My Family in Korea, 1975-1980

While home for the funeral, I found some great old pictures of my family, both in Korea and in the United States.

First, my parent’s wedding picture, circa 1975, probably Kunsan, South Korea:

Who’s who? See detail below for family members I was able to identify:


Middle row, L-R: paternal grandmother, dad, mom, maternal grandmother, ?, ?

Top Row, L-R, starting to the right of my mom (the bride): ?, great uncle (the one who I’ve met in Korea and blogged about on several occasions), my aunt (mom’s sister), maternal grandfather, uncle (dad’s brother).

Next: March 1980, sometime around my aunt’s (mom’s sister’s) wedding.

L-R: Uncle (last one to come to the US), uncle (first to come to the US), aunt, grandmother, aunt’s husband

Lastly, my aunt’s wedding picture. Date unknown, but probably around 1980 as well.

Notice how nobody is smiling in any of these pictures. What gives?

For some historical context, here’s what was happening in Korea during this time:

  • 1961-1979: strongman Park Chung-hee guides Korea through a period of rapid economic growth, but strongly suppresses any political dissent
  • 1975, the year my mother and father married: Per Capital income of South Korea, ~$1,000, or about 22% of that of the USA at the time.
  • 1979: President Park is assassinated, and a new military dictatorship takes power.
  • April 1980: Gwangju Massacre results in hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against the military government.
  • 1980, the year my aunt married: Per Capital income of South Korea, ~$3,000, or about 25% of that of the USA at the time.

This isn’t just where my family came from; this is where I came from. I’m a product of this history, whether I’d like to be or not.