This paper compares an earlier cohort (born and raised in the 1960s-early 1970s) and a later cohort (born and raised in the 1980s-early 1990s) of 1.5- and second-generation Korean Americans in terms of ethnic identity. It used personal identity essays by younger-generation Korean Americans as the major data source. The following four factors affect the formation of ethnic identity: (1) retention of ethnic culture, (2) participation in ethnic social networks, (3) linkages to the mother country and the latter’s global power and influence, and (4) experiences with racial prejudice and discrimination. There were major changes in these four factors affecting ethnic identity from the earlier period to the later period. As a result of the tremendous increase in the Korean population and the number of Korean ethnic organizations, younger-generation Korean Americans who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s retained Korean culture and maintained ethnic social networks more successfully than the earlier cohort. They also maintained stronger linkages to their mother country, which exercised a greater global influence than in the earlier period. Thus, the Korean community and their home country provided the latter cohort with a more favorable environment for forming their ethnic identity than the earlier cohort. Additionally, the latter cohort encountered a lower level of racial rejection than the earlier cohort. The reduction of racial rejection allowed the later cohort of younger-generation Korean Americans to more voluntarily choose their ethnic identity, with far less inner struggle than the earlier cohort. Today’s younger-generation Korean-American children and adolescents live in an even more favorable environment for voluntarily forming ethnic identity than the 1980s-1990s cohort.
*This paper was originally presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Research Center for Korean Community. The conference was held on April 5 and April 6, 2013, and it was held at Queens College. The conference was co-organized by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at University of Toronto and the Research Center for Korean Community. The theme of the conference was “Second-Generation Korean Experiences in the United States and Canada.