Identity markers among Koreans in Germany and the United States: Language loss and food preferences




Section: Regular Articles


  • Suin Roberts Purdue University, Fort Wayne, USA


Korean Americans and Korean Germans exhibit similarities in their upbringing and migration processes: The first generation, speaking Korean natively and solid in their identity as Koreans, attempt to raise their children with a Korean identity in a culture, where English or German is the mainstream language. Given their minority status in either country, passing on their native tongue is difficult. The second generation struggles in their ability to speak Korean, even though they are exposed to it at home and at Korean language school. Cultural concepts that are familiar to Koreans also prove difficult to translate, such as jeong or han. But consuming and talking about Korean food appears to be the gateway for second generation youth to their parents’ native country and culture, which they otherwise experience via mediated memories.

In general, food preferences seem to mirror migrants’ identities and identity processes: While abroad, the first generation cooks Korean food to cope with feelings of homesickness and to create community and a sense of belonging in the diaspora. As a result, Korean food, much more than the Korean language, seems to be the Korean identity marker that gets passed on successfully to the next generation. The second generation, whether in Germany or the United States, is familiar with and appreciates Korean food, while they also experiment with combining Korean food elements with American or German ones. Just like the first generation, the second-generation Koreans have also experienced their fair share of food shaming due to the odiferous nature of Korean food, but it is still part of their daily lives. In fact, the second generation deliberately chooses to include Korean food and combinations thereof in their life, as it has become a source of pride. Creating Korean German or Korean American dishes mirrors the second generation’s hybridity and fluidity of their perceived identities.

Since the command of the Korean language significantly declines among second-generation Koreans due to assimilation forces, many cannot claim fluency in their parents’ native language. Hence, cooking, eating, and talking about Korean food seems to be the remaining marker of Koreanness, other than their physical appearance.

Keywords: Korean migrants, migrant identity, heritage language loss, food, kimchi, Koreanness

Suggested Citation:

Roberts, S. (2023). Identity markers among Koreans in Germany and the United States: Language loss and food preferences. Migration and Language Education, 4(1), 19–36.