God's chosen people: Protestant narratives of Korean Americans and American national identity

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Lee, Soo-Young, 1974-

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This dissertation examines Protestant narratives of post-1965 Korean American Christians, with regard to the formation of what it means to be Korean Americans. The focus of this dissertation is to find out how Korean Americans have reinterpreted their ethnic backgrounds and immigrant experiences in America based on the concept of God's chosen people in religious terms. They use this Christian identity for distinguishing themselves not only from Koreans but also from other minority groups in America. The chapter starts with an overview of the historical background of Korean Americans' pre-immigrant perspectives of America. Throughout Korea's history of despair under the colonization by Japan and the civil war followed by the national division, America has gained political, military and cultural hegemony over Korea, causing the emergence of so-called American fever, the idealization of American ways of life. This tendency motivated Korean Americans to leave their homeland for obtaining better social status and living conditions. These historical backgrounds have influenced the understanding of their post-immigrant lives in America. The following chapters discuss how Korean Americans make sense of their immigrant lives under the changing social contexts in both Korea and America. Pursuant to that goal, they investigate Protestant narratives in the sermons of influential Korean American pastors, testimonies and articles published in church magazines. In these narratives, the Christian symbols such as pilgrimage and Exodus sanctified their immigration by interpreting their transnational immigration as a sacred journey into God's Promised Land which they believed was America. Furthermore, their identification with the American Puritans and their manifest destiny to revive Christianity in America demonstrate their racial attitudes toward non-Korean ethnic groups in America. The commemorative Centennial Celebration of the Korean American church held in November, 2003 in the last chapter also serves as a stage where people weave diverse factors together to establish their group identities. For post-1965 Korean immigrants, Protestant narratives have contributed to the maintenance of Korean American identity as God's chosen people. They reflect the wish of Korean American to become a central group in mainstream American society as well as be part of American destiny as a global superpower, rather than to remain as a marginal group.