Date of Award

5-1-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Lemish, Dafna

Abstract

According to Portes and Rumbaut (2001), the second generation children of immigrants seem to renegotiate their ethnic identities. This tendency is known in research literature as “segmented assimilation,” meaning that identity is constantly in-process and evolving in modern society. Under the influence of digital media, immigrant children positioned between two cultural worlds not only communicate more regularly with their families and friends in their homeland, but they can also potentially cultivate the future development of their ethnic identities through their interactions with digital media devices. This research specifically examined the role of digital media devices as important tools for the children of Korean immigrants in the U.S. to maintain social relationships and cultural links to Korea, which are instrumental to ethnic identity formation, by drawing on 31 photo-elicitation interviews (PEIs) and 162 completed surveys with the children of Korean immigrants residing in the U.S. The findings from the data analysis reveal a compelling picture of the types of digital media devices these youths use, the distinct patterns of their social interaction via these devices in the context of their everyday lives, and the role of these devices in helping them maintain their ethnic distinctiveness. More specifically, the adoption rate of KakaoTalk implies a cultural phenomenon, with data indicating that 77% of the survey participants use it to keep in touch with local co-ethnic friends or friends and family in Korea. Based on their photos and responses, their frequent use of KakaoTalk on their smartphones revolutionized the way in which they keep their family and friends overseas an essential part of their daily lives and prevent family fragmentation despite the geographical distance. Furthermore, when asked to identify their ethnic group for the most commonly reported ethnic group analysis, the survey participants provided six different responses on the MEIM–R, the most common of which was Korean American (41%). This result shows consistency with the results of the PEIs, in which 30 of 31 interviewees identified themselves as Korean American. In conclusion, the results of this study challenge the assumptions of early assimilationist scholars, who argued that the longer recent immigrants and their descendants reside in the U.S., the more assimilated they will become, meaning that they will inevitably adopt American ways of life and learn to identify as Americans. Although existing research on ethnic identification using segmented assimilation theory emphasized several factors that reinforce ethnic identity formation, this research has demonstrated how digital media add another dimension to assimilation processes among the children of Korean immigrants in the U.S. in terms of ethnic identification. Based on the interviewees’ and survey participants’ responses, most of the children of Korean immigrants in the U.S. seem to cultivate themselves in everyday life by oscillating between America and Korea using digital media devices. As a result, the nearly ubiquitous presence of digital media technologies and the social interactions that occur therein have afforded them opportunities to both explore and commit to their ethnic identities in the face of mainstream American culture.

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