Crossing Peninsulas: Early 20th-Century Korean Flexible Nationalisms in the Yucatán Peninsula

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Introduction: Peninsula to Peninsula

In April 1905, hundreds of Koreans were gathered in Jemulpo Port under Korea’s hot spring sun.[1] The SS Ilford was about to lead approximately one thousand Koreans to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula in a transpacific journey. Newspaper advertisements distributed across the peninsula had offered young, able men the chance to seek a new life as a farmer in Mexico. Immigrants could labor, save money, and return home with the rewards of their hard work after just a few years. Contractors for Mexican henequen plantations provided meals for contract signees. At the time, the Korean peninsula was caught in rapidly changing political spaces with a variety of emerging, competing notions of nationhood and citizenship after “opening” through the Treaty of Kanghwa in 1876. The Taehan Korean Empire was locked into unequal port treaties and suffered rising peasants’ discontent at the lower classes’ state of affairs. Accordingly, the call for workers across the world would be enticing, especially with stories circulating of the migrants’ financial successes in Hawaii’s sugar plantations. However, just a few months later in November 1905, Japan would force the Korean Empire to enter Japan’s imperial-colonial sphere as a protectorate. So, while the Koreans boarding the Ilford may have imagined returning home, this would be the last time these Koreans would see their sovereign homeland.[2]

As of 1910 the Koreans remained stuck in Mexico, with neither Mexican citizenship nor Korean state protection after Japan conquered Korea in 1910. These first Korean immigrants to Mexico would become the Latin American bastion of support for the Korean international pro-independence movement that connected in multiple international sites. While their counterparts in the United States and China often receive the historical spotlight from scholars, I shed light on the actions of Mexico-bound Korean immigrants. Despite the prospect of living the rest of their lives in Mexico, this group of immigrants still considered themselves Korean and supported an independence movement for a land they last knew as sovereign and independent. Their racial/ethnic encounters with mestizaje in Mexico shaped their identity, which I explore to better understand the ways in which (ethno)nationalist rhetoric and practice suggests different meanings for those it includes and excludes.

The Korean immigrant community in Mexico faced many challenges, particularly the way in which the complex process of othering affected them in the Yucatán. Historically, the Koreans were caught in a distinct moment between ethno-nationalist Mexican sentiments and a longing for the Korean homeland that would soon cease to hold sovereignty. José Sánchez Pac, born on the Ilford, would go on to write that the “one and only primary source” on the everyday life of the Koreans in Mexico as they navigated the sociopolitical movements they in which found themselves was Korean independence and Mexican revolution.[3] José Sánchez Pac’s memoir presents an insightful opportunity for a deep analysis into the Korean immigrant experience in early 20th century Mexico. Although at first glance the various community-building methods employed by the Korean immigrants reveal a group with strong national ties to their motherland, the story is more complicated. Various excerpts from Pac’s memoir show that there were few other choices for the alienated community: their motherland was no longer sovereign and their new land practiced exclusive ethnonationalist ideologies that barred full access to the state.

This thesis gathers a wide range of materials that I read critically. These include Pac’s memoir, written about eighty years after the 1905 immigration, and Korean-American newspaper articles from the first decades of the twentieth century. I also analyze less traditional sources in both Spanish and Korean, including oral histories and state-produced media that highlight the vast array of narratives about this community. Fukuoka’s typological framework that complicates ethnic belonging based on blood, culture, and nationality inform my critical reading of these sources for plurality.[4] Reading these in combination with various secondary articles in Korean, Spanish, and English, I highlight the social pressures that directly contributed to a rise in Korean ethnonationalism amongst immigrants in the early 20th century. This ethnonationalism in turn laid down the foundation for long-term affiliation to the Korean nation while Korean immigrants also became members of the Mexican state.[5]

By examining how Korean immigrants fostered community via the Christian Church and other social spaces, I demonstrate how Koreans exercised their agency through what I analyze as “flexible nationalisms.” I argue that this agency was relatively narrow in scope compared to community-building initiatives elsewhere in the global diaspora: instead, there existed a much more complex responsibility to and relationship with Korean nationhood and identity. The immigrants separated themselves from mestizaje and Mexicanidad and identified as Korean. Being Korean in this era meant affiliation with and support for Korean independence. This is a distinct immigrant experience: they had little choice but to stand outside mestizaje and be Korean as prescribed by the global Korean community seeking Korean liberation. Ostracized from the Mexican state because of mestizaje ideology, and at risk of being cut off from global networks, the Korean immigrants in Mexico were forced to organize under the banner of Korean ethnic culture and liberation to survive Mexico and remain connected to the global Korean diaspora. However, Koreans were able to gain legibility within the Mexican state that allowed them to serve the Korean liberation movement’s interests. I describe this phenomenon of securing legibility as a member of one state to be able to employ citizenship practices for the benefit of another nation as flexible nationalisms. I argue that the Koreans’ community-building reflects a reaction to mestizaje ideology and global Korean diasporic pro-independence call, thus leading to further separation from the Mexican nation-state. In turn these self-reinforcing practices produced flexible nationalisms that Korean immigrants used to support Korean liberation.

This thesis is structured as follows: Section I presents a brief history of the conditions in Mexico and the Korean peninsula at the turn of the 20th century to better contextualize the situation of the Korean immigrants. I then share a historiographic overview on Korean immigration, nationalism, and typical methods used to understand transnational migration and end with a discussion of the use of mestizaje ideology in the Mexican nation-state project. This section aims to provide a critical foundation for the circumstances that motivated Korean community-building due to Mexican exclusivity. Section II offers insight into the various ways in which legal and economic methods were employed by the Koreans in Mexico in the 1910s through the 1920s for participatory membership in the global diasporic community. This section also discusses the role of Christian churches in catalyzing Korean community-building and how churches served as headquarters for the Korean Association’s activities, such as collecting donations for independence. In this section, I argue that membership in the larger diaspora, in addition to anti-Asian sentiment and policies in Mexico, forced Korean immigrants to support ethnonationalism in order to find community in their new circumstances. Section III turns to local forms of Korean ethnic community-building via education and a military school, specifically addressing how Koreans in Mexico promoted Korean ethnonationalism in Mexico. Finally, I conclude that the limited nation-state membership options afforded to the Korean immigrants in Mexico created the conditions that simultaneously distanced them from the Mexican nation-state and drew them to the global Korean diasporic independence movement.

Part I: Planting Community Seeds: From Immigration to Confronting the Mexican State

Brief History : Green Gold, Blue Oceans, and Mixed Communications

Unlike most Korean migrants at the time, who sought agricultural opportunities in Hawaii, the migrants on board the Ilford hoped to work on henequen plantations in Mexico. Mexican henequen plantation owners saw henequen, the core ingredient in rope, as “oro verde” (“green gold”), and thus vital to the local economy.[6] Porfirio Diaz’s campaigns to unite and nationalize Mexico had left labor shortages. Owners of the henequen-harvesting haciendas, hacendados, searched outside Mexico for potential laborers. The hacendados promised to protect the workers’ interests.[7] At the turn of the 20th century the Asia-Pacific corridor underwent rapid changes: Japan and Korea’s 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa was an early foundation for Japan’s imperial aspirations in Korea. More specifically, the Treaty of Kanghwa pushed Korea out of Chinese suzerainty and mandated treaty ports with Japan.[8] Japanese imperial ambitions continued growing after Japan’s victory in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. This victory allowed for Japanese influence over the Korean peninsula from Qing China and Japanese colonization of Taiwan. Korea’s Queen Min was also assassinated in 1895 through Japanese-Korean collaboration. In 1897, King Kojong declared himself emperor of the Great Korean Empire in an attempt to ward off the encroaching Japanese empire. This transformation was meant to modernize Korea with a set of laws, the Kwangmu Reforms, and secure Korea’s independence in the international world order. Meanwhile, the Korean peninsula suffered difficult economic times in 1901 and typhoid and cholera outbreaks in 1902.[9] These challenges were significant push factors for Korean emigration.

Thus began the journey of 1,033 Koreans to the Yucatán peninsula with a newspaper advertisement placed by John G. Meyers, an Englishman of Dutch-German descent and naturalized Mexican citizen, around the Korean peninsula in August 1904.[10] The advertisement called for “adventurous spirits”—able-bodied men under the age of 40 who were permitted to bring their female partners and children under the age of fifteen.[11] Meyers’ advertisement promoted Mexico as a country of equivalent civility and wealth to the United States with a mild and favorable climate, little poverty, and the opportunity to earn wages on par with previous Asian immigrants.[12] A more immediate pull factor for potential workers was the promise that the day the applicants registered, the contractors would provide food and tents for them to camp out by Jemulpo Port before departure.[13]

Meyers specifically singled-out Korea for laborers since the Japanese had vested interests in diverting the Korean labor force away from the profitable agrarian jobs in Hawaii, which the Empire wanted to keep in the hands of Japanese subjects abroad.[14] A variety of individuals responded to his call, mainly from the Seoul area, as high wages, the promise of a high quality of life in Mexico (promoted as equal to that of the United States), and the ability to immigrate with their family members drew them in.[15] The auspices under which these immigrants traveled were murky, as was the legality of their recruitment. A French minister issued their passports even though King Gojong had delegated overseas emigration matters to American entrepreneur David W. Deshler in 1902.[16] Recruitment advertisements also showed inconsistencies in job description, wages, contract periods, and government authorization.[17] Nevertheless, they departed from the port of Incheon on April 4, 1905 and landed in Salina Cruz, Mexico on May 15, 1905 where they were split-up between 22 henequen plantations.[18]

Shortly after, Japan made the Korean peninsula a protectorate in the fall of 1905 and later incorporated Korea as a colony in 1910. All of a sudden, the Korean immigrants in Mexico were stateless under their immigration status mentioned above. The Japanese Empire was now in charge of their representation and care abroad, which did not bode well for the Koreans who had left a sovereign Korea. Japanese imperial interests blocked diplomatic support for the Korean immigrants. When reports detailing henequen plantations’ slave-like conditions arrived to the Korean empire, the Ministry of Exterior Relations assigned vice-minister Chi Ho Yoon to go to Mexico and investigate.[19] However, Japan assumed its diplomatic superiority shortly after and canceled Chi Ho Yoon’s trip. The Korean empire effectively lost its opportunity not only to protect this group of immigrants, but also its future chances to grasp at diplomatic autonomy.[20] The Korean immigrants to Mexico were abandoned in the diplomatic politics rumbling across the Pacific Ocean. After their arrival, the Korean immigrants soon realized that their labor contracts were not in their favor, as they faced poor working conditions under the hot Yucatán sun,[21] a completely different diet,[22] and their position under Mexico’s state-building project of mestizaje was unclear.[23]

In the late 19th century, indigenous populations and political dissidents of the Porfiriato (Porfirio Diaz’s political regime) provided insufficient labor for the henequen boom.[24] The ideology of mestizaje—the idea that the Mexican nation was composed of citizens with mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry— was (and remains) exclusive, and “serves more as a mask of harmony that overlooks the racial division prevalent in Mexican society…(and) disregards not only the economic and political disempowerment of the indigenous but also the multicultural presence of various immigrant populations.”[25] Exclusion vis-a-vis mestizaje also affected the indigenous population that would work alongside the Koreans on the plantation. However, the indigenous people had longer imperial-colonial histories with the Spanish and Mexican states which placed them in different conditions and alliances to counter mestizaje ideology. Thus, the Korean immigrants, both stateless and not a part of the racial and ethnic makeup that constituted mestizaje (ergo Mexicanidad), had mainly only themselves to look towards for community in this new land.


Scholarship on 20th century Korean immigration to the Americas has primarily focused on movement to the United States. Richard S. Kim’s monograph, The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 19051945 (2011), traces the formation of the Korean ethnic identity and nationalism from the United States during the Japanese colonial era.[26] Kim, though concentrated on Korean-American activities and Korean-American diasporic identity, does mention the connections among the U.S. Korean community, Latin American Koreans, and other expatriate communities abroad. Authors like Warren Kim documented the experiences of early Korean immigrant communities on Hawaiian sugar plantations, and similar to Richard Kim, highlighted the struggles Korean immigrants faced in xenophobic, racist America.[27] Scholarship on Korean immigrant conditions in the United States reveals unfavorable receptions to Koreans and supplies testimonies and reasonings as to why various Asian countries looked towards Latin America as potential lands of opportunity.[28] A common pull factor noted throughout the historiography on Asian immigration to the Americas is the immigrants’ hope for future wealth if they work hard enough. My project draws on this body of literature on the Korean-American diaspora to understand: the reasons for Korean immigration, diasporic articulations of Korean identity, and how these Korean-American versions were in communication with and inspiration for the Koreans in Mexico.

Where there are pull factors, there are also push factors. Andre Schmid’s Korea Between Empires, 18951919 (2002) discusses the formation of a Korean national consciousness/identity in the pre- and early-colonial era on the Korean peninsula.[29] He converses with scholarship on Korean nationalism (i.e. Ch’aeho Sin [Toksa sillon], Gi Wook Shin). In Korea Between Empires, Schmid provides one origin of nationalism in the growth of the minjok movement in the early 20th century as he discusses how “decentering the ‘Middle Kingdom’” arose alongside foreign entrance into the Korean peninsula.

The term minjok, relatively new and coined circa 1900, conflated ethnicity and citizenship in a modern move to associate the state with the ethnic people. Schmid highlights the importance of newspapers as a modus operandi to circulating this idea; he cites the very publishing of such arguments that centered the East as equal to the West in the contemporary Hwangsŏng Sinmun (Capital Gazette). Schmid argues that this nascent nationalism was teleological in its placing of Koreanness as a separate entity that was primordial and “construed as an objective entity…infused with those criteria and features- territory, people, language,…that were seen internationally as determining nationhood.”[30] Schmid cites the growth of the minjok movement as an answer to defining where Koreans stood in the region grounded in a historical model that, as argued by Sin, was there regardless of people’s recognition of its presence. Schmid’s scholarship provides a background of the sociopolitical environment the Korean immigrants to Mexico exited, and what ideologies they may have carried with them as they left right before Japan made Korea a protectorate in the fall of 1905. His seminal work aptly renders the state of the rapidly changing Korean society and Schmid parses out how Korean national consciousness arose between the Taehan Empire and Japanese Empire.

The Korean immigrants encountered a new sociopolitical environment in Mexico. Jason Chang’s book on anti-Asian racism in Mexico, Chino: Anti-Chinese Racism in Mexico, 1880-1940 (2017) highlights Mexico’s nation-state project and the ways Mexicanidad was constructed under mestizaje ideology.[31] Chang furthers the discourse by focusing on Chinese immigrants to Mexico, but anti-Asian discrimination in the United States and Mexico shapes his argument about mestizaje affecting Chinese assimilation to Mexico. These same ideas and sources, including the 1917 Mexican Constitution, inform my work as I explore the conditions Korean immigrants encountered when they immigrated in 1905.

Fredy González’s scholarship on trans-Pacific Chinese communities in Mexico also explores the challenges faced by Chinese immigrants in anti-Chinese Mexico.[32] González’s research on the intra-community conflicts over politics, alongside issues with the broader Mexican nation-state, explores the Chinese immigrant community’s tensions between identifying as Chinese while contending with Chinese political identifications and how Chinese political identities affected their relationship to Chineseness. Both scholars (Chang and González) articulate the Mexican state’s (ab)use of the 1917 Mexican Constitution to justify anti-Asian racism. The effects of Japanese empire, including how it forced Chinese immigration (especially from Canton) and the use of the Japanese Mexican as an ideal Other,[33] are also explored by both authors. Chinese reactions to mestizaje, as presented by Chang and González, shed light on at least one East Asian community’s interpretation of the racial politics they encountered and faced exclusion from.

Aihwa Ong’s Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality informs this essay’s study of flexible nationalisms.[34] Ong defines flexible citizenship as “the cultural logics of capitalist accumulation, travel, and displacement that induce subjects to respond fluidly and opportunistically to changing political-economic conditions.”[35] She emphasizes that subjects employ “practices favoring flexibility, mobility, and repositioning in relation to markets, governments, and cultural regimes.”[36] While Ong’s flexible citizenship certainly reflects our globalized world, I argue that the term “citizenship” cannot be applied to the first Korean immigrants into Mexico. Although they too employ flexibility and subscribe to citizenship-like practices (as I detail below), their flexed nationalist practices, like donations and martial actions, were intended to increase their legibility within the Mexican state and support Korean causes based on the local Mexican resources available to them.

Mestizaje, Henequen & Anti-Asian Racism

From the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1519 and the “conquest” of the Aztec Empire in 1521, social organization was key.[37] From its earliest stages, the Spanish Colonial Mexican political apparatus facilitated the separate ruling of Spaniards and indigenous peoples through the establishment of the República de los Españoles and the República de los Indios respectively.[38] The Spanish colonial state furthered its exclusionary politics with the creation of a sistema de castas (caste system) and carried out the limpieza de sangre (ethnic cleansing, lit. blood cleaning) by requiring probanzas (proof/ evidence) to prove one’s racial heritage.[39] Special fueros could be acquired for “pure” Spaniards to access certain jobs and education. Similarly, there were privileges associated with being of indigenous noble pedigree: these individuals were called caciques and they would extract labor from indigenous populations (presumably had closer ties and authority based on said noble bloodlines).[40] Out of this hierarchy came the term mestizo[41] and the adjudication and rights of these individuals was murky territory for the Spaniards. The Spanish colonizers toed the line between remaining absolutely at the top of the colonial hierarchy, yet also acknowledging that their “superior,” masculine-coded blood ran through mestizo veins, thus placing them “above” indigenous people. Blood purity and quantum was of huge import in social organization as intermarrying continued and different combinations of part-Spanish, part-indigenous arose. Mestizaje communicated both mestizos’ mixed heritage and higher rank on the colonial racial-class ladder.

Nonetheless, Maria Elena Martínez notes that by the late 1500s, mestizos were increasingly discriminated against and barred from entering prestigious trades and guilds for fear of them becoming a political threat to the Spaniards.[42] There was a simultaneous decrease in “pure” indigenous people and an increase in the number of poor Spaniards. Class and caste crossed a contention point: mestizo lineages increasingly had less “pure” indigenous blood, yet continued to hold power positions above the pure-blooded, yet poor, Spaniards.[43] The combined dynamics of race and economic power created an antagonistic situation for mestizos who could never fully access the privileges of either of their racial-ethnic heritages. These tensions remained through independence in 1821 as liberals and conservatives fought to negotiate solutions for the lack of capital (and thus lack of a middle class), the lack of regional integration, debt, and militarism left by the independence period.[44] The Constitution of 1825 allowed for indigenous self-rule and “the elite sidestepped many of the bloody interethnic conflicts of the early nineteenth century caused by the mestizo [sic] appropriation of indigenous political control.”[45]

However, tensions continued, and the period’s decade-long War of Reform (1857–1867) thrust the country into civil war again, the direct consequence of the liberal-conservative conflict. The peasant class remained largely composed of those of indigenous descent.

In this context, the Porfiriato began its rule. Porfirio Díaz, a mestizo himself, led coups against his predecessors Benito Juárez (1867–1872) and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada (1872-1876) before finally taking control of the government in the autumn of 1876. “Pan o palo” politics, a mix of liberal and autocratic conservative policies, marked Díaz’s tenure. Mexico became increasingly economically integrated with the United States, agricultural modernization increased, railroads spread across the country, and land tenure became concentrated in the hands of a few hacendados at the expense of peasant communities. But with this also came growth and continued inequality. The “ley de fuga” ensured that any opponents attempting to escape the regime would be shot. The Porfiriato was notorious for its notions of order and progress, and power became increasingly consolidated in the state. The pax política porfiriana promoted the idea of a mestizo nation to unify the nation on the back of racist indigenismo ideology.[46] Indigenous peoples arguably suffered the most from this but did not stand idly by. The Porfiriato’s state-power consolidation encountered resistance in the Yucatán Peninsula located on the southern tip of Mexico with a demographic majority of indigenous people. Beginning in 1847, indigenous Mayans fought in the Caste War, fleeing “to the forested jungles of southeastern Yucatán, where they lived in autonomous communities outside the state’s reach.”[47] But in 1901 Díaz sent General Ignacio Bravo to the Yucatán peninsula to put an end to the Caste War and bring stability (read: state dominance) to the region. This event highlights Porfiriato’s stance on and use of mestizaje. Studying this event allows us to better understand how the national unification project was furthered by the labored subjugation of indigenous peoples in the Yucatán’s henequen plantations.

Authors Alston et. al. explain that the main legal precept of the Porfiriato was the liberal Constitution of 1857 with a high number of individual rights and

    In terms of labor,…prohibited the rendering of personal service

without just compensation and full consent. The 1856 Reform

Laws had abolished all corporate forms of land ownership; the

1857 Constitution reiterated this prohibition, which was primarily

aimed at the church. The stripping of corporate property rights

also greatly facilitated the privatization and transfer of communal

lands from indigenous communities, many of which had previously

owned lands as pueblos, or villages.” [48]

Still, this was a constitution written for citizens. Within the state’s construction of a Mexican citizen with rights there remained a grey area for the elevation of mestizaje and exploitation of indigenous labor. Enrique Florescano explains how historiography during the Porfiriato era favored the narrative of Mexican ascent through various trials and challenges (i.e. colonization, independence, etc.).[49] One of the Porfiriato Education Ministry’s historians, Justo Sierra, building from another Mexican historian, Riva Palacio, ascribed to mestizaje “el papel de proceso fundador de la nacionalidad mexicana” (“the role of the foundational process of the Mexican nationality”). With this ascription Sierra aligns with the state narrative of Spanish conquest and Catholic Church’s role in submerging Mexico’s indigenous populations into an absolute passivity and equating la nacionalidad mexicana (Mexican nationality) with being mestizo. Official Porfiriato historians’ intentional elevation of mestizos, while constructing the stereotypical passive Native, provides the ideological context for the ways in which mestizaje was (ab)used. These would be the very same plantations where the Korean immigrants would labor beginning in 1905.

Landowners continued to hold power and the Yucatán Peninsula’s hacendados were no different. Economic gains spurred the hacendados to find labor for their plantations. With the greater narrative of the Porfiriato’s thirst for national economic growth in the background, hacendados were able to harness the zeitgeistical fervor of contributing to the national economy by exploiting cheap, indigenous labor. Eiss argues that the concept of the pueblo, or the people, was a statecraft tool for “modernity” and “civility” for the majority indigenous peasant population under the direction and boosting of the mestizo gentry.[50] Hacienda work was a way to avoid mandatory military conscription, but many laborers were often forced to exchange this by dwelling on the hacienda, and having to work off debts they came with at the discretion of their “masters” who rarely took cash. Eiss describes how debt peonage to haciendas became the “most regimented and exploitative” form of peonage in Mexico as policies and laws actively supported the exploitation of indigenous labor (even though peonage had been declared illegal in the 1857 Constitution). Mayans were the majority demographic on the plantations with a significant number of Yaqui war prisoners. The socioeconomic ways in which the mestizo gentry promoted themselves and their imagination of Mexican nationality in the haciendas highlights one form that mestizaje took during the Porfiriato. Mestizaje’s racial-class dynamics expose the lines along which membership to the Mexican nation-state project were narrow and guarded.

Korean immigrants arrived during this era of mestizaje, during which individuals outside its membership were subject to exploitation as non-citizens. Conditions took a turn a little over a decade after the Koreans’ arrival. The 1917 Mexican Constitution, influenced by the Mexican Revolution, marked a new stage in the development of mestizaje. The 1910 Mexican Revolution was imbued with racist and xenophobic overtones, particularly antichinista.[51] Jason Chang contextualizes “the extension of constitutional protection to those the constitution had previously ignored” as a revolutionary consequence that despite offering “populist redemption” to natives, “ was underwritten by a new set of juridical-racial discourses being articulated around anti-Chinese politics.”[52]

Pac quotes a first-generation immigrant: “Even though the first generation of immigrants suffered for four years in forced labor, they thanked the Mexican government for its generosity… [their] generous hospitality in Mexico without legal registration.”[53] Article 30 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution was pivotal for the second generation of Korean immigrants: under a jus solis citizenship policy they were now considered “Mexican” rather than foreigners. Article 30 offered Mexican nationality by birth on Mexican territory and also extended Mexican nationality by naturalization.[54] For the stateless Korean immigrants this was a huge shift in legal status and came with potential other benefits that contemporary expatriates were seeking with legal citizenship in their new homelands. Pac noted this gratitude, however, alongside the suffering of the immigrants. It is a bittersweet moment: the forced labor conditions of the Koreans from 1905 to 1909 helped to forge strong bonds among the immigrants, and they created an independent community for themselves with ties to the international Korean independence movement. They had been treated differently from mestizos and native indigenous peoples from the very beginning: Koreans were finally granted membership to the Mexican state, but very much had grown in their allegiance to the Korean nation. Moreover, as Chang argued, mestizo nationalism, though seemingly creating a more inclusive space, ultimately was anti-Asian and exclusionary to the imagined Mexican nation.

A little over a decade later the Sinhan minbo, a California-based Korean-American newspaper, published an article in their September 9, 1926 issue stating: “Blood is holier than water,” and encouraging Koreans in Mexico to gain Mexican citizenship.[55] In this article, the Sinhan minbo claimed that although they received a new nationality, they would not forget their roots, that Mexican citizenship allowed them, in fact, to do more for their motherland. Membership to the Mexican state was a complex process laced with the colonial afterlives of racism, anti-indigeneity, and class. While the 1917 Mexican Constitution presented on paper a more inclusive Mexico, a closer look at Mexico’s exclusive history with the ideology of mestizaje, especially in the henequen industry, explicates the marginalization the Korean immigrants encountered.

Anti-Asian racism was more subtle in the Korean domestic sphere. On the plantations, food rations were corn, not rice. Corn, to Koreans, was not fit for their consumption. From interactions with indigenous women, Korean women learned to mill beans and corn into food on metates. However, eating corn gave the Koreans stomach problems. This led to Korean workers’ protest for rice and basic medicine. Upon seeing the poor conditions the Koreans were living in, the plantation administration ordered rice to be sold at the plantation credit store for the Koreans.[56] Pac recounts this anecdote to show how new and difficult life was for the Koreans in Mexico, down to the food. The women struggled to find ingredients to make kimchi. Cabbages were planted for decorative purposes at many plantations and the horticulturist at the plantation would trim and dispose of unpretty pieces of cabbage. The Korean women would use these discarded pieces to make kimchi.[57] The henequen plantations would occasionally distribute meat to the workers. Korean women would gather the tails, heads, feet, and intestines since they could use them for their cuisine. This would lead to derogatory calling of Korean women as perras.[58]

Although these moments surely convey the various challenges of adjusting to a new land, in the long-term they also show great resilience on behalf of the Korean immigrants. Oral histories from various descendants demonstrate the various techniques employed by immigrant families whose labor in the kitchen passed along Korean food traditions. Ana Maria Song, a 75 year-old second-generation Korean immigrant still living in the Yucatán, demonstrates making kalguksu, cabbage kimchi, and watermelon-rind kimchi with local ingredients.[59] Song shares how it was her father who shared these recipes with her. According to Song, all the Koreans eat kimchi. In the interview, she even encourages some of her family to try the kimchi using one of the few Korean phrases she knows: meogeo (먹어, eat). The home was a small-scale institution that supported the preservation of the Korean ethnic identity in Mexico. Traditions from home were perhaps the closest for many Korean immigrants and the least escapable— at least until adulthood. Song also shares that for many of them it was not until they married and left the house that they learned to make tortillas. Song herself married a Yucateco man whose diet centered around corn over rice.

Despite carrying on food traditions, the Korean immigrants did not pass down oral language traditions. In the same documentary with oral interviews another descendant, Genny Song, shares that the Yucatecos and Mexicans constantly bullied the Koreans (she makes the distinction) for their inability to speak Spanish and thus taught their children it was better to learn Spanish.[60][61] Apparently there were some remnants of the persistence and adaptability of Korean immigrants as witnessed by Ana Maria Song’s use of common eating-related Korean terms.

The home indicates a different dimension to the Korean immigrants’ proliferation of ethnonationalism. While I argue that there was a narrow path for the Koreans between the Mexican nation-state project and the Korean nation-state project cum liberation movement, I acknowledge the material limitations to group organizing the immigrants faced. In the home there were smaller, but equally impactful, choices made that reproduced a Korean in-group. A mixture of traditions were passed down generationally that reflect “Koreanness” via these adaptations. While these at-home events may not have been specific articulations of Korean liberation, they do illustrate mechanisms of everyday life that linked the Korean community. The need for rice over corn, although a dietary concern, was a separating factor between Koreans and other Yucatán populations. Language barriers did bar Koreans from further access and assimilation to Mexico. Yet these very same challenges also created opportunities to unite the Korean immigrant community further in their organizing for Korean liberation. Accordingly, the domestic sphere also provided space for flexible nationalisms for the Korean immigrants. Koreans’ shopping, cooking, and eating meals different from their Yucatán neighbors also served to leverage their worker status to ask for rice they could eat and use the resources available to them to fashion eating practices approximating

Part II: Laying Community Roots: Citizenship Strategies & Community Building

Legal & Economic Methods

The introduction of Asian indentured labor clearly exposed mestizaje’s membership limitations and mestizaje’s resulting structuring of racial-ethnic hierarchies in Mexican society.As mentioned before, the 1857 Mexican Constitution expressed a high number of individual rights. Section 1, Article 5 the 1857 Mexican Constitution articulates a ban on slavery and peonage.[62] Yet the peonage labor system of the henequen haciendas where the indigenous people, and later the Korean immigrants, labored reveals a gray space to this law. The Korean immigrants encountered not only these illegal conditions but a lack of citizenship unto their own. Soon after their arrival the Japanese Empire annexed the Korean peninsula and the immigrants effectively lost a sovereign nation to look towards for legal recourse to their dilemmas. Beyond legal recourse, returning to the Korean peninsula would mean being subjected to cultural erasure and servitude in the Japanese imperial war machine. The immigrants’ old status as Korean subjects was effectively expunged. Moreover, at this time, the Korean immigrants could not obtain Mexican citizenship and thus state protection. The Koreans were stateless, vulnerable, and excluded between Japanese imperialism and Mexican mestizaje.

Koreans had a limited set of options for state protection before Article 30. In many ways Article 30 provided legibility in an otherwise invisible legal existence. The Sinhan minbo call[63] Richard S. Kim echoes such sentiments in his reading of a 1909 Sinhan minbo article that urged Korean expatriates in Manchuria and the Russian Far East to naturalize as Chinese and Russian citizens in order to “maintain the struggle for Korea’s freedom.”[64] This article also states that naturalizing was not a rejection of Korea and in fact was a great act of patriotism. Kim also makes similar arguments for the case of Koreans in the United States. Scholar Jason Chang complicates the seemingly gracious changes in the Mexican nation-state’s articulation of citizenship and belonging via his scholarship on Chinese immigrants in Mexico.[65] Chang details how the 1917 Mexican Constitution provided a basis for an imperialistic and paternalistic Foucauldian surveillance state with the ejido system. These specific moments illustrate a complex navigation between allegiances to the Korean motherland while utilizing the resources and legibility given to acknowledged citizens of their new countries— flexible nationalisms.

Although the exact numbers of how many of the Korean immigrants in Mexico chose to naturalize or were born into Mexican citizenship are unknown, these sources illuminate how the transnational Korean community was aware of legal-political structures of belonging that could aid them in their mission for Korean liberation. This is a powerful contrast to the treatment the Koreans faced in Mexico. Not only were they in poor labor conditions in contracts they believed they were tricked into, they also faced racism.[66] The Koreans’ place in the Mexican nation-state was marginal and subject to Mexican exclusion of those outside the mestizo model. Still the choice to support the homeland vis-a-vis this legal-political method stood as one way for the Korean immigrant community to strategize legibility between Korea and Mexico.

Whether a deep sense of patriotism towards Mexico was a major factor in Koreans’ choice to claim citizenship is questionable. After all, they had suffered anti-Asian racism and exclusion in the mestizaje state. But what choice did the Korean immigrants really have? Acquiring Mexican citizenship made it possible for the Korean immigrants to gain access to a wider international community of Korean expatriates working toward Korean liberation. The connection between international and domestic community ties was intimate: relevance in the Korean nation-state to-be depended on belonging to Koreans belonging to their local community. In this way, ostracization from the small Korean community risked many perils, including international disconnect and few mutual aid networks. Furthermore, continuing on sans legal residence in Mexico would be difficult for mobility, employment, and access to state services. Obtaining Mexican citizenship was essential. Earning a livelihood without it would be extremely challenging. Ultimately, intense pressure from both nation-state projects, Korean and Mexican, most likely stimulated the immigrants’ flexible nationalisms: entering the Mexican state to support the Korean nation.

Another legal-political method through which the Korean immigrants in Mexico articulated a distinct form of community and belonging was in their monetary collection and donation towards Korean liberation. Pastor Nam Hwan Jo, who first arrived as an evangelical missionary to the Yucatán in 1995, wrote an exhaustive account of the history of the Korean immigrants to Mexico on the centennial anniversary with the endorsement and support of the Christian Herald USA on its 29th foundation anniversary.[67] Jo lived for ten years with the Yucatán Korean community and his book broadens scholarship on the daily life of the first immigrants, particularly with regard to their religion. Both Jo and Pac mention the Korean immigrants’ communal commitment to gathering funds, and according to Pac: “For donating people, this money was not a burden.” and, comparatively, “For their choked native land, can’t wear clothes right, [could] not eat right, was [it] not a big issue they suffered like this.”

The intimate ties between the immigrants and sharing what money they could towards Korean liberation, though notable, are not solely patriotic efforts. Jo mentions how donations were part of official activities for the Korean Association in Mérida, whose origins I will discuss in the following section. Via their ‘paga mandataria nacional,’ (‘mandatory national payment’) the immigrants sent half of the mandatorily collected funds to the independence movement while the other half remained to support local association activities; each member had to pay a single peso monthly.[68] Pac supports and elaborates Jo’s statement; Pac states that the Association had about 900 active members, meaning a total of 900 pesos was collected monthly and 450 pesos exactly were collaboration with the Pan-Korean Association and revolution promotion plans towards independence.[69] Jo continues on to describe the Association as a sort of quasi-government for the Koreans. This perspective explicates how association membership for a Korean immigrant was not solely claiming being part of a community, but a sort of citizenship and belonging to a nation(-state to-be).

Participation in the Korean Association was a complex negotiation of identity, community, and ethnonationalism between Mexico and Korea. Donations to Korean liberation were part-and-parcel of belonging to the local Korean community. Despite the fact that their Korean homeland had been inhospitable to the lower classes to which Korean immigrants had belonged, Koreans in Mexico sent money in the hopes of helping to create a grander Korean ethnic nation. Koreans’ economic productivity in Mexico was valuable to both the Mexican economy and Korean liberation movement. Scholar Hahkyung Kim distinguishes between state appreciation for the Koreans’ economic productivity on Mexican territory versus state acknowledgement of the Koreans as productive Mexicans; Kim suggests a tolerance for Koreans rather than acceptance due to their economic contributions.[70] In response, I suggest that this economic productivity, yet exclusion, enabled further separation from Mexicanidad. The Korean immigrants’ isolation has already been emphasized and banding together was consequently key to survival and prosperity in the stateless zone of illegibility. Accordingly, the (little) capital at their disposal was the de facto modus operandi to express and take action on their will. Moreover, as much as the individual Korean immigrant in Mexico did not want to face social isolation, neither did the greater Korean community in Mexico amongst other Korean international expatriate communities. Donations to the liberation movement were payment to participation and legibility to the Korean nation, scattered as it was. Los Angeles was the center of the Korean revolutionary movement and not too far from the Koreans in Mexico.[71] As such, the Mexican Korean enclave inevitably felt the pull and push for participation. Pac characterizes the peoples’ donations as unburdensome in comparison to the toil and trauma of their fellow nationals back on the Korean peninsula. However, because one’s status in the Korean immigrant community was tied to participation in the Korean Association, supporting Korean liberation was an inevitable part of being a member of the local community. Therefore, whether or not an individual wanted to support that movement, their belonging depended on it: this lack of choice created a burden.

Membership to the international Korean community was important. Connections could lead to benefits. Chang-Yong Cho notes that in 1911 Korean-Americans rallied funds in a plan to try and convince the United States’ government to allow for the Koreans in Mexico to immigrate to the United States.[72] Overall, the call to gain citizenship dialectically parallels what Hannah Arendt would later call the “right to have rights.” Arendt describes how membership/citizenship to the nation-state was fundamental for human rights. She argues that the Rights of Man are unenforceable, even when constitutionally inalienable, whenever stateless peoples are considered.[73] Although Arendt speaks from the perspective of stateless Jews in World War II and postwar Europe, parallels to the early 20th century Korean diaspora are evident in the ways that Koreans sought to tap into the rights given by nation-states to their citizens for themselves and their pro-independence cause.

Role of Christian Churches

“Koreans were not Catholics and did not understand Catholic customs. Moreover [we] did not understand the [Spanish] language, so [we] were not invited to wedding ceremonies nor celebrations. [Either way]…[we] did not have curiosity nor a want to nose around.”[74] Still, the Koreans‘ labor contracts stipulated a mandatory day of rest on Sundays in the fervently Catholic nation.[75] In fact, religion was such a deep part of the plantation owner-laborer relationship that it affected housing conditions. Pac states that indigenous peoples were prohibited from the benefit of thatched cottages (like those of the Koreans) because the plantation owners rationalized not to allow the natives this privilege since they did not attend church.[76] Thus when Koreans expressed an interest in the Christian church, the plantation owners’ hoped that following this new (Christian) doctrine would enlighten the Koreans.[77] The Koreans could only register at official state churches, but they did not understand Spanish—the language spoken at these official churches—so this led to many voluntary missionary numbers to increase and to establish a Korean church.

Anti-indigeneity, Catholicism, mestizaje, and Korean Christianity all fomented a distinct niche for Korean community-building in the Yucatán. The first homeowner in Mexico amongst the Korean immigrants was Che Seon Kim who finished his contract early.[78] He opened up his house for bible study in 1908 and Jo speculates around 300 registered members, with a likely far lower number of regular attendees. Jo states that a San Francisco nationalist group reports that the vast majority of the departing Koreans were Christians, but in reality only a few were registered as Christian upon departure from the peninsula and the rest did not register until 1911.[79] It is important to remember that the immigrants attended Methodist churches as opposed to majority-Catholic Mexico.[80] Nonetheless, Jo notes that the church became an important space for reunion for the Korean immigrant community.[81] The plantation owners would allow the laborers to attend the local church in Mérida, as noted above, and this allowed for them to come from all around and reunite. In this way the Church became the meeting grounds that set the foundation for the isolated immigrants seeking community. The immigrants were looking for future stability as they laid roots in the Yucatán.[82]

Born from weekly church reunions was the Asociación de Coreanos (Korean Association). During uncertain times the people would look to the Church and its leaders for hope and direction. Contracts mainly ended circa 1908–1909 and returning to Korea became a more distant dream with those laying roots in Mexico, so joining and being active in Korean Christian community was a critical medium to maintaining kinship. But this Association was not only a social meeting space: it also dictated private affairs of the Korean immigrant community as Christian values regarding courtship, marriage, and gambling.[83] However, the vibrancy of the Church space also manifested with the Association’s support of the Korean independence movement. Nationalist overtones colored the Korean community experience in the Yucatán as across the Pacific the Japanese empire strengthened its grip on the Korean peninsula. The Association made donations to the independence movement as part of their official activities[84] and Samilchŏll (3.1; Korean Independence Movement Day) was a major celebration amongst the Koreans that was continuously observed and seen as a way to connect back to the motherland.[85] Nostalgia for a sovereign Korea they left behind helped feed nationalist sentiment. It is unknown whether every participant was truly nationalistic for the now imagined Korea they left behind. However, it is reasonable to infer that the Church’s role as interlocutor for access to the Korean community meant that supporting independence was a requirement.

The role of churches as community-building social spaces for immigrant communities is nothing new.[86] The Mexico case is unique in how the Church was not only an access point for a marginalized community due to the political ideology of mestizaje, but in how it produced a space for nationalist sentiment. Missing their motherland may have been a natural response, but the fact that they actively maintained ties to independence movements back home and a Korean identity rather than attempt to only become “Mexican” indicates a divergence from traditional assimilation theories for adjustment to new spaces.[87] Again, flexible nationalisms come to the fore: while Koreans utilized socially-appropriate Church gatherings in highly religious Mexico that allowed them closer ties with their bosses, these same spaces became fertile grounds for organizing around Korean nationalism.

Part III: Henequen Leaves Stretching Back to Korea

News of the March 1st Korean Declaration of Independence (1919) reached the Yucatán soon after and the immigrants felt a renewed spirit of unity and support.[88] President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and support for national self-determination catalyzed an enormous reaction in colonial Korea— liberation from Japan was a just endeavor and nationals had to step up to achieve independence. The Korean immigrants in Mexico had intended to return to Korea and now there was more concrete evidence that this might be possible. The main leader of the Pan-Korean Association abroad, Chang-ho Ahn, was also due to visit the Koreans in Mexico on the Declaration’s two year anniversary.[89] Pac describes the emotions as nervous and restless amongst the community. Koreans streamed into the local Korean Association’s central headquarters in Mérida. This gathering was the first of its kind. So many gathered that some plantations underwent disorder and had to halt work. Others went so far as to help provide transportation costs for their workers to the gathering.[90] Pac also attended this gathering since his father was staying in Mérida. Ahn’s visit came with a whirlwind of activities and one conspicuous speech noted by Pac: the meaning of the taegukgi– the Korean national flag. Ahn’s speeches and discussions led the Koreans in Mexico to see how, because of the enemies’ yoke, independence could not begin domestically so it was up to them to cooperate and help. When Ahn called for the liberation of the native land, Pac describes how he was met with quiet, red eyes, and tears.[91] At the end of another session a question was raised: what was the meaning of the taegukgi, to which Ahn requested time to reflect and respond. The next day Ahn responds to a large crowd explaining the deep mythology and symbolism of the taegukgi: the flag was a symbol of recognition of national sovereignty and a symbol for nationals to adopt.[92]

This was surely a confusing experience for the Koreans who had recently received the means for legal citizenship and residency in Mexico. Pac further commented that when the news of the Declaration it came at a point when “ the kids, compared to the parents/adults, spoke better Spanish and had a base of life there…[they were] more used to the customs of Mexico.”[93] Yet, Pac also remarks that despite fourteen to fifteen years of living in Mexico, the Koreans continued to proudly maintain Korean traditions like wedding customs and Confucian ethics.[94] The immigrants’ identities were pulled between the Mexican state and Korean nation. How did they resolve the divide between state and nation? Pac’s memoir suggests that the solution lay in continuing Korean community-building in the Yucatán. Descendants’ oral histories, accordingly, testify to a strong cultural tradition amongst the Korean immigrants and diligent efforts to clarify their ethnic identity as Korean, not Chinese, Japanese or Filipino.[95] Pac himself shares an anecdote where he applied to work at a restaurant in Villa Hermosa and the owner asked him if he was Filipino. Pac responded: “I was born in Mexico but I am Korean.”[96] Clearly the Korean immigrants maintained a distinct sense of belonging to the Korean nation. While the Koreans may have accessed membership to the Mexican state, they culturally cultivated their Korean ethnic identity within the Mexican state.

Although supporting Korean liberation and ethnonationalism offered a path to membership to the local Korean community, following these customs also led to struggles. Intergenerationally knowledge was lost and subject to time and memory distortion. Influences from the environment around the Koreans also challenged the preservation of Korean heritage in Mexico. Although larger institutional support may have increased the immigrants’ legibility to the Mexican and Korean nation-state projects, smaller institutions also played a significant role in developing the Korean-Mexican immigrant community. Mestizaje ideology and the global liberation movement sprung a strong reaction from the Koreans in Mexico who used education, the Sungmu military school, and the home to maintain and pass along their Korean ethnic culture. These actions not only brought them closer to the global diaspora but also resulted in a further distancing from the Mexican nation-state.


The Yucatán Korean Association set up Ohakgina on May 26, 1913.[97] It was the first of multiple schools built to encourage “minjok consciousness.”[98] Pac details his educational experience on the henequen plantation. The Korean immigrants established an education board within the Yucatán Korean Association with the purpose to educate illiterate adults and the children.[99] The Association faced challenges establishing the Korean school. They held a discussion regarding environmental constraints and enduring material burdens: 1) there was no formal teacher for instruction in the Korean language and 2) the parents of those being educated would shoulder an economic burden (teachers had to be paid for their labor).[100] It was then decided that they would appoint a temporary teacher, Changi Cho, and that this position would be concurrent with the position of clerk for the Mérida Korean association.[101]

The actual education system was based on the Korean education system with the Korean language and writing in Hangul at the backbone, as well as hanmun.[102] Pac reminisced about having learned hanmun but not remembering his lessons. Usually a plantation Korean school would have two teachers: one for arithmetic and another for Hangul (language, reading, and writing).[103] Also included in the curricula were: lessons on supporting one’s native land, history, the four-class hierarchy system (i.e. samin, yangban, etc.), physical education, speech, and hymns.[104] In these ways the education system was imbued with “minjok consciousness.”[105]

The plantation system workday schedule meant that students and teachers would have to do classes usually from dawn 2 AM to 4 AM and then in the evening again from 6 PM for about two more hours.[106] Pac also reflects on the corporal punishment doled out for those who did not do well in their studies. The arduous schedule above that required students to balance both long, hard days on the plantation with schoolwork often led to students with incomplete or missing schoolwork. In a moment that exposes privilege amongst the Korean immigrant community, Pac reveals that those who lived and attended school in the city (of Mérida) would go to school for 8 hours, not study hanmun, and not receive corporal punishment.[107] An urban/rural divide in the Yucatán is inferable from Pac’s statement. Even though this division may point to splinters in the construction of a unified community, the separation of students from the broader Yucatán community illustrates a concerted effort to retain the immigrants’ language and culture. Early on in his memoir, Pac also pointed out the challenge of language for the immigrants; even though body language was used for communication, acquiring Spanish language skill was advantageous.[108]

Deliberately supporting the continuation of the Korean language amongst second-generation immigrants— beyond Korean being presumably the primary language spoken at home— elucidates the resilience of the Korean immigrant community. This tactic also diverges from traditional assumptions about assimilation: rather than only absorb the new language, they actively worked towards passing down the Korean culture. Flexible nationalisms can also be observed in the Yucatán Korean education system. Although second-generation immigrants may have learned Spanish for quotidian affairs, the existence of a Korean school system instilling the language of the Korean (literal and minjok consciousness) builds on communal practices fostering identification with the Korean nation.

Sungmu Military School

Kunyong Lee’s creation of Suk-Mu Kak Kyo on November 14, 1910 expanded upon the Korean immigrants’ use of a space such as school to facilitate community.[109][110] Scholar Chang-Yong Cho traces Sungmu hakgyo’s roots back to the Korean mainland’s reaction to Japanese colonization and the National Enlightenment Movement’s use of Sungmu Consciousness/-ism to enlighten the people.[111] Cho states that the National Enlightenment Movement contended that the reason for the fall of Korea was partly due to [the imperial government’s] reverence of other world powers’ military strength while suppressing/controlling Korea’s own military.[112]

Thus, military power was needed to regain Korea’s sovereignty. Sungmuism followed this logic and the spirit of Sungmuism was exhibited and defined by patriotism imbued into educational values of every school subject.[113] Physical education was the first step towards inspiring patriotism and through this Sungmuism was implemented with youths across the nation (of Korea) training in a patriotic, military spirit with the goal of one day bringing Korea to stand as an equal world power.[114] Sungmuism’s expansion resulted in Koreans cultivating and enabling the notion that dying for one’s country was brave—all in preparation for being needed for an actual battle for independence.[115] Sungmuism spread to other Korean immigrant communities abroad, including Mérida. As noted above, former Kwangmu Army soldiers were part of the Korean immigrant community in Mexico, approximately 200.[116][117] When the trend of Sungmuism arrived in the Yucatán peninsula, men with military backgrounds gathered in three locations to reflect on the fall of the native land and to prepare willing patriotic martyrs for Korean liberation.[118] To create such devoted fighters, they would conduct soldier training daily for 1~2 hours in military strategies/methods and gymnastics during the leisure time from farming.[119] On November 17, 1910 a full-scale effort from the Mérida Local Council came to the construction of Sungmu School, a military training school where the goal was gaining Korean independence, with Lee leading the efforts.[120]

José Sánchez Pac also mentions that 25 Korean youths in the Yucatán, under the leadership of Kŭnyŏng Lee, participated in the 1910 Mexican Revolution.[121] Pac also mentions accidentally meeting a “Mr. Choo” while working at the same company in El Aguila. Mr. Choo proudly shared with Pac that he fought in the Revolution and was even promoted to major.[122] Jagyeong Lee’s 100 year chronicle on Korean immigrants in Mexico, Meksik’o Hanin imin 100-yŏnsa : enek’en kasibat ŭi 100-yŏn oditsei, corroborates Pac by suggesting that while total numbers of Korean participants are unknown, it is possible dozens fought under Kŭnyŏng Lee and died in battles.[123] I have found no further supporting sources on this claim, but similar participatory actions occurred in Manchuria and Russia.[124] Manchuria and Russia were also home to the Korean diaspora organizing revolutionary armies for Korean liberation.[125]

If Korean immigrants in Mexico participated in the Mexican Revolution, these actions would further reveal the lengths to which local participation facilitated a proof of allegiance to the new country that could possibly translate into reciprocal support for Korea’s liberation abroad. Moreover, the Koreans’ participation in the Mexican Revolution testifies to the immigrants’ attempts to integrate into the Mexican nation-state project. Revolutionary military service was similarly applied as an assimilation and acceptance technique by ethnic Koreans in Manchuria and Russia. The absence of sources, beyond the general difficulty in accessing wartime records, can also be due to the possibility of officials having coded Koreans as “Chinos,” a larger Asian immigrant population at the time.[126] This reflects possible further discrimination, racism, and illegibility the Koreans faced socially and at the state level.

Supporting Korean liberation through martial action was not limited to Mexico. Genny Chans, mentioned in Footnote 73, shares how her grandfather, Seok Hwan Chang, was a soldier. As a soldier, he joined the Sungmu School founder, Ki, and 25 other Koreans in an expedition to Guatemala as mercenaries in the Guatemalan Revolution.[127] Chans notes that while they were criticized at the time, the goal of the men was to earn a little more money to send to Korea in support of liberation. According to Chans, upon their return they sent the money to Korea and also donated part of their earnings to further support the construction of Korean schools. Cho dates this mission to 1913 and actually placed the number of Korean Sungmu soldiers participating to be 300 men.[128] Cho links the success and realization of Sungmuism to this expedition.

Here again, community-building participation blurred into citizenship-like practices to the Korean nation. These martial actions indicate flexible nationalisms. Even though they may have donned the uniform of Mexican revolutionaries, their actions were aimed at providing support for Korean nationalism. The young men training for possible Korean liberation on one hand could simply have been filling their time and not totally feel the urgency of such militant preparations. Camaraderie with other young Korean-heritage men would have been a more immediate benefit of joining the Sungmu military school. Yet, the routine habits, recognizable military hierarchy and infrastructure, and at least nominal goal of Korean independence nonetheless demonstrate a broader implication of the Korean immigrants’ positioning of themselves within a larger Korean nation where citizenship entailed liberation support. These martial practices elucidate a clear relationship between Korean nationalism and the ethnonationalist institutions the immigrants had set up for themselves.

Moreover, these younger Koreans were a manifestation of not only the legacies of the Kwangmu Army training, but also the minjok consciousness that grew in the late 1800s pre-departure and reiterated in the Korean schools in the Yucatán. These young Koreans grew up under a combination of martial training and ethnocentric education that accentuated their ethnic differences in the name of the nation. Although mestizaje ideology positioned Koreans to the periphery of the Mexican nation-state project, Koreans themselves also rejected mestizaje and rendered a separate identity to locals.

Conclusion: Braided Henequen Rope: Crossing Peninsulas, Identity, and Time

The first Koreans in Mexico may not have imagined they would never return to their homeland. Nor would they know that, shortly after their departure, the reach of the Japanese empire would extend itself to destroy the sovereign Korea the immigrants last knew vis-a-vis various pogroms of name-changing, forced Shinto and emperor worship, and mandatory conscription and support for Japanese wartime efforts. While the Japanese destroyed the Korean state, the Korean nation lived on through domestic liberation efforts and the support of the global Korean diaspora. The Koreans in Mexico came to articulate their identity and community in connection with these transnational efforts for Korean independence.

Before connecting with the international Korean liberation movement, the Koreans first had to make sense of their place in Mexico. Mestizaje’s exclusivity, and general lack of mutual aid, fostered the conditions and reaction for Koreans to parse out their own community identity as Koreans. Social spaces, like the Christian Church, Korean Association, and schools, were made by and for the Koreans. Koreans’ realization of their exclusion from mestizaje prepared them to organize around ethnic lines. This in turn assisted them in their relationship to the global Pan-Korean community where membership and connection consisted of support and preparations for Korean independence. Two nation-state projects with narrow prescriptions for membership constrained the Korean immigrants in Mexico. Legally, economically, socially, and culturally the Korean immigrants mobilized themselves around ethnic Koreanness and what would be best for the continuation of the Korean nation. The Korean national question asserted close ties to the mission for a nationally self-determined Korean state.

Pac’s memoir is limited. Pac wrote his memoir years later at the bequest of a South Korean-Mexican friendly council formed after the formalization of relations between the two countries. Time and memory inevitably distorted some of his recounting. Moreover, certain narratives, like the victimhood of Koreans during Japanese colonization and the “win” of South Korea over North Korea, had already circulated and could have biased how Pac presented his narrative. Moreover, he was a child when most of these events occurred so a lot of his story depends on the community’s collective memory and their own memory’s distortion through time. Beyond the challenges of memory work, Pac’s memoir remains a male-centered narrative. Pac’s father was heavily involved in the Korean Association in Mérida. Despite providing an inside look at Mérida leadership, Pac’s perspective is not inclusive of an average Korean immigrant, nor does it fully delve into the unique struggles of the female immigrants. But his memoir, and the oral histories, do show what stories were considered worthy of passing down in the community and worth sharing outside the community; Pac expounds the nostalgia for and various continued efforts to maintain ties to the Korean homeland.

The veracity or depth of the immigrants’ religiosity or want for an independent Korea is indeterminable with the limited sources available. Nevertheless, it is clear that these institutions of church and the liberation movement were critical components for membership to the Korean Yucatán community. Korean national consciousness, first introduced on the Korean peninsula pre-departure and then expounded by Japanese colonization, was fiercely forged against the fire of mestizaje and its rejection of Asian identities. The henequen “green gold” picked by Korean hands was transformed into funds for Korean national liberation. After 1917, options opened up for the Korean immigrants: the nation that had ostracized them now offered them the opportunity for Mexican citizenship. However, even this was an opportunity to build on Korean nationalism: as citizens, the Koreans’ legibility to the Mexican state provided legal capacity to bring Mexican attention to the Korean colonial plight. Membership to the local Korean Association provided local mutual aid, but also contributed to the international liberation movement. The Sungmu Military School was the Koreans’ direct response to the call for cooperation and preparation to physically fight for Korean independence. Food, language, the Church, and a separate Korean education system contributed to an ethnonationalist consciousness.

The complexities to the formation of identity for the Korean immigrants in Mexico indicate how both domestic and international nation-state projects and national apparatuses affected immigrants. Their agency, though limited, produced a vibrant Korean community in Mexico with various institutions that provided support for them and their descendants. The spirit of revolution continued on: in 1921, 350 Korean immigrants from Mexico immigrated again to Cuba.[129] Some of these Cuba-bound immigrants and their descendants would go on to participate in the Cuban Revolution.[130]

Today in the Yucatán, the Korean community continues to celebrate their heritage with Samilchŏll festivities, taekwondo, Korean cooking classes, and cultural festivals.[131][132][133] The descendants continue to maintain that they are Korean.[134][135] The rise of Hallyu, the Korean Cultural Wave, and various anniversaries of the Korean immigration to Mexico has led some of the descendants to fly back to South Korea (irrespective of their ancestors’ origins within the peninsula) under government-affiliated sponsorships to reconnect with the land their ancestors were unable to return to. Various documentaries were the products of these South Korean government and/or media driven efforts. In 2012, Young-ha Kim published Black Flower, a historical fiction novel written first in Korean and later translated to English, intentionally expanding the book’s potential audience.[136] It is yet another cultural production from the story of the Korean immigrants to Mexico.

All of these cultural productions invoke and emphasize the suffering of their (South Koreans’) ancestral kin and the bravery of the immigrants who supported Korean liberation— how the immigrants remained ardently Korean. They are emotional, yet convenient, narrations of the life and trials of the Korean immigrants to Mexico. But these cultural products fall short of acknowledging that the immigrants had few other options. Had the Korean immigrants in Mexico not supported Korean liberation, what would the collective memory and representation of their lives be for (a now-divided) Korean nation? Mexico’s nation-state had no space for them, and Korea as they knew it was no more. Through legal, economic, and sociocultural citizenship practices the immigrants honed their Koreanness. Their Korean identity was not a simple recourse to nationalism: it was a tool for survival and support when faced with two narrowly defined nation-state projects. Exclusion from the Mexican state and participation in the international Korean liberation movement mutually reinforced one another in the Korean immigrant experience. At first glance the Korean descendants’ Spanish fluency, creative adaptations of Korean traditions to the resources available to them in Mexico, and continued community in Mexico demonstrates a “successful” assimilation. It is the formation of the Korean and Mexican nation-state projects that crafted a response in which the Korean immigrants had to use flexible nationalisms to, on the one hand, get nominally closer to Mexican nation membership (with language ability and legal recognition), but in reality to benefit the Korean nation movement.

There is a Korean saying: “All trees have roots.”[137] Mestizaje and the Korean national liberation movement sowed the seeds of strong community building. The Korean immigrants laid down the roots to ferment their community through the Christian Church, seeking Mexican citizenship, donating to and preparing for the Korean independence movement, educating themselves in and practicing Korean language and tradition. Much like the strong henequen fibers the original Korean immigrants picked, their own identities became intertwined and resilient tight community ropes among dynamic nation-state project-building. Their henequen roots crossed peninsula to peninsula.


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[1] Note on Romanization: all romanizations are translated in McCune-Reischauer style unless otherwise noted by the source. I follow the First Name, Last Name order for all Korean names. Scholars writing and publishing outside the Korean academy or in English, I write according to their published Romanized name. Common names of across sources with differing Romanizations, are Romanized in McCune-Reischauer.

[2] Significantly, many of the young men who signed up were former-imperial Kwangmu Army soldiers with experience in and exposure to conversations regarding Korea’s “national strengthening” and the need for active, participatory citizenship.

[3] Hahkyung Kim, “Korean Immigrants’ Place in the Discourse of Mestizaje: A History of Race-Class Dynamics and Asian Immigration in Yucatán, Mexico,” Revista Iberoamericana 23 (2012): 246–247.

[4] Yasunori Fukuoka, Lives of young Koreans in Japan, (Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2000), xviii, xxx.

[5] I define nation, distinct from the state, as a group of people united under common ethno-political ties and goals. Even though states often organize around national identities, membership in a state does not necessarily imply membership in the nation associated with that state. For example, Korean immigrants after 1917 were legally considered members of the Mexican state. Yet as I will argue many Koreans in my research era still identified themselves as Korean nationals because mestizaje socially excluded them from Mexicanidad. Therefore, they were members of the Mexican state but also members of the Korean nation. As I note in Appendix I, I have yet to settle on definitively labeling this community as “Korean,” “Mexican,” “Korean-Mexican,” “Mexican-Korean,” or any other descriptor, but for consistency I distinguish between the Mexican state and the Korean nation as the main poles of orientation for the Korean immigrants.

[6] Nam Hwan Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005” (Los Angeles: The Christian Herald USA, 2006), 35.

[7] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,” 35.

[8] The 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa was an unequal treaty between two East Asian powers that Japan seemingly took right out of the Western gunboat diplomacy playbook: a tactic Japan had been subject too with the 1858 Ansei Treaties.

[9] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,” 35.

[10] Wayne Patterson, “The Early Years of Korean Immigration to Mexico: A View from Japanese and Korean Sources,” Seoul Journal of Korean Studies, vol. 6 (1993): 87–103, 88.

[11] José Sánchez Pac, “Yukkat’an ŭi ch’ŏt K’oriŏn (Yucatán’s First Koreans),” in Yukkat’an ŭi ch’ŏt K’oriŏn: Han’guk-Meksik’o imin 80-yŏnsa ed.Yŏng-suk Yi (Seoul: Inmundang, 1988), 37. Acquired from the Harvard-Yenching Library, the memoir I used was the Korean version (amongst once printed Spanish and English versions). The memoir is part of a larger collection of materials in a single booklet aimed at commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Korean immigration and the normalization of relations between Mexico and South Korea in the 1960s. As part of an edited booklet the nature of the memoir offers a more curated approach to the author’s narrative by dividing the text into varying chronological subsections. All references are translated from their original Korean.

[12] Patterson, “The Early Years of Korean Immigration to Mexico: A View from Japanese and Korean Sources,” 88.

[13] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 37.

[14]Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,” see pages 35, 37, 39, 41; Kim, “Korean Immigrants’ Place in the Discourse of Mestizaje,” 248–249: footnote 26.

[15] Patterson, “The Early Years of Korean Immigration to Mexico: A View from Japanese and Korean Sources,” 88–91.

[16] Hea-Jin Park, “Dijeron que iba a levantar el dinero con la pala: A Brief Account of Early Korean Emigration to Mexico,” HMiC: història moderna i contemporània 4 (2006): 137–150, 143.

[17] Park, “Dijeron que iba a levantar el dinero con la pala,”141. Generally the contract period ended up being four years.

[18] Patterson, “The Early Years of Korean Immigration to Mexico: A View from Japanese and Korean Sources,” 93–95.

[19] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,”35, 37, 39, 41.

[20] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,” 39–41.

[21] Park, “Dijeron que iba a levantar el dinero con la pala,” 145.

[22] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905–2005,” 61.

[23] Kim, “Korean Immigrants’ Place in the Discourse of Mestizaje,” abstract.

[24] Park, “Dijeron que iba a levantar el dinero con la pala,” 142: footnote 8.

[25] Kim, “Korean Immigrants’ Place in the Discourse of Mestizaje,” 224.

[26] Richard S. Kim, The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and US Sovereignty, 1905-1945, *Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[27] Warren Y. Kim, Koreans in America, (Seoul: Po Chin Chai Print Company, 1971).

[28] Eiichiro Azuma, In search of Our Frontier: Japanese America and Settler Colonialism in the Construction of Japan’s Borderless Empire, Vol. 17 (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019). For more information on the Japanese case, Azuma’s book sheds light on the interimperial, interregional histories of Japanese immigration to the Americas.

[29] Andre Schmid, Korea between Empires, 1895-1919 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

[30] Schmid, Korea between Empires, 175.

[31] Jason Oliver Chang, Chino: anti-Chinese racism in Mexico, 1880-1940 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2017).

[32] Fredy González, Paisanos Chinos: transpacific politics among Chinese immigrants in Mexico, (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017).

[33] González, Paisanos Chinos, 49.

[34] Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).

[35] Ong, Flexible Citizenship, 6.

[36] Ong, Flexible Citizenship, 6.

[37] Anne E. Eller, “Early Colonial Projects: Mexico- “Conquest”,” HIST325 Spring 2020, January 21, 2020, New Haven: Yale University.; “Aztec” is a monolithic name for a variety of groups of indigenous peoples (inside this could also be included the Olmecs, Mexica, etc.)

[38] The key leaders tended to be encomenderos (owners of encomiendas [tracts of land for cultivation]), Catholic Church officials, and caciques (indigenous noblemen)– all of these roles will be described below.

[39] María Elena Martínez, Genealogical Fictions:Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), Chapters 4 and 6.

[40] Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, 108, 281.

[41] Someone of mixed Spanish and indigenous blood.

[42] Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, 148.

[43] Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, 147.

[44] Anne E. Eller, “Independence: Economics and Politics, Part 1,” HIST325 Spring 2020, February 18, 2020, New Haven: Yale University.

[45] Benjamin Smith, Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012), 110.

[46] Paul Garner, “Historia patria and the construction of the mestizo nation in Porfirian Mexico: the Fiestas del Centenario, 1910,” Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 22, no. 1 (2016): 41-53. Garner further explains how Porfirian mestizaje connected the mestizo nation with modernity by espousing “scientific” claims based on racist Darwinist ideologies, skull sizing, and similar pseudo-scientific techniques to make the argument for “modernizing” indigenous peoples.

[47] Lee J. Alston, Shannan Mattiace, and Tomas Nonnenmacher, “Coercion, culture, and contracts: Labor and debt on henequen haciendas in Yucatán, Mexico, 1870–1915,” The Journal of Economic History 69, no. 1 (2009): 104-137, 108.

[48] Alston, Mattiace, and Nonnenmacher, “Coercion, culture, and contracts,” 107.

[49] Enrique Florescano, “Patria y nación en la época de Porfirio Díaz,” Signos históricos 7, no. 13 (2005): 152-187, 180.

[50] Paul K. Eiss, “El Pueblo Mestizo: Modernity, Tradition, and Statecraft in Yucatán, 1870-1907,” Ethnohistory 55, no. 4 (2008): 525-552, 525.

[51] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: counter-revolution and reconstruction, Vol. 1 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 208.

[52] Chang, Chino, 142.

[53] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 119–120.

[54] Mexico, Constitucion, Mexican Constitution of 1917. Washington, DC, 1917, PDF,

[55] “Meksik’o chonggyojŏnjaeng,” (Mexican Religious War), Sinhan minbo (The New Korea), September 9, 1909, available at Also cited in Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México, 1905-2005,” 195.

[56] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 56.

[57] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 58. Interestingly enough, the chilis used in modern kimchi originated in Mexico and thus this comes ironically full-circle.

[58] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 58. Perras translates to “female dogs.” The dual levels of sexism and racism here is evident in the treatment and extra labor of Korean women.

[59] KBS Docu, “[Han’guk in ŭi papsang] Maeksik’o enek’en ŭi papsang: Pab i choguk ida” (“[Koreans’ Table] Mexico Henequen’s Table: Food is the Motherland”) Youtube video, May 22, 2020,, 7:50.’

[60] KBS Docu, “[Han’guk in ŭi papsang] Maeksik’o enek’en ŭi papsang: Pab i choguk ida,” 19:40.’

[61] This echoes Pac’s statement mentioned later in Part III: Henequen Leaves Stretching Back to Korea that by the time the Korean declaration of independence was announced many of those born and raised in Mexico were more familiar and comfortable with Mexican customs. However, Pac also detailed the Korean education system set up in Mexico to allow the coexistence of Korean heritage (see Education).

[62] Republic of Mexico Constitution of 1857, §1, Art. 5.“Nadie puede ser obligado á prestar trabajos personales, sin la justa retribución y sin su pleno consentimiento. La ley no puede autorizar ningún contrato que tenga por objeto la pérdida ó el irrevocable sacrificio de la libertad del hombre, ya sea por causa de trabajo, de educación ó de voto religioso. Tampoco puede autorizar convenios en que el hombre pacte su proscripción ó destierro.”

[63] “Mekshik’o chonggyojŏnjaeng”

[64] Kim, The Quest for Statehood, 43-44.

[65] Chang, Chino.

[66] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,”(“Sogimsu e sogakko paesindanghaettanŭn sashil to alge toeŏtta”,속임수에 속았고 배신당했다는 사실도 알게 되었다 ([Koreans] learned they were deceived and betrayed), 35; kangyodoen kyeyak 강요된 계약forced contract), 70; “kangje nodong” 강제 노동 (forced labor), 81; “kangjenodong halttae ch’oeag ŭi saenghwalsang” 강제노동할때 최악의 생활상 (the worst living conditions during forced labor ), 103; “kangyodoen kyeyak 강요된 계약 (forced contract), 119.

[67] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” Nota de publicación, Recomendación, and Prologo del autor.

[68] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 135. Note the early use of “nation(al)” in how the association framed what these contributions stood for: even in this action the Koreans labeled their actions as national.

[69] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 73.

[70] Kim, “Korean Immigrants’ Place in the Discourse of Mestizaje.”

[71] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 108.

[72] Chang-Yong Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico and their Independence Movement for Korea between 1904 and 1914,” Masters’ thesis, Sungkyunkwan University, 1992, 69.

[73] Hannah Arendt, The origins of totalitarianism, Vol. 244 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973), 293.

[74] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 53.

[75] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 57.

[76] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 76.

[77] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 76.

[78] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 107.

[79] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 107.

[80] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 109, 111.

[81] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,”107. “Nos podemos dar cuenta que mucho antes de la creación de la Asociación de Coreanos había algo que los unía, y aquello era la iglesia protestante.”

[82] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 107.

[83] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 191 & 193.

[84] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 135 & 137.

[85] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 139. Jo also notes how participation in association activities like Samilchŏll, especially in World War II, was a key defense during a time when many Koreans were being seen as the same as the (enemy) Japanese (141).

[86] Rebecca Y. Kim, The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[87] Milton Myron Gordon, Assimilation in American life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins (Oxford: Oxford University Press on Demand, 1964).

[88] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 96.

[89] Nerea Ramírez, “Desde México los inmigrantes coreanos apoyaban la lucha por la independencia,” posted August 5, 2018, There are conflicting accounts as to when Ahn visited the Koreans in Mexico. Genny Chans, a granddaughter of Seok Hwan Chang, an original Korean immigrant, dates Ahn’s visit to 1918 in an interview. Jo, in “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” also dates Ahn’s visit to 1918 (163). Do Hyung Kim, cited in Footnote 129, dates Ahn’s visit to 1917 (p. 41). I used Pac’s date since Pac describes how Ahn’s speeches discussed the 1919 declaration— after Chans 1918 date (96–108). Nevertheless the range of dates between 1918–1921 still shows that there was keen interest in rallying the Koreans in Mexico to the revolutionary cause from the very early stages.

[90] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 103.

[91] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 99.

[92] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 105–107.

[93] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 96.

[94] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 93.

[95] AJ Kim, “Yo Soy Coreana (2018): Migration and Immigrant History in Mexico,” Youtube video, October 3, 2018,

[96] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 113.

[97] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 78. School name: Ohakgina (오학기나, lit. five semesters).

[98] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 78.

[99] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 77.

[100] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 77.

[101] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 77.

[102] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 78.

[103] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 79.

[104] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 78.

[105] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 78.

[106] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 79.

[107] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 79.

[108] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 45.

[109] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 80.

[110] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 76.

[111] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 71.

[112] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 71.

[113] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 72.

[114] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 72.

[115] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 72.

[116] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 76. Almost 1 in 5 Korean immigrants had ties to the imperial Kwangmu Army.

[117] Jo, “Historia de la vida de los coreanos en México,” 155. Jo, citing the Sinhan minbo (November 17, 1910), actually lists the total Sungmu School population as 118 students.

[118] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 75. The three localities listed are: Ttuitti (띄티), Chakkol (작골), and Ssosil (쏘실). Also see Sinhan minbo (September 8, 1909)

[119] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 75.

[120] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 76. Note: In 1910 the Mexican Revolution began and the Sungmu School’s students either sought refuge with their families or went to fight in Mexican revolutionary war efforts. The chaos of the revolution, and with many students gone, forced the Sungmu School to close the school for three months.

[121] Pac,“Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 80.

[122] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 81.

[123] Jagyeong Lee, Meksik’o Hanin imin 100-yŏnsa : enek’en kasibat ŭi 100-yŏn oditsei (100 years of Immigration to Mexico: 100-year odyssey in the henequen field) Vol. 2, (Seoul: Meksik’o Hanin Imin 100-chunyŏn Kinyŏm Saŏphoe, 2006), 729.

[124] Carla Freeman, ed, China and North Korea: Strategic and policy perspectives from a changing China, (New York City: Springer, 2015), 93, 109–111.

[125] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 77.

[126] Special thanks to the Yale Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration Winter Colloquia 2020-2021: Asian Migration to Latin America and the Caribbean for incredible insights into understanding the limitations, challenges, and errors in the archive.

[127] Ramírez, “Desde México los inmigrantes coreanos apoyaban la lucha por la independencia.” Chans named the commander of this expedition as Gun Yeong Lee (Kŭnyŏng Lee), founder of the Sungmu School. See also Sinhan minbo, August 10, 1916 and September 8, 1916.

[128] Cho, “Korean Emigration to Mexico,” 78. This date varies. Do Hyung Kim, Meksik’o chiyŏk taehanin’gungminhoeŭi chojik kwa hwaltong (The Organizations and Activities of

Korean National Association in Mexico), Kuksagwan nonch’ong 107 (2005): 1-42, 28-32. Kim discusses the Guatemalan expedition in detail and sets 1916 as the year the Korean soldiers went to Guatemala.

[129] Pac, “Yucatán’s First Koreans,” 109.

[130] Jeronimo, directed by Joseph Juhn (2019; Diaspora Film Production), accessed via Amazon Prime Video. This documentary follows the story of Jeronimo Lim, one of the descendants of the 350 Korean immigrants from Mexico to Cuba who would play a central role in the Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro.

[131] Canal Once, “Los que llegaron-Coreanos (22/02/12),” Youtube video, February 23, 2012,

[132] Kim, “Yo soy coreana”

[133] KBS Docu, “[Han’guk in ŭi papsang] Maeksik’o enek’en ŭi papsang: Pab i choguk ida.”

[134] Kim, “Yo soy coreana.”

[135] Canal Once, “Los que llegaron.”

[136] Young-ha Kim, Black Flower: A Novel, Boston: HMH, 2012.

[137] Ppuri ŏmnŭn namuga ŏpta  뿌리 없는 나무가 없다; lit. “There are no trees without roots.”