Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Education of children of multicultural families is the foremost issue on the mind of Jasmine Lee, the first naturalized Korean to become a legislator.
"I think welfare for multicultural families is a given. I would like to focus on education," Lee told The Korea Herald on Saturday. Lee, who married a Korean man and settled here 18 years ago, will take a seat at the National Assembly as a proportional representative on a Saenuri Party ticket.
"It would be more on working within the regular curriculum, special education only when it is necessary," said Lee.
She noted that multicultural children living in cities have a tougher time at school compared to children in rural communities.
"In rural areas, they make up a sizable population and they are more accepted. In the cities, because they are fewer in number, the children have more difficulties," Lee said. Also, children from a previous marriage who arrive with foreign-born mothers have a much more difficult time adjusting to life here. If they are of school-going age, the problem is even greater, as there are no special programs for them.
It is unfortunate that most Koreans do not view multicultural children as having the advantage of having diverse cultural backgrounds, she said.
"Rather, they are seen as disadvantaged," Lee said. Although the children of multicultural families should exploit the advantages of being bilingual, families often do not encourage the children to learn the foreign-born mother's native language.
"Mothers-in-law would often discourage the mother from speaking to the children in her native language, saying things like, 'Do you want them to speak Korean like you do?'"
Her family's reaction to her becoming a parliamentarian has been positive, but not without a warning about the harsh reality of politics.
"My son, 17, said, 'If I ever see you on TV pulling a legislator's hair at the National Assembly, then that's it. I am going to have your name removed from the family registry,'" Lee related.
In her 18 years in Korea, Lee has seen a gradual change in the people's attitude toward international marriages but it is not enough. When her late husband announced that he was marrying a Filipina, a neighborhood woman expressed surprise and advised against it.
"Now she tells people it is okay to marry a foreigner, that they will do well," she said. But will the same woman accept a foreigner into her own family? That is quite another matter.
"'It is okay for you, but not for me,'" Lee said.
"There is quite a distance from here to here," Lee said, pointing first to her head and then her heart.