Nowadays you can’t ignore the fact that you probably know someone or know someone who knows someone or know yourself to be a kpop fanatic and/or kdrama addict. The Hallyu wave has taken the world by storm and it doesn’t look like it’s leaving anytime soon. South Korea has perfected the packaging of their culture for international consumption, and the international world is eating that culture right out of their hands. I admit I am riding that kpop fandom and love being kdrama obsessed, and majority of my immediate family (both male and female) are hooked as well.
I recently attended the Minnesota Kpop Festival held at the Northrup Auditorium on the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. Although it is much smaller in comparison to the larger and more known KCON in Los Angeles, it met the needs of the Midwestern fans of kpop. No boy bands or girl bands appeared, but it was nice to hear your favorite kpop song being played in a familiar establishment other than your ipod, phone, or computer. The festival showcased local dance groups covering popular dances from popular kpop groups, and it seem like all the dance groups loved BTS (Bangtan Boys).
Anyways, after attending this event, I reflected, “Wow. There were lots of Hmong kids at this event!” Then, I started to ponder more about how slowly South Korean culture has crept into our daily Hmong lives. As I walk through the congested aisles of Hmong Village and attend family functions, I can’t help but hear an occasional “omo” or “aigoo”, common Korean phrases, coming out of the mouths of Hmong people. A study showed that because of the impact of the Hallyu wave, enrollment in university level Korean language courses has increased*. My sisters and brothers would at times respond to me in Korean when I ask a question.
Me: “Remember to call me when you get there?”
Sibling: “아랐어 (araso)”
Calling sibling via phone
Sibling: “여보세요 (yeoboseyo)”
Me: “Hey! Is mom there?”
Sibling: “아니 (ani)”
The crazy thing is I understand them when they speak Korean to me and I don’t mind when they speak Korean to me. There are times when some friends will call me “Unni”, which means “older sister”. South Korea is an age-centric country, so they use honorifics when addressing older folks or folks in a higher status. I really don’t mind my younger friends calling me “Unni” too, because I see it done in the Korean dramas.
It slowly dawned on me that Hmong folks are becoming more Korean than Hmong. As more and more Hmong youth consume kpop and kdrama, little by little, we start to mimic what we hear from the television, and then we slowly understand the cultural nuances and learn to speak the language. The appeal of South Korean culture is so great that college graduated Hmong folks are teaching English in the country for at least a year or two to live that kdrama life. Not only do we know someone who loves kpop and kdramas, but we also know lots of Hmong folks who have taught English in South Korea. Most often, those Hmong folks come back with crazy experiences that should be written in a book.
Is it a scary thing that more Hmong youths know more about Korean culture than their own culture? I personally don’t think so. As a believer in the fluidity of cultures, I think it is great that our youths are embracing something that they identify with. Also, there is no such thing as a “pure” Hmong culture. Throughout history, our Hmong culture has evolved to what it is now. Hmong American culture is different from Hmong Lao culture and Hmong French culture, because we incorporate certain elements of the dominant culture that we currently reside. Even though we don’t reside in South Korea, the social impact the Hallyu wave has on the international realm can definitely change the normative method of how culture shifts and changes.
Tell me what you think about this topic. Is it a good or bad thing that Hmong folks are obsessed with Kpop and Kdramas? How do you feel about Hmong folks speaking Korean?
Disclaimer: This is my opinion and should not be quoted as peer reviewed research. Thanks!
By: Sandy Oh