Korean immigration to Hawaii

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Total population
48,699 (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
English, Korean
Presbyterianism, Methodism, Buddhism

Korean immigration to Hawaii has been constant since the early 20th century. There have been two distinct points at which immigration has peaked: the first in 1903, and the second in 1965. On January 13, 2003, George W. Bush made a special proclamation honoring the Centennial of Korean Immigration to the United States, recognizing the contributions of Korean Americans to the nation.


The first large group of Korean immigrants arrived in the United States on January 13, 1903. The Korean Empire had issued its first English-language passports to these immigrants the previous year.[2] They travelled on the RMS Gaelic and landed in Hawaii. The passengers were a diverse group with various ages and backgrounds. Among the group were fifty-six men recruited as labourers for sugar plantations located on various islands in the Territory of Hawaii, as well as twenty-one women and twenty-five children. Within two years of the first arrival of Korean immigrants, the number of Koreans who had migrated to Hawaii had grown to more than 7,000.[3]

The Purpose of Korean immigration to America[edit]

The first large group of Korean Immigrants settled in America between 1901 and 1905. Between those years 7,226 immigrants, including 6,048 men, 637 women, and 541 children, came on 65 trips. Most of the early immigrants of that period had some contract with American missionaries in Korea. For some Western-oriented Korean intellectuals, immigrating to the United States was considered useful, in part, to help them in the modernization of their homeland. Consequently, the recruiter for labourers for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association (HSPA), David Deshler, had no trouble finding Koreans from a wide range of social classes willing to sail to Hawaii.[4]

Decades of new hope, hardships and barriers[edit]

Within a century the Korean population in America exploded from roughly seven thousand to about two million.[5]

King Gojong (1852–1919) reigned in Korea at the time of the first migration to America and played a crucial part in the lives of Koreans abroad. Christian missionaries had found their way to Korea during King Gojong's reign. By the 1890s, American missionaries were the most influential in spreading Christianity in Korea. Dr. Horace Allen, missionary-turned-diplomat, was embroiled in Korean politics and in effect was the representative for American trade. The missionaries brought not only Christianity, but also capitalism, Western learning, and Western culture. Many of the immigrants had converted to Christianity.[5]

Protestant evangelism in Korea was predominantly Methodist and Presbyterian. The two Protestant groups decided not to overlap their evangelizing activities. They agreed that the Methodist mission in Hawai'i would minister to the Korean immigrants.[5]

Korea's first formal treaty with America was in May 1882. The treaty was preceded by America's forgotten "little war" of bloody exchanges between the two countries. The little-known episode in American history involved a heavily armed American ship, the Colorado, entering Korean waters and landing its soldiers on Ganghwa Island. A battle ensued in which more than three hundred Koreans and three American soldiers were killed.[5]

The Americans later returned pursuing a treaty, resulting in the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1882. Among other things, the treaty contained a provision allowing Korean immigration to America. The first group of immigrants came from Rev. George Heber Jones' Methodist parish in Jemulpo (Inchon).[5]

  • Immigrants prior to 1903: Historical statistics of Hawai'i indicate there were sixteen Koreans in the Territory of Hawai'i in 1902. Some are said to have been ginseng merchants in disguise who came using Chinese passports. One of these ginseng merchants was Choo Eun Yang, who came to Hawai'i and transmigrated to San Francisco around 1898. He became active in the Korean community there, became prosperous, and lived to the age of 102. Among other immigrants, Sung Pong Chang worked for the Circuit Court of Hawai'i and for the Honolulu Police Department as an interpreter until he died in 1949.[5]

Notable Korean Americans in Hawaii[edit]

See also: Korean American

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Census Bureau: QT-P8: Race Reporting for the Asian Population by Selected Categories: 2010
  2. ^ Choi, Zihn (Winter 2002). "Early Korean Immigrants to America: Their Role in the Establishment of the Republic of Korea". East Asian Review 14 (4): 43–71. Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  3. ^ Chang and Patterson 2003, pp. vii-ix
  4. ^ Chang and Patterson 2003
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Chang and Patterson 2003, pp. 1-10