Koreans in Mexico

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Korean Mexicans
Mexicanos Coreanos
Monumento a la inmigracíon coreana en Yucatán (02).JPG
Monument in Merida, Yucatan commemorating 100 years of Korean immigration.
Total population
11,800 South Korean nationals residing in the country (2011)[1]
est. 30,000-40,000 Mexicans of Korean descent
Regions with significant populations
Yucatán, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey
Korean, Spanish[2]
Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism[3]
Related ethnic groups
Korean diaspora, Asian Mexicans

Korean immigration to Mexico began in 1905. The first Korean migrant workers settled in Yucatán, while more recent migrants from South Korea often choose Mexico City as their destination.

Migration history[edit]

Early 20th century[edit]

In the late 19th century, social instability and natural disasters in Korea resulted in increasing emigration from the country. At first, emigrants chose nearby destinations such as Northeast China and the Russian Far East. By the early 20th century they began going farther afield, for example in 1902 to Hawaii.[4] However, increasing Japanese influence on the Korean peninsula made this controversial: Japanese labour brokers were opposed to Koreans choosing Hawaii as their destination, believing this would interfere with Japanese migration there and they lobbied Japanese foreign minister Komura Jutarō to address the situation.[5] Meanwhile, in Mexico, there was increasing interest in hiring workers from Asia to address labour shortages in the agricultural sector, but the Japanese government placed restrictions on the recruitment of labour migrants for Mexico due to the expectation of poor conditions and the Chinese government was also opposed due to previous experiences with poor treatment of Chinese workers in Peru.[6]

It was against this background that labour brokers began advertising in newspapers in the Korean port city of Incheon in 1904 for workers willing to go to Mexico to work on henequen plantations for four or five-year contracts. Working conditions proved to be harsh with workers being beaten or jailed for either not working or not producing the status quo.[7] A total of more than one thousand were recruited and departed from port of Chemulpo, present (Jung District), Incheon on board a British cargo ship on 4 April 1905, despite efforts by the Korean government to block their departure. They arrived at the Mexican port of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca about a month later on 8 May 1905, from there taking trains to their final destination: Progreso, Yucatán.[8]

By the time their contracts ended, most had not even saved enough money to pay for the return voyage to Korea, despite earlier promises of high wages by recruiters, and furthermore saw little attraction in going back to their no-longer-independent homeland. Most thus settled in Mexico, either continuing to work on henequen plantations or moving to various cities in the country.[9] Some made efforts at onward migration: a Korean American community organisation in San Francisco tried to bring some of them to Hawaii, but to no avail. In 1921, after the collapsing demand for henequen fiber threatened their livelihoods, 288 Koreans set off for Cuba from the port of Campeche.[9] About eight hundred of their descendants still live in Cuba.[10]

Late 20th and early 21st centuries[edit]

Korean restaurants in Mexico City.

A new wave of Korean migrants began coming to Mexico in the 1970s. These consisted both of people coming straight from South Korea, as well as members of Korean diaspora communities in other countries of the Americas — particularly from Paraguay and from Argentina — seeking to try their luck in Mexico.[11] Up until the late 1980s their numbers seem to have remained quite small; the Asociación Coreana en México counted only 64 families and 15 or 20 single people among its members.[12] Larger numbers began arriving in the 1990s: according to South Korean government statistics, the size of the community reached its peak in 1997 with around 19,500 individuals before falling to 14,571 by 2005.[13]


Population estimates[edit]

According to the 2011 report of South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on overseas Korean populations, 11,800 overseas Koreans resided in Mexico, down by 2% since the 2009 report. Among them were 876 Mexican citizens, 1,607 South Korean citizens with Mexican permanent resident status, 388 South Korean international students, and the remainder being South Korean citizens with other types of visas. Mexico City was their most common area of residence, with 6,340 recorded as living there; 1,300 others lived in Jalisco state, with the remainder in other locations.[1]

The 2010 Mexican census recorded 3,960 people who responded that their place of birth was South Korea, up from 327 in the previous census in 2010. This made South Korea the 18th-largest foreign country of origin in Mexico, but those born in South Korea comprised only about 0.4% of the 961,121 total foreign-born persons the census found to be residing in the country.[14] A 2012 report by Mexico's National Institute of Migration, based on 2009 statistics, stated that 534 North Korean citizens and 6,028 South Korean citizens lived in Mexico. A plurality but not a majority of each of those groups (258 and 2,261) lived in Mexico City.[15] By migration status, 317 of the North Koreans and 2,970 of the South Koreans were non-immigrants.[16] Each group had a sex ratio somewhat imbalanced towards males.[17]

Other sources also report a wide variety of population estimates. A September 2013 article in The New York Times, citing officials at the Korean Cultural Center, Mexico City, stated that "at least 12,000 Koreans now call Mexico home".[18] The article stated that in 2010 the Korean population in Mexico was ten times as large as the said population in 2000.[18] In contrast, a 2008 report from the Los Angeles Times claimed that the descendants of early henequen plantation laborers alone might number as many as thirty thousand.[19]

Centers of Korean population[edit]

Mexico City's Zona Rosa district has a Koreatown known as Pequeño Seúl (Little Seoul), filled with businesses established by the new migrants.[20][21] There, many Korean restaurants can be found as well as hair salons, bakeries, and daycare centers.[22] In the 1990s, others also set up shop in Tepito.[23][24] Other districts in Mexico City where Koreans live include Colonia Juárez, Santa Fe, Interlomas, Polanco and Anzures.[25]

Other centers of Korean population include:


Language and education[edit]

Henequen plantation workers, initially seeing Mexico solely as a place of sojourn rather than of settlement, initially made little effort to learn Spanish.[33] However, as their stay in the country became permanent, they slowly began to abandon the Korean language, and their descendants speak only Spanish.[19] In contrast, more recent migrants retain Korean as their dominant language. A 2006 survey of 160 Korean migrants in Mexico City, both those from South Korea and those from other Korean diaspora populations of the Americas, found that 92% used Korean as the language of communication with their families; 6% used both Korean and Spanish, and only the remaining 2% used Spanish exclusively or English as well.[2] With regards to their command of Spanish, 21% stated that they could understand newspapers, 52% stated that they could hold simple conversations, and the remaining 27% stated that they could only make simple greetings or had no command of the language.[34]

The Korean community has one weekend school aimed at preserving knowledge of the Korean language among heritage speakers: the Escuela Coreana en México, located in Mexico City. For two decades from the 1990s up until 2010 it occupied a variety of rented facilities, but that year it was able to acquire its own premises thanks to US$850,000 donations by companies and other benefactors to the Asociación de Residentes Coreanos en México.[35] It is currently located in Zona Rosa.[35]

The Korean-language paper newspaper Hanin Diario (Korean한인신문; Hanja韓人新聞; RRHanin Sinmun) has been published in Mexico City since the 1990s.[25][36]


Early Korean migrants to Mexico included a few Christians whose emigration was motivated by the desire to find a place to freely practice their religion.[8] Among more recent arrivals, both Christians and Buddhists are present. The former planted many churches in the 1990s, while the latter established two temples in the 2000s.[3]

Branches of the World Mission Society Church of God, a South Korea-based church, are present in Estado de México, Morelos, Puebla, Nuevo León, Jalisco, with the Mexican headquarters in Tacuba, Mexico City.[37]

Other organisations[edit]

Korean friendship pavilion in Mexico City

The Korean Association in Mexico (Spanish: Asociación Coreana en México, Korean멕시코 한인회) organizes concerts,[38] protests at the North Korean embassy,[39] and other activities.

In Polanco, Mexico City, there is a Korean cultural center, Korean Cultural Center, Mexico City, with activities both artistic (exhibitions, traditional music concerts, folk art shows) and academic (language and Korean history courses).[40]

In Mérida, Yucatán there is a Museum of Korean Immigration (Museo Conmemorativo de la Inmigración Coreana a Yucatán).[41]

The Hospital de la Amistad Corea-México ("Korea-Mexico Friendship Hospital") is located in Mérida, Yucatán.[42]

In literature[edit]

One literary portrayal of the early Korean community in Mexico was Kim Young-ha's 2003 Korean-language novel Black Flower, translated into English by Charles La Shure.[43] The book won Kim the 2004 Dong-in Literary Award as well as a nomination for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize.[44]

Notable individuals[edit]

Dai-won Moon is a South Korean-born, naturalized Mexican martial artist and is known as the "Father of Mexican Taekwondo".[45]

Ssoni Park is a hair stylist with a salon in Pequeño Seúl (Zona Rosa) who attracts clients from across the country including many models, actors and singers, including the band El Recodo, Klezmeron, friends of architect Michel Rojkind, and those who sought her services after she appeared in the credits of a short film by Raquel Romero Monterrubio.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 재외동포 본문(지역별 상세), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2011-07-15, p. 147, retrieved 2012-02-25
  2. ^ a b Kim 2006, pp. 10, 12, 19
  3. ^ a b Kim 2006, p. 8
  4. ^ Park 2006, pp. 137–138
  5. ^ Park 2006, pp. 139–140
  6. ^ Park 2006, pp. 138–139
  7. ^ Park 2006, pp. 140–141
  8. ^ a b Park 2006, p. 143
  9. ^ a b Park 2006, p. 147
  10. ^ "Five Generations On, Mexico's Koreans Long for Home", Chosun Ilbo, 2007-08-16, retrieved 2013-09-27
  11. ^ Kim 2006, p. 3
  12. ^ Kim 2006, p. 6
  13. ^ Kim 2006, p. 9
  14. ^ Conociendo nos todos: Los nacidos en otro país suman 961 121 personas (PDF), Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, May 2011, archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-06-11, retrieved 2013-09-26 ()
  15. ^ Rodríguez Chávez & Cobo 2012, p. 37
  16. ^ Rodríguez Chávez & Cobo 2012, p. 41
  17. ^ Rodríguez Chávez & Cobo 2012, p. 47
  18. ^ a b Cave, Damien (2013-09-21), "For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico", The New York Times, retrieved 2013-09-24 Page 3/4: "Officials at a newly opened Korean cultural center here say at least 12,000 Koreans now call Mexico home,[...]" and "There were 10 times as many Koreans living in Mexico in 2010 as in 2000." — Also introductory title caption says "at least 12,000 Koreans are said to live in Mexico".
  19. ^ a b Becerra, Hector (2008-08-16), "A cultural awakening", Los Angeles Times, retrieved 2013-09-25
  20. ^ a b Arvide, Cynthia; Álvarez Montero, Carlos (2011-01-03), "Corea-México, la nueva Corea en la Zona Rosa" [Korea-Mexico, the new Korea in the Pink Zone], Chilango (in Spanish), retrieved 2013-09-26
  21. ^ Grajales, Jorge (2012-07-24), "Se hablo coreano", TimeOut Mexico, archived from the original on 2014-05-26, retrieved 2013-09-26
  22. ^ "Comunidad Coreana". Once Noticias. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  23. ^ Quinones, Sam (1996-07-24), "Koreans Battle the Odds in Mexico City's Oldest and Poorest Barrio", Pacific News Service, archived from the original on 2008-05-17, retrieved 2013-09-26
  24. ^ Sánchez, Raymundo (2003-09-30), "La mafia coreana controla ya en Tepito la venta de armas" [Korean mafia controls arms sales in Tepito], La Crónica de Hoy, retrieved 2013-09-26
  25. ^ a b "Ocho mil coreanos radican en el Distrito Federal" [Eight thousand Koreans settled in Federal District]. Excelsior. 20 August 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Coreanos en Tijuana agradecen a la naturaleza", Frontera, Oct 1, 2012
  27. ^ Comunidades extranjeras en Jalisco, Gobierno de Jalisco website
  28. ^ "Especiales Corea/Lengua Coreana en la UAN", Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit UAN
  29. ^ "Koreatown tiene su centro en Apodaca", El Financiero
  30. ^ ""Samsung Plant"
  31. ^ "Querétaro, el nuevo territorio japonés", El Financiero
  32. ^ "Pesquería y su nueva realidad". El Universal.
  33. ^ Park 2006, p. 146
  34. ^ Kim 2006, p. 16
  35. ^ a b Bautista Gutiérrez, Raúl (2010-09-15), "Sede definitiva de la Escuela Coreana en México", Korea.net, retrieved 2013-09-27
  36. ^ "Campo Libre: CoreaMex". Chilango. 21 December 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  37. ^ Juan Pablo Proal. "Una secta coreana en México". sectas.org. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  38. ^ "Ofrece la pianista Hee-Ah Lee concierto benéfico en el DF". El Universal. 11 May 2008. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  39. ^ "Protestan frente a embajada de Corea del Norte en México por ejercicios nucleares". Crónica. 24 March 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  40. ^ "Centro Cultural Coreano", Time Out Mexico City, 21 January 2013, archived from the original on 6 June 2013, retrieved 16 October 2014
  41. ^ "Museo Conmemorativo de la Inmigración Coreana a Yucatán", Sistema de Información Cultural, Secretariat of Public Education (Mexico), retrieved 16 October 2014
  42. ^ "Hospital de la Amistad Corea-México". Yucatán State Government Website. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  43. ^ Ford, Glyn (2013-06-27), "Black Flower by Kim Young-ha", Asian Review of Books, retrieved 2013-09-28
  44. ^ Black Flower, 2012 Longlist, Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012, archived from the original on 2013-07-27, retrieved 2013-09-28
  45. ^ "Moon Dai-won: father of Mexican taekwondo". Korea Times. Retrieved October 22, 2014.


Further reading[edit]

  • Jeong Gyeong-won [정경원] (2005), 멕시코, 쿠바 한인 이민사 [Korean immigrant history in Mexico and Cuba], Seoul: Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Press [한국외국어대학교 출판부], ISBN 9788974643362, OCLC 67230178
  • Kim Young-ha; Charles La Shure, translator (2012), Black Flower, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 9780547691138
  • Paek, Pong-hyon (1968), The Koreans in Mexico: 1905-1911, M.A. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin, OCLC 36766565
  • Yi Ja-gyeong [이자경] (2006), 멕시코 한인 이민 100년사 [Mexico's Korean immigrants: 100 years of history], Seoul: Hanmaek Munhak Chulpanbu [한맥문학출판부], ISBN 9788991367302

External links[edit]