Koreans in New York
by Kyeyoung Park

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea reported that in 1989 there were more than one million Koreans in the United States (Korea Times, 9/13/89). The largest Korean communities are located in Los Angeles and New York respectively. Korean community top leaders estimate that in 1989 there were approximately 300,000 Koreans in Los Angeles, and 200,000 in New York. (Korea Times, 12/31/89). In New York more than 62% of Koreans live in Queens. The largest concentration is in Flushing with the second largest located in Elmhurst.

Population Trends: In the early 20th century, a total of 7,226 Koreans were brought to Hawaii as contract laborers for sugar plantation strike breakers against Japanese workers. From that time until the Korean War, only a few Koreans entered the United States. Between the Korean War and 1965, some Korean immigrants did enter the United States as war orphans, or wives and relatives of American servicemen stationed in Korea. Although it is not clear how many Koreans came to New York City, they were the first Koreans to settle in New York.

It was not until the 1960s that Koreans began to migrate in large numbers to the United States. From 1965 to 1985 more 463,500 Koreans have emigrated to the United States. The Koreans coming from 1965 to 1976 were mainly middle class professionals who came to improve their economic status. Partially because of the Immigration Nationality Act amendment of 1976 which limited the entry of professionals to the United States, those arriving after 1976 included Koreans from a variety of class backgrounds and educational and skill levels.

Another change occurred in 1978 when the Korean government lifted regulations regarding the maximum amount of money that Koreans could take out of the country when they emigrated--this resulted in a large capital flow from Korea to the United States.

Religion: In Korea, about 40% of the population is Buddhist, 25% Christian(Protestant or Catholic), and the remaining practice Shamanism, or folk religion. However, in the United States the Korean religious affiliation shows a significant change with 65% of the Korean population belonging to Christian (particularly Protestant) churches. Most Korean Protestant congregations are Presbyterian, but there are also Methodist, Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentacostal churches.

Education: The first group of Korean immigrants were highly educated, and were professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, medical technicians, scientists, engineers, and other skilled workers. Those who immigrated after 1976 include capitalists as well as workers with various educational and skill levels.

Occupations: To a greater degree than other new immigrants, Koreans have gravitated to independent small service and retail businesses that often are operated by family members. Korean businesses not only serve the Korean communities, but also are located in multi-ethnic as well as predominantly white and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. As a result, Korean small businesses depend on Koreans and other community residents for customers, employees, and suppliers.

In a research conducted on the Korean American community in Queens, the small business proprietor group comprised 36% of 109 informants, the professionals were 17%, and workers were 37% (Park 1990). With the exception of garment factories, most businesses employ less than 10 workers. In New York, Koreans dominate such businesses as vegetable stands, dry cleaners, fish stores, and sewing factories. Other enterprises include real estate offices, and driving schools. Korean-run nail salons are increasing also in number. Koreans have opened professional offices for doctors, dentists, accountants, lawyers, Korean herbal doctors, and acupuncturists.


Dr. Kyeyoung Park is a post doctorate scholar in Anthropology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.