Voice of minority

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Rosa Hwang

I’ve only worn a hanbok twice in my life. They’re garments indigenous to Korea, characterized by vibrant primary colours, with different styles for both men and women. My ancestors donned hanboks as everyday wear, but nowadays you might only see them at traditional Korean festivals or celebrations. The overall look is breathtaking, but I personally find the material constrictive and slightly itchy.

So imagine my shock years ago, at an annual Christmas gala organized by the Korean community of Calgary, when two of the city’s best known and most popular politicians — both Caucasian — showed up wearing hanboks.

They stood out like two raisins in a bowl of porridge.

All the Koreans in the ballroom wore tuxedos or evening gowns. The only two Caucasians invited to the event looked as if they came straight out of Confucian casting — relics of the Chosun Dynasty.

I was just a child so my immediate, immature reaction was to stare, mouth agape, then sneak in a few laughs when Mom wasn’t looking. Back then, I didn’t understand their gesture, but I understand it now.

They were appealing to the “ethnic vote.”

There is something cynical about that term — “ethnic vote.” It implies visible minorities make big decisions, like what they want in their government, in monolithic herds. What’s good for one is good for all, right?

A South Korean model presents the South Korea traditional costume “hanbok” by designer Lee Young-ae during the 2010 Korea Hanbok Festival at Chang Gyeong Palace in Seoul, South Korea on October 15, 2010. Photo by Ahn Young-joon, The Associated Press.

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This week, a Conservative campaign document forced the not-so-open political strategy out from the shadows.

A leaked email, signed by a Conservative campaign worker, invited “ethnic” groups to attend a Stephen Harper rally and for “ethnic” attendees to wear “ethnic” costumes to create a great “ethnic” TV photo-op.

The truth is, all major political parties employ this dubious tactic, or some variation of it. The idea being, if they send a signal — subtle or overt — that they’re sensitive to the needs of a particular group, they’re more likely to attract votes from said group. There is absolutely nothing Korean about Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper, for example, but throw a few cheering Koreans behind them at political rallies and, as the theory goes, other Koreans, like my mom and dad, will vote their way.

Insensitive and patronizing? Perhaps. Naïve? Definitely.

The strategy only works if you believe ethnic groups are a homogenous bunch. It’s an erroneous premise that shouldn’t need correcting.

My Korean mom and dad are more concerned with which candidate best meets their expectations on the economy, health care and yes, immigration. They have a diverse group of Korean friends with a wide range of political sensibilities. No single ideology has blanket hold over all of them.

Ethnic commonality doesn’t always trump political differences.

If I knew in childhood what I know now, I would have stopped laughing long enough at those two politicians at the Korean gala, taken them aside and shared with them the obvious lesson.

They could have left their hanboks at home, just like I did.

Rosa is a senior producer at Global National, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @RosaHwangTV.

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