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Filipino migrant wives occupy a unique space in South Korean society. They are pioneers of South Korea’s distinct version of multiculturalism, having been among the first wave of migrant wives to enter Korea. Some have broken through intersectional barriers to become politicians, civil servants and film stars. Many more have pushed boundaries in their marriages and challenged patriarchal and patrilocal expectations that migrant wives should be confined to the home, deferential to husbands and focussed on caring for children and in-laws. This is all the more striking given husband control and Confucian values remain embedded in religious practices, education and immigration policies in South Korea. My research introduces the term Reproductive Citizenship (RC) to explain how the Korean state encourages migrant wives to reproduce both biologically and culturally, giving birth to biracial children who they raise with Korean cultural values. If migrant wives fulfil the tenets of RC, then they are afforded social acceptance and security over residency. RC is the acceptable face of multiculturalism in Korea, where the government defines a multicultural family as comprising a migrant and Korean spouse, excluding immigrant-only and single-parent families.
My research examines how the state’s framework of RC influences the decisions and choices of migrant wives. I find Filipinas face discrimination linked to their gender, race and class regardless of whether they arrive as marriage migrants, migrant workers or as entertainers catering to US soldiers. Each type of migrant is separated by the boundaries of citizenship that divide groups within a society based on their legal and economic entitlements. Migrant workers and entertainers are incentivised to work and refrain from having children as their visas are tied to employer sponsors. For migrant wives, producing a child and devotion to one’s husband is the only way for attaining substantive rights, respect and protection from the Korean state. RC attempts to push migrant women to sustain marriage as the only socially acceptable form of conjugal relationship. Multicultural programs focus on migrant wives and attempt to control and monitor their bodies, autonomy and agency using legal citizenship, welfare and social acceptance as rewards. However migrant wives, who have come to embody multiculturalism in South Korea, have their own dreams, which in the case of Filipinas extend beyond domestic care and raising children. Filipino wives are creating media and forming community groups to challenge cultural perspectives of Koreans who associate migrants from developing countries as being inferior and a homogenous collective group. Rather than being passive citizens as envisaged by the state’s ill-conceived frameworks of multiculturalism and RC, Filipino wives are proactively reshaping practices of cross-cultural communication so that different races and cultures can be accepted in a more expansive multicultural Korea.