observing the community under investigation.
Furthermore, the Korean Youth Center is a place that forms a particular space. American anthropologist, sociologist and philosopher of Indian origin Arjun Appadurai considers space in five manifestations, marking ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technospaces, financescapes and ideoscapes, where ethnoscapes refer to the migration of people across cultures and borders; mediascapes deal with mass media and the Internet; correspondingly technologies form – technospaces; the money flow – financescapes; and ideoscapes center on the ideologies of а government and movements. It can be assumed that Korean youth centers are ethnoscapes formed by Korean youth, who moreover is mobile, i.e. they live in the conditions of globalization and obtain different resources for speedy communication with people around the world. Thus, it is fair to claim that apart from the ethnoscape, Anyong is able to build a mediascape, thereby representing itself to the public at large.
The empirical base of the research is primarily qualitative methods of research, which enabled the collection of extensive and representative material to elicit the specifics of Anyong’s development. In the course of the research the method of participant observation was used, which allowed us not only observe but also participate in events held by the Korean Youth Center that were described using the thick description method. Moreover, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the leaders of Anyong and the Chair of the National Cultural Autonomy of Koreans.
So, what acts as symbols for Korean youth in Russia? V. S. Malakhov notes that if we look at ethnicity in the symbolic production, we can identify two levels – discursive and non-discursive (corporeal). If we divide symbolic space into levels, then from the discursive point of view this level is mostly determined as “collective memory”. This, in turn, is a metaphor, therefore it is impossible to speak about the objectivity of such a marker of symbolicity. V. S. Malakhov notes the decisive role of the political elite, mass media, education and intellectuals. It is true that many Korean intellectuals, being involved in the study of the history and culture of their people, form various and even contradictory points of view regarding Korean history and its different interpretations, which cannot but influence the formation of a collective historical memory. Furthermore, the present generation knows the history of their people from their ancestors’ stories. Opinions are constructed and an overall picture is created. This might indeed be called a “collective memory”, if we accept that each ethnic Korean knows the history of his/her family to a certain degree. Anyong works as a place where youth can exchange their family histories, creating a unified narrative of their people from stories.
When interpreting symbolic nature through the corporeal level, an important role is played by visual, audio and tactile images, i.e. often dances, national music, clothing and language features, etc. are factors that form group belonging. The preservation of symbolic space in the form of observing certain traditions such as celebrating the first year of life, sixty years of age and the New Year, and holding informal meetings may provide evidence that the cultural markers reflect the desire to “be Korean” – to shown one’s “Koreanness”. Moreover, attention must be paid to ethnic signs that can act as symbols. Thus, writing acts as a symbol. The majority of ethnic Koreans no longer speak their native language, but nowadays there is a spark of interest in its study; those who know Korean have opened language schools and offer courses that are in demand. Language courses are offered at Anyong. It is interesting that many learners on such courses are not Korean. The fact that they have to come to the center to study Korean demonstrates respect for the Korean culture and language. In turn, the center demonstrates openness and interest in its own culture and the popularization of it.
Yet another symbol is clothing. Of course, ethnic Koreans have long since started wearing European clothing. But all the official celebrations held by Anyong are accompanied by demonstrations of national costumes. Thus, during the Day of Korean Culture in 2015 visitors were able to try on the hanbok (a Korean traditional national costume) and have their photo taken.
Names as a symbol. In our case, this means Korean surnames. Despite the fact that Koreans have been living in Russia for over 150 years, Korean surnames are an important marker of Koreanness. Moreover, first names vary – they are mostly Russian, but also Kazakh or Kyrgyz, which is reflective of another symbolic nature – belonging to another culture. Therefore, in our case, we can speak about symbolic syncretism, which appears not only in formal things, but also influences identity: “I’m connected with Korean culture only by my surname and eye shape”; “When I say ‘Korean Russians’, I mean our mentality is completely Russian, but our blood is Korean, and nothing can change that.”
Project activity. Korean holidays (New Year, First Year Celebration, Sixty Years Celebration) playing traditional instruments (samulnori), informal meetings and traditional cuisine are the symbols of “Koreanness”. Anyong acts a guiding organization. Its primary function is the presentation of Korean culture, to represent “Koreanness” as cultural identity. The issue of how important and necessary it is for Korean youth requires further observation and investigation. Now it is fair to state that there is a decrease of interest and need among Koreans to manifest their ethnicity. Other values are in the forefront. Anyong acts as a public organization, uniting youth according for different reasons, where interest in the Korean culture is one of the most important, but not the only factor of unity.
Many researchers consider that the majority of transnational diasporas are formed by emigrant communities that are very mobile today preserving connections with their own country and at the same time successfully adapt to the new conditions of host society and country. At first sight the Korean diaspora of Tomsk is in a league of its own in this situation, which is transparent because today the migrant flow of Koreans from South and moreover North Korea does not amount to many people, almost none. Nevertheless, we can observe migrants, mostly migrant students from the CIS countries who having found themselves in a new community feel a need to consolidate with “the same as me”. Moreover, growing connections with South Korea and a constant circulation of people can be considered as the creation of a global network, a unified ethnoscape. The Korean diaspora rises to a new level, the transnationality level. As academician V. A. Tishkov postulates, “Modern diasporas forfeit an obligatory link to a particular locality – country of origin – and gain on the consciousness and behavioral level a referential connection with particular worldwide historical and cultural systems and political powers. The obligation to one’s “historical homeland” leaves the diaspora discourse. The connection is constructed with such global metaphors as ‘Africa’, ‘China’ and ‘Islam’.