How Jasmine Lee, One Of The Most Hated Women In Korea, Is Changing The
26 minutes ago
ethnically Korean. Lee was born in the Philippines and became a naturalized
citizen -- and then became the first member of Korea's Congress who is not
Hostile comments abound on any article that mentions her:
“Go back to the Philippines!” “Are you trying to change Korea into the
Philippines?” “A foreigner has no place in our politics!” And that’s not the worst of it, especially when it comes
to remarks on her identity as a female politician. Incredibly, Lee said she
reads all the comments.
Before becoming a congresswoman in 2012, however, Lee was a beloved actress
in Korea. Two movies she acted in, “Secret Reunion”
in 2010 and “Punch”
in 2011, were runaway hits and made her an instant star.
Then the ruling Saenuri party extended a congressional seat to her, and that’s when the
“I used to be loved by everyone, then suddenly everyone hated me," she
told HuffPost Korea last month. "I didn't expect it when I first agreed to
The fact is, Korea is moving toward a multicultural society -- but because
its citizens have been instilled for so long with nationalistic ideals of one
people, one nation, one ethnicity, many reject the idea of multiculturalism.
That’s why Lee has huge hurdles to overcome -- but she’s overcoming them, one
step at a time, all by herself. Perhaps more than anyone else, Lee is a symbol
of Korea’s future and its cultural and social transformation into a more
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the
All the biases which were hurled at a first nonethnic Korean congressperson.
I’m still struggling and fighting the fight. I’m the very first, but we have to
make sure I’m not the last. There have to be more Jasmine Lees.
What is it you most hope to personally achieve in the next 10 years?
There’s a chance that they won’t reconsider me for my congressional post. But
in 10 to 20 years, as long as the borders are not shut, Korea will definitely
have become a multicultural society. However, there’s no law or regulation
which addresses the imminent multiculturalism. So my goal is to establish
within the next 10 years a sort of congressional department that can oversee
such a development from a legal and policy standpoint.
Who has been the biggest role model in your adult life?
I moved to Korea at 18 to marry. So of course my husband impacted my life more
than anyone else. (Editor’s note: Her husband died in an accident in 2012.)
I learned everything about Korean society through him, and he, more than anyone
else, supported my foray into politics. For almost every day of the 15 years
that we were married, we’d have an evening drink together and then go to a
karaoke bar to sing. People used to ask me, “What do you guys have so much to
talk about, anyway? You’re together all the time.” That was him, someone who
taught me to view Korea positively.
What is a story you wish the media would do a better job of covering?
Needless to say, it would be about multicultural families. TV and newspapers
seem to want to cover only the “unfortunate multicultural families who suffer
discrimination, abuse and poverty.” Of course, they often do that to highlight
the plight of the weak, but I wish they could also report about multicultural
families who have settled down well in Korea and who are happy and positive.
What advice would you give a young person trying to decide what to do
with their life?
Not to try to do what your parents or society wants of you, but to live your
own life. Martin Luther King said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small
things in a great way.” Lots of people aim only for great things, but doing
even small things well, if it’s something you really aspire to do and you do it
with relish, is a way to leading a truly awesome life.
What is the cause or issue that you are most interested in seeing
solved over the next 10 years?
I would like to design a roadmap that is most apt for Korea on
multiculturalism. Korea’s immigrant issues and those of the U.S. and Europe are
totally different. That’s why we have to adopt an immigrant policy that is
wholly Korean and distinct from those two cultures.
What do you do to de-stress, recharge and stay balanced?
I play games on my smartphone. (Laughs) I’m not sure why, but when
there’s a little downtime, playing games seems to perk me up. Before, I used to
exercise. But everyone recognizes me now, so I try to avoid public places.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Like all moms everywhere, I wake up the kids. I have a son and a daughter. I go
to their rooms first thing. They say greatest achievers are most productive in
the morning, but I’m a mom so I have to do what mom has to do first. (Laughs)
How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How important has
sleep been in your life?
I used to be a night owl. Sometimes, I hardly slept. But these days, I really
try to get in a good night’s sleep, at least six hours. It’s only recently that
I realized how important sleep is.
Finish this sentence: In the year 2025, we will… ?
Be short of water. I’m currently in charge of Congress’ Environment and Labor
Committee, so I have to be just as mindful of environmental issues as I am of
multicultural issues. Seeing the horrific situation in California unfolding
recently, those words just popped out of my mouth automatically.
What current trend do you think we'll look back on in 10 years in
A lot of the people who attack me say that “multicultural policies will
destroy Korea.” Maybe that kind of biased opinion will disappear in 10 years?
What do you value the most?
My kids. I entered politics for my kids. I heard that kids from Korea’s
multicultural families grew up with no role models to look up to. So I thought
if that’s the case, maybe I’d give it shot. If I could help make a society that
could benefit even 0.001 percent of kids from that kind of family by going into
politics, I thought I should do it no matter what kind of criticism or
repercussions. And I believe if it’s beneficial to children of multicultural
families then it will be beneficial to all Korean kids.
This piece was originally published by HuffPost Korea and was translated
into English. It has been condensed and adapted for an American audience.
taken a subject in the right direction unlike many EU countries yet not fully
meeting the normal conditions needed to meet the multicultural tree to grow up
This is because of fear of minor objections and protests of political people
having no mentionable roots in the majority populations.
Lee is optimistic and I too because of the fact that within this short time
limit which never to be taken as fixed would show up the situation and
conditions that would be conducive for multicultural nations to survive in
Asian Pacific region. Over and above much better than a tight compartmentalized
singled out contractual Cultural country.
Lee would be helped in her work if she were given enough written material about
the negative side of the single cultural existence in today’s world and the
better side of the Multicultural social existence, mentioning the positive and
negative side of both systems. In addition, Suggesting there in the best mode
of adjustment of the cultures for Koreans.
There should be continuous of deliberation on the subjects and after each such
deliberation suggestion be submitted to the concerning ministry to vet the
suggestions and submit to the cabinet to take final decision for implementation
after a serious deliberation in the Cabinet meeting to be abreast on the matter