Be(com)ing Korean in the United States: Exploring ethnic identity formation through cultural practices

Sung Youn Sonya Gwak, University of Pennsylvania


This study is the culmination of a four-year ethnographic research project on the cultural practices of a group of Koreans in the United States pursuing the traditional Korean cultural art form of pungmul in exploring their ethnic identities. Through the accesses and opportunities afforded to the members of Mae-ari Korean Cultural Troupe by the national and transnational networks with other people of Korean descent, these young people begin to understand themselves as "Korean" while teaching and learning traditional Korean cultural practices in performances, workshops, and everyday interactions with each other. ^ In investigating their ways of being, I will pay close attention to: (1) the semiotic processes within the group that aid in creating and cultivating notions of ethnic identity, especially in the ways in which the notion of culture becomes indelibly linked with "things" within and across the sites; (2) the pedagogical processes within the group regarding how cultures are objectified and transformed into tools of teaching and learning; and (3) how people understand their ethnic identities through direct and active engagement with, experience of, and expression of "cultural objects." ^ By looking at the multiple forms of expressing ethnic identity, I will show how the young people in Mae-ari locate themselves within the time and space of Korean history, Korean American history, activism, performing arts, and tradition. This study argues that ethnic identity formation is a process that is rooted in cultural practices contextualized in social, political, and cultural histories. Finally, I hope to offer a new framework for understanding the multiple ways in which young people make sense of their identities. ^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Sociology of|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Gwak, Sung Youn Sonya, "Be(com)ing Korean in the United States: Exploring ethnic identity formation through cultural practices" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211079.