One of my high school friends is Zainichi Korean, and she is now studying in Canada. While I was in New York for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Day, she was also staying there, so we went out for dinner together. At the dinner, I told her I had been studying about Zainichi Korean people, and asked for her opinions.
She said she used to want to get naturalized as Japanese because that makes it easier to live in Japan. She has seen in reality some discrimination against Zainichi Korean people. For example, her brother when he was in high school got fired from his part time job just because he was Zainichi Korean. However, now she doesn’t want to be naturalized in Japan, and wants to keep Korean nationality because that’s her identity and that is where her family is from. Even though she knows almost nothing about Korea and speaks Korean very little, she is 100% Korean. I totally understand.
Although I had focused on the feeling of Zainichi Korean people as above, she told me her biggest worry is who is going to protect her if something happens to her while she is in Canada or somewhere else besides Japan and South Korea. I was kind of surprised because I had never even thought about that. I had taken for granted the Japanese government would protect and take care of me even outside of Japan. The Constitution of the Republic of Korea says in Article 2 “It shall be the duty of the state to protect citizens residing abroad as prescribed by Act.” Since she has a South Korean passport, the South Korean government is responsible for her safety. However, I have heard a story about a Zainichi Korean girl who lost her passport while she was in Paris, France. Because she did not speak Korean, French, or English, it took a very long process until the Korean Embassy in Paris issued a new passport to her.
I think that will increase legal protection for Zainichi Korean people if they get Japanese nationality. Professor Moorehead was saying in our class, because the US has “-“ culture, you can also have your identity as something else besides American, like Japanese-American, Italian-American, and Indian-American, but in Japan on the other hand, if you are Japanese, you’re just Japanese. If you are Zainichi Korean and get Japanese nationality, you can’t identify yourself as Korean any more. Although I thought that was right when I heard that, now I don’t think that’s true. Even Japanese-American, Italian-American, or Indian-American has only one nationality of American. I don’t think Zainichi Korean people have to throw away their identities as Korean just because they get Japanese nationality. In this world today, states are responsible for their own citizens. Nationality shows the state is responsible for you. So I think people should have nationality from countries they were born and raised in, they feel most comfortable to live in, and they can rely on. I’m sure it is much more complicated, but to me, nationality is legal protection, and identity is who you think you are.
by Haruka Kono