Mixed Korean: Our Stories

Posted in Anthologies, Asian Diaspora, Books on 2018-05-20 01:26Z by Steven

Mixed Korean: Our Stories

Truepeny Publishing Company
ISBN: 978-0-692-06959-2

Edited by: Cerrissa Kim, Katherine Kim, Soon Kim-Russell, and Mary-Kim Arnold

From the struggles of the Korean War, to the modern dilemmas faced by those who are mixed race, comes an assortment of stories that capture the essence of what it is to be a mixed Korean. With common themes of exclusion, and recollections of not looking Korean enough, black enough, white enough, or “other” enough, this powerful collection features works by award-winning authors Alexander Chee, Michael Croley, Heinz Insu Fenkl, alongside pieces composed by prominent writers, poets and scholars. Interwoven between known literary names, are the voices of newcomers with poignant memories that have never been captured before. Collectively, these stories will resonate with anyone who has ever stood on the outside of a group, longing for inclusion. They are a testament to the courage, strength and resilience of mixed people everywhere.

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Ghosts of Camptown

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2014-07-13 06:41Z by Steven

Ghosts of Camptown

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic LIterature of the United States
Volume 39, Issue 3 (Fall 2014)
pages 49-67
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlu025

Grace Kyungwon Hong, Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Asian American Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

This essay engages the deployment of form in Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother (1996), focusing in particular on its strategy of embedding fantastical stories within its narrative structure and on the ways in which the mystical or magical tone of these stories pervades the narrative, establishing a frame seemingly incongruous with the memoir’s setting within a military camptown in South Korea. If a classically realist tone and linear narrative arc are the formal expressions of nationalist culture, the autobiographical novel’s departure from these formal strategies, I argue, is necessary to convey the complex juridical status of the camptown. Through a curious excess of state sovereignty, because they are simultaneously under both US and South Korean sovereignty, the camptown and its residents are subject to abandonment by both nation-states, producing a heightened vulnerability to death. Accordingly, such complex relationships to sovereignty demand a narrative form organized around a complex and divided subject unlike the possessive individual at the center of traditional autobiographies, a divided subject formed around an ethics in which no one is blameless and everyone is complicit.

Read or purchase the article here.

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The Military Camptown in Retrospect: Multiracial Korean American Subject Formation Along the Black-White Binary

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, United States on 2011-06-14 14:56Z by Steven

The Military Camptown in Retrospect: Multiracial Korean American Subject Formation Along the Black-White Binary

Bowling Green State University
December 2007
116 pages

Perry Dal-nim Miller

Submitted to the Graduate College of Bowling Green State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts

This thesis applies theoretical approaches from the sociology of literature and Asian Americanist critique to a study of two novels by multiracial Korean American authors. I investigate themes of multiracial identity and consumption in Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother and Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl, both set in the 1960’s and 1970’s gijichon or military camptown geography, recreational institutions established around U.S. military installations in the Republic of Korea. I trace the literary production of Korean American subjectivity along a socially constructed dichotomy of blackness and whiteness, examining the novels’ representations of cross-racial interactions in a camptown economy based on the militarized sexual labor of working-class Korean women. I conclude that Black-White binarisms are reproduced in the gijichon through the consumption practices of both American military personnel and Korean gijichon workers, and that retrospective fictional accounts of gijichon multiraciality signal a shift in artistic, scholarly, and popular conceptualizations of Korean American and Asian American group identities.

Table of Contents


W.E.B. Du Bois’ oft-quoted problem for the twentieth-century was that of the color line: of racial classification and stratification policed and reproduced by the nation-state, cultural institutions, and hegemonized subjects within these institutions.1 The 2000 U.S. Census form revised racial demarcations to accommodate multiracial self-identification. By offering respondents the option of multiple selections from the categories “White, Black, Asian, some other race, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander,” the form allowed 6.8 million of 281.4 million respondents to identify themselves as multiracial. Though multiraciality is now institutionally recognized, the individual must still choose from finite combinations of racial categories determined by the state. Given the centuries-old problem of the color line in the United States, what are the implications of the increased public presence of multiracial subjectivity? In contemporaneous fictional works by and about multiracial subjects, what correspondences exist to the state’s regulation of race and multi-race?

In the twenty-first century, the racialization of subjects in and beyond the United States continues to form the basis for structures of social and economic inequality. Omi and Winant define race as “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” and racial formation as “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed.” The significant body of scholarship on the social fallout of racial hierarchy continues to focus primarily on the socio-political binary constructions of blackness and whiteness. This binary is key to understanding the existing historical context for racialized cross-group interaction in the U.S. However, the centrality of the Black-White binary in academic discourses also has the unfortunate consequence of marginalizing other racial groups and actors in the present racial state. Paradigms of race that fail to consider interstices beyond this primary binary thereby compromise the underlying anti-racist project of race scholarship itself. The anti-racist project is rendered incapable of addressing the fault lines and politics of division formed among non-white ethnic groups in the United States. In addition, multiculturalist discourses tend toward triumphalist celebrations of cultural diversity in a Post Civil-Rights Era and ignore the structural and institutional-level consequences of racial difference. The elision of inter- and intra-group relations beyond Black-White functions to conserve discourses, cultural practices, and social and economic processes that maintain the centrality and dominance of whiteness. As Omi and  Winant point out,

As much as the politicians or mainstream media, academic analyses reproduce this distorted model of race [racial dichotomizing] as a largely black-white dichotomy… Too often, today as in the past, when scholars and journalists talk about race relations, they mean relations between African Americans and whites.

The 1990s witnessed increased media and academic attention to the positioning of other ethnic groups in the American racial construct. Omi and Winant suggest a new scenario of racial actors coming into prominence nationally in the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, where “Koreans, African Americans, and Chicanos [were both] victims and victimizers.” In discourses on race in the United States, the model minority is that group poised (or posed) at the threshold separating racial otherness from whiteness. Touted as the apex of economic and assimilationist success to which other minoritized groups could and should aspire, the model minority figure is ostensible evidence of an egalitarian, equal-opportunity society. At the same time, it diverts awareness from the actuality of race-class articulated stratifications that restrict opportunity to those already privileged by class and whiteness. Today Asians in the United States are positioned in that discursive liminality, i.e. the model minority position.

Complex negotiations occur among racialization, systemic, overt, and covert racial discrimination, sedimented prejudice, and conflicting tides of assimilation and the perpetuation of Asian ethnic identities. This thesis analyzes the fiction of two multiracial Korean American writers who explore cross-racial dynamics while departing from model minoritization mythologies. My primary question is how this particular construction of Asian American ethnic subjectivity, that is, the multiracial Korean American, perpetuates Black-White binarisms. In this section, I review pertinent literatures—the historical and social contexts of Asian American literature and of multiracial identity. In both Heinz Insu Fenkl’s Memories of My Ghost Brother and Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl, the Black-White binary is manifest in multiracial spaces and bodies and consumption practices. Drawing on the established significance of biography in delineating Asian American social margins, I present one understanding of the Black-White binary as a factor in multiracial Asian American subjectivity. Fenkl and Keller’s novels are fictionalized retrospective accounts of life in recreational districts or gijichon (military camptowns) around U.S. military installations in Korea during the 1960’s and 1970’s. As such, these novels demonstrate the significance of Yellow-Black-White transracial interaction and consumption in national hegemonies.

I will first explain some of the discourse around Asian American as a signifier and panethnic rubric. Espiritu characterizes Asian American panethnicity as an entity coalescing in terms of social movements and political initiatives during and after the 1960’s in an “organizational dimension;” that is, the political and social structures through which Asian American-ness itself is manifested. Historically, the panethnic Asian American movement has fallen far short of encompassing all ethnicities and class backgrounds within the Asian rubric; in addition, the movement has tended to replicate patriarchal structures extant in the larger American culture. According to Yen Le Espiritu, the rubric of “Asian American” not only encompasses a multiplicity of ethnicities, but describes “a highly contested terrain on which Asian American of different racial, cultural, and class backgrounds merge and clash over terms of inclusion.” My thesis locates the works of Fenkl and Keller, and the racially hybridized subjectivities they depict, along this terrain of contestation. Through the implication of the Black-White binary in constructions of multiracial Korean American identity, it is possible to understand the significance of existing race hierarchies on the politics of inclusion and exclusion in Asian American collective and group identities…

Read the entire thesis here.

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A Phantom Childhood: Memories of my Ghost Brother by Heinz Insu Fenkl [Book Review]

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive on 2010-04-16 00:59Z by Steven

A Phantom Childhood: Memories of my Ghost Brother by Heinz Insu Fenkl [Book Review]

Korean Quarterly
Spring 1998

Marie Lee

Setting a novel from a child’s point of view can be as risky a venture as, say, writing a novel in dialect. How to wrest an adult meaning from a child’s unformed thoughts? But if the author can pull off such a feat, the rewards are ample, as evidenced by works such as Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Reidar Jönsson’s My Life as a Dog, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (which manages to successfully render both a boy’s point of view and his dialect).

Memories of My Ghost Brother by Heinz Insu Fenkl should be added to this list. The eponymous narrator, Heinz/Insu is a young boy growing up as an Amerasian in Korea in the ‘60s and early ‘70s…

Read the entire review here.

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Memories of My Ghost Brother

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Media Archive, Novels on 2010-04-15 18:22Z by Steven

Memories of My Ghost Brother

Bo-Leaf Books
284 pages
trade paper ISBN: 0-9768086-0-9

Heinz Insu Fenkl, Associate Professor of English
State University of New York, New Paltz

Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Book Finalist, the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction

A young Amerasian comes of age as he grows up in the Korean city of Inchon and struggles to come to terms with his own identity and with his memories of a lost half-brother, whom his Korean mother sacrificed to marry his American father.

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