South Korea’s First Blasian Model

Han Hyun-Min is the first black model in South Korea. Hyun-Min, 16, is half Nigerian in an ethnically homogeneous country where mixed race people often experience blatant racism with difficulty getting jobs and finding spouses. Mixed race children are commonly bullied and called “tuigi”, a derogatory term meaning cross-bred animals. However, he is now appearing in top magazines.

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Organizations to Support Mixed Race Koreans

Mixed race Koreans are a marginalized population.  Korean society has always been obsessed with the idea of racial purity.  Accordingly, it can be quite difficult to be biracial in South Korea.  Life can be especially hard for biracial Koreans with African ancestry, as darker skin is negatively associated with poverty and farm labor.  To address this issue, several organizations have been created to support the growing biracial Korean population.

During the early 1960s, American novelist Pearl S. Buck visited Korea to write The Living Reed.  Buck coined the term “Amerasian”, referring to Korean children fathered by American servicemen during the Korean War.  In 1965, she established the Opportunity Center and Orphanage in Bucheon City (formerly Sosa), South Korea to serve Amerasian ChildrenOffices were subsequently opened in Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  In the United States, she founded a child sponsorship organization, Pearl S. Buck Foundation (now called Pearl S. Buck International), to address poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries.  She endeavored greatly to raise the awareness of children in Korea who are ethnically mixed and undergo hardships because of the circumstances of their birth and their lives.  Throughout her lifetime, Buck dedicated her energy and resources in order to combat the injustice of social discrimination and prejudice suffered by mixed race children.

MACK (맥) was founded as the Mission for Amerasian Children of Korea in September 1995 in Chicago, IL.  The organization is dedicated to a better understanding of children born to dual cultural parentage and the cultural barrier affecting them, their families, and their communities in Korea and throughout the world, as well as to heighten compassion and understanding by all towards the plight of Amerasians.  In order to meet the needs of a new and growing generation of multiethnic Koreans both abroad and in South Korea, MACK now stands for the Movement for the Advancement of Cultural-diversity of Koreans.

In 2006, American football player Hines Ward created the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation.  The foundation is dedicated to helping mixed race children like himself in South Korea, where they have suffered discrimination.  His Helping Hands U.S. Foundation focuses on improving literacy among children and will provide programs and services to better equip them for achieving and handling success in life.  Abroad, his Helping Hands Korea Foundation (formed as a tribute to his mother, Kim Young-hee) has targeted biracial discrimination, especially as it occurs among the children of Korea.  Ward has spoken out against South Korea’s discriminatory practices and pledged his time and allegiance to the biracial children there.  He plans to continue to help make life easier for the mixed race kids in South Korea.  “I will make the struggle to end biracial discrimination my chief cause, for which I will devote my time and resources, both in the United States and Korea,” said Ward.  Ward is known in Korea as the Ambassador for biracial children and hopes to make this his legacy both at home and abroad.

Blasian to Star in Nick At Nite Pilot

Nick At Nite has announced a new show called Instant Mom.  The show will star Tia Mowry and is about a 25-year-old party girl who marries an older man with kids and becomes an “instant mom”.  Sydney Park has been cast as the eldest child and only daughter, Gabrielle (Gabby).
Syd & mom, Kelly

Sydney was born in Philadelphia, PA on October 31, 1997 to a Korean American father and African American mother.  At the age of six, using the moniker “Syd the Kid”, she became the youngest person ever to perform stand up comedy at the world famous Hollywood Improv.  She has also displayed her comedic talents on “America’s Got Talent” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”.  As an actress, she has appeared in “That’s So Raven” and “CSI: NY”.  In 2011, she starred in her one-girl show “Young, Gifted, Half Black” at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade at the age of 13.

Instant Mom will premiere on Sunday, September 29, 2013.  Check it out at Nick Mom TV.  

UPDATED
Monday, September 2, 2013

Two New Blasian Reality Show Stars Debut Today!

A new reality TV show featuring two blasians premieres Monday, September 3 at 11 PM ET/PT on Oxygen.  The ethnically diverse cast of Oxygen’s Girlfriend Confidential: LAincludes Eva Marcille (Puerto Rican / African American), Nikki Chu (Jamaican / Chinese / Canadian), Denyce Lawton (Korean / African American), and Kelly Marie Dunn (Korean adoptee).  The new series follows these beautiful and successful friends, as they help one another navigate the tumultuous waters of love and celebrity life against the backdrop of the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Eva, Nikki, Denyce, & Kelly

Nikki Chu is a high-profile design diva.  She is a dynamic interior and product designer and practices her love for art with her own company, Nikki Chu Design.  She is considered the virtual “it girl” of style.  The name “Nikki Chu” is synonymous with all that is fabulous.  Nikki Chu is a brand in which luxury has no limits and her style is in a class of its own.  Her flare for interior design has been showcased on E! Entertainment, HGTV, VH1, and the Fine Living Channel.  Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Nikki is of Jamaican Chinese heritage.

 Nikki with her mother and father. 

Actress Denyce Lawton is best known for starring in the series, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.  She has been the face of many advertising campaigns and has a number of television and film credits.  Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lawton is the middle child of three children, with an older half sister, who is full Korean, and a younger brother, who is also Korean-African American.  Her parents met when her father was stationed in Seoul with the US Army.  As a child, she lived a military life, traveling around the world.  She has lived in Germany, Kansas, Japan, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

 
Denyce with her mother and father.
Denyce’s “Made in Korea” tattoo
Selected Sources:
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Interview – Denyce Lawton“.

Blasian American Olympians

As we commemorate the end of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize blasians who have represented Team USA throughout the history of the Olympics.

Tai Babilonia
Figure Skating

Tai with her skating partner, Randy

With partner Randy Gardner, Tai Babilonia was the 1979 World Champion and the gold medalist at the US Figure Skating Championships in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.  Randy and Tai competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.  They were medal favorites at the 1980 Winter Olympics but were forced to withdraw due to an injury to Gardner.

Tai Babilonia was the first figure skater of African American descent to win US and World titles.  Her mother was African American, and her father was part Filipino and part Native American (Hopi Indian). 

Sheila Hudson
Track & Field

Sheila Hudson (Korean-African American) dominated the triple jump in the US for years.  She started competing at age 10, took a two-year hiatus from competition when her family moved to Korea, and returned to track and field in high school.  She represented the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  Sheila was the only American to reach the finals in the first Olympic triple jump competition for women and finished 10th.  

Tora Harris
Track & Field

Tora Harris was a four-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Outdoor Track & Field All-American (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and an NCAA Indoor All-American in 2002.  Harris was the number 1 ranked high jumper in the United States, according to Track & Field News, in both 2002 and 2006 and was among the top 10 every year from 2001 through 2009.   He was a member of the United States team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

His mother, Susan (Su-Chen), is Taiwanese, while his father, who passed away in 2000, was African American.  His parents made him take Chinese lessons when he was young, and he attended first grade in Taiwan.  Tora speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.  His language skills made him very popular at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China, where he won a bronze medal.

Selected Sources:
* Tai Babilonia, Official website.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Prominent People – Sheila Hudson“.
* USA Track & Field, Tora Harris.

Blasian Olympic Medalists

Bryan Clay

Track & Field

Bryan Ezra Tsumoru Clay – often referred to as the “World’s Greatest Athlete” – was born to a Japanese mother (Michele Ishimoto) and African American father (Greg Clay) and raised in Hawaii. He won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and went on to win the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Bryan is among the very few decathletes to hold two Olympic medals.

Bryan had his eyes set on a third. He had hoped to become the only decathlete to win three Olympic medals.  Bryan Clay – the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medalist – was eliminated from the London Games after stumbling in the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. track trials on Saturday, June 23, 2012.

To see him in action, check out this Olympic highlights video of Bryan Clay.

Peter Westbrook

Fencing

The first Blasian American Olympian was Peter Westbrook.  The child of an African American father (Ulysses) and a Japanese mother (Mariko), Peter was harassed by other children because of his mixed race.  His mother paid him $5 to attend local fencing classes.  She wanted to divert his attention to a sport that was similar to the style of Samurai fighting that she was familiar with in Japan.

Peter Westbrook was a member of six American Olympic teams – 1976 in Montreal, 1980 (US boycott of Moscow games), 1984 in Los Angeles, 1988 in Seoul, 1992 in Barcelona, and 1996 in Atlanta.  He won the bronze medal in Individual Sabre at the 1984 Olympics.  In 1992, he was selected to serve as flag bearer for the closing ceremonies, an honor conferred by a vote of that year’s Olympians.  He was the oldest member of the fencing team at the 1996 Olympics.

One of the first prominent biracial fencers and the first African American to medal in fencing, Peter began the Peter Westbrook Foundation in 1991.  The Foundation provides inner city children with access to fencing and works to guide them away from gang activity.  It is hailed as one of the most successful inner city sports programs in the country.

To learn about Peter Westbrook and his not-for-profit organization, visit www.PeterWestbrook.org.

UPDATED
Sunday, July 29, 2012 

Blasian Singers in Asia

I was recently reflecting on a trip to Shanghai and remembered the story of Lou Jing, the black-Chinese young woman who appeared on a talent show in China in 2009. Her appearance on a popular Chinese television show was a subject of much debate. Jing appeared on “Go! Oriental Angel” for two months, and though the show nicknamed her “Chocolate Angel” and “Black Pearl”, she and her mother received constant negative criticism.

Jing’s Chinese mother had a relationship with an African American man, to whom she was not married. Lou Jing has never met her father. Raised in Shanghai, she is fluent in Mandarin and Shanghainese and identified as Shanghainese. After receiving hurtful comments online following her television appearances, she questions her place in China. One post read, “Ugh. Yellow people and black people mixed together is very gross.”

Lou Jing and her mother

This situation shows how far behind China is in moving beyond its monocultural ideal image of itself. As China emerges as a world power, it is vital that its people open up their minds to the multicultural contexts that exist in other countries and that is also slowly becoming a reality in China. The lack of awareness in the comments directed toward Lou Jing clearly demonstrates the long way that China has to go to better interact and understand the diversity beyond its borders.

While China is struggling to deal with this mixed race person in their midst, neighboring countries, Korea and Japan, have already been coping with public figures with black ancestry for some time now. A very popular singer in Korea right now, who happens to be blasian, is Yoon Mirae (Tasha Reid). Like Yoon Mirae, Crystal Kay is also black and Korean, but she is successful in Japan. While it’s not easy being biracial – especially half black – in Asia, it used to be a lot more difficult. In Korea, Insooni helped pave the way.

Yoon Mirae
Crystal Kay

Born to an African American father and Korean mother in 1957, Kim Insoon was born soon after the Korean War. In the 1960s, multiracial Koreans were an extremely new phenomenon and suffered extreme discrimination. Insooni began performing in the late 1970s, receiving more attention for her appearance than her talent. She has now been making music for over 30 years.

Insooni is a musical legend in Korea, and the difficult situations she experienced as a biracial person in a monoracial country served her well. Mixed race Koreans have become much more common, but Insooni’s childhood must have been indescribably tough. Compared to being black in Korea, the trying times and insensitive criticism of the entertainment world surely seemed simple to endure.

Kim Insoon at 15 years old (1972)

Insooni’s success has made the possibility of a career in the public sphere a realistic goal in Korea and serves as an excellent example across East Asia. She’s a hero for blasians across the ocean too.

INSOONI

Selected Sources: 
* NPR, Mixed-Race TV Contestant Ignites Debate in China“, November 11, 2009.
* CNN World, TV talent show exposes China’s race issue“, December 21, 2009. 
* Connections (Pearl S. Buck International newsletter), Coming Full Circle With Korean Singer Insooni and Daughter Jasmine“, Fall/Winter 2011.