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Embedded Korean in American Oriental Imagination: Kim Sisters’ “Their First Album”

YUJUNG LEE 1

1University of Hawaii at Manoa

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper considers how Koreans found their positions in the complex, overlapping, disjunctive, and interconnected “Oriental” repertoires in the early Cold War years. When we use the term, Oriental, it should require careful translation from context to context because it may be subject to very different sets of contextual circumstances. Klein views Cold War Orientalism in the complex of various regions including East Asian and Southeast Asian countries; however, when Koreans are contextualized at the center of the discussion the Orientalism produces another discursive meaning. Even though many great researches have been done on Korean immigrations, Korean American literatures, and US-Korea economic, political, and foreign relations, not many discussions about Korean American popular cultures have been discussed in the basis of the Oriental discourse in the United States.For this argument, this paper investigates the performative trajectory of a girl group “Kim Sisters” who began to sing at the US military show stages in South Korea in 1952 during the Korean War. They moved to Las Vegas show stages in 1959 and later appeared in Ed Sullivan Show more than thirty times during the 1960s and 70s. Meanwhile, they not only returned to South Korea often times to perform at the stages for Korean audiences in South Korea but also played at the shows for Korean immigrants in the United States. Korean American immigration to the United States has followed a different route from the majority of Asian American population such as Chinese or Japanese Americans, which means that efforts to compare this particular group to the others may be unnecessary. Rather doing comparative studies, this paper, therefore, focuses on the formation of the intersecting and multiple identities of Korean female entertainers who were forced or forced themselves to be incorporated into the American popular “Oriental” imagination, which I would call “embedded” identities. This embeddedness has been continuously maintained in the configuration of Korean characters in the United States. This will help not only to observe the discursive aspect of Asian American identity politics but also to claim a space for comparatively invisible Korean characters in the United States which has been often times neglected and not brought into a major Asian American or Oriental historical discourse. This paper starts with American scenes at the beginning of the twentieth century to trace Americans Oriental imagination which was observable in the various American cultural landscape and popular music soundscape. It will help us more clearly understand the production and consumption of the Korean “Oriental” performances during the early Cold War period and especially the Korean performance in the American venue, silently overshadowed into the political, social, and cultural framework.

Citation status

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