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KakaoTalk and Facebook

Korean American Youth Constructing Hybrid Identities


Jiwoo Park and Dafna Lemish

KakaoTalk and Facebook: Korean American Youth Constructing Hybrid Identities explores the role smartphones play in the lives of Korean American youth as they explore their identities and navigate between fitting into their host society and their Korean heritage. Employing multiple methodologies, this book gives voice to the youth’s personal experiences, identity struggles, and creative digital media practices. While similar in many aspects to other American youth, they also differ greatly in the central roles that their smartphones’ use plays in maintaining their mastery of the Korean language, connecting to Korean pop culture, and cultivating their social networks with other co-ethnic peers and homeland relatives and friends. The results of this study challenge traditional assumptions about assimilation of second generation immigrants into a host society and suggest that digital technologies facilitate the process of segmented assimilation, according to which ethnic identities continue to play a central role in the identity of children of immigrants. KakaoTalk and Facebook will be of great interest to scholars and educators of media and youth and those exploring how digital media have changed the nature of immigration processes in dramatic ways.

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This is a study on the lived experience of coming of age with a hybrid ethnic identity in the U.S. While we focus on the case study of Korean American youths, we believe it is exemplary of the larger phenomenon of immigration in the age of digital technology. While immigration just 100 years ago meant probably never seeing your family and friends again, and 50 years ago meant holding a rare and expensive phone call, today immigration entails daily video-chatting and the real-time exchanging of messages and photos as a taken-for-granted routine.

We approached this study as immigrants ourselves. While born and brought up in Seoul, Korea, Jiwoo studied as an international student in the U.S., away from the familiarity of home, in her early 20s. Dafna moved to the U.S. from Israel in her 50s, already an established scholar. We met at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, where Jiwoo was a Ph.D. student and Dafna was the Dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts.

Our goal was to conduct this study with great compassion and empathy, since we both know from first-hand experience that digital technology is our lifeline to our roots, our families, our social networks, our mother tongue, and our homeland—all of which carry great emotional weight. When Jiwoo first moved to the U.S., she faced isolation from her family and friends, a language ← xiii | xiv → barrier, and stereotyping/discrimination. She struggled greatly to find her true...

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