Jasmine Lee faces 'racist' attacks from Korean netizens

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Apr 17 2012 11:18 AM | Updated as of Apr 18 2012 05:42 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Jasmine Lee, a Filipina who became the first naturalized Korean to become a lawmaker in South Korea, is now a target of "racist" and "xenophobic" attacks on the Internet, according to leading South Korean newspapers.

English newspaper The Korea Times reported that some Korean netizens have posted messages against Lee on Twitter, "many of which are based on false information about her or due to racism." Lee won a seat in Korea's National Assembly last week, as a party-list candidate of the ruling Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party).

The Korea Times quoted a Twitter message as saying: “Following the immigrant wife Lee’s entry to the Assembly, we can well predict the rise of unregistered foreigners and foreign women marrying in return for money. We’ll see the truth of multiculturalism that exploits Koreans.”

However, Lee, a native of Davao, dated her husband in the Philippines before moving to Seoul and becoming a legal resident.

Other Korean netizens said that Lee did not deserve any benefits as a lawmaker. The Korea Times quoted a sarcastic Twitter post: "Korea is a paradise for foreigners. Korea gives foreigners benefits which it doesn’t even give to its nationals. Come to Korea, you can become lawmakers.”

Some of the criticisms against Lee may be due to the fact that she is from the Philippines. The Korea Times said one Twitter user pointed out Koreans' bias against Southeast Asians, saying “If Lee was from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany or other Western European countries, would people still speak in the same manner?”

Chosun Ilbo, the leading newspaper in South Korea, said false rumors about the Filipina-Korean lawmaker's supposed campaign pledges to immigrants have been spreading on the Internet, which has prompted some Korean netizens to attack her.

"Rumors started last week that Jasmine Lee's campaign pledges include free medical care for illegal aliens, tuition assistance for foreign students studying in Korea, airfare support by the government when foreign brides of Korean spouses visit their home countries and when their parents come to visit Korea and preferential treatment for children of multicultural families in admission to schools here," an article on Chosun.com said.

Contrary to the rumors, the Chosun article said party-list candidates like Lee have not made any personal campaign pledges.

Another English newspaper The Korea Herald came out with an article "Xenophobic attacks target naturalized lawmaker-elect," which said that criticisms against Lee "ranged from slander targeting her ethnic background to how Lee, secretary-general of non-profit organization Sharing Water Drops, was not fit to be a lawmaker."

The Korea Herald also noted there have been some defamatory and xenophobic responses to blog and Twitter posts about Lee.

"Upon her win, posts on an internet cafe against multicultural polices as well as Twitter mentions claimed that her win and Saenuri’s support of multicultural families would aggravate problems associated with undocumented foreign workers and international marriage brokerages... 'It makes me wonder if (Lee) is a lawmaker of Korea or whether she is a ring leader of illegal immigrants', one posting said," The Korea Herald said.

Attacks against ruling party?

However, the Chosun article noted the criticisms may not be targeted solely at Lee but at the Saenuri Party itself. "The rumors appear to be targeting the Saenuri Party rather than at Lee personally, since posters spreading these false rumors about Lee have also been alleging vote rigging by the party," it said.

While Lee declined to be interviewed for the article, Chosun quoted a Saenuri Party official: "She felt that responding to each allegation could end up aggravating the situation and instead decided to let voters find out the truth by observing her activities as a lawmaker."

Lee is well-known advocate for multicultural families and the Filipino community in South Korea.  She met her husband Lee Dong-ho when she was still a college student at Ateneo de Davao, and moved to Seoul in 1995. She became a naturalized Korean citizen in 1998.

Her husband died in 2010 while saving their daughter from drowning in a mountain stream in Okcheon-dong, Gangwon province.

Lee is secretary general of Waterdrop, a charity formed by foreign spouses of Koreans and the team manager of the city government's Seoul Global Center.

Last year, Lee co-starred with Korean heartthrob Yoo Ah-in in the blockbuster hit "Wandeugi" (Punch), where she played the role of a Filipina married to a Korean. Since 2006, she has appeared on the KBS program "Love in Asia" and a Korean language program on educational channel EBS.

In December 2011, she was the first recipient of the Korea Image Millstone Award from the Corea Image Communication Institute. She was cited for her volunteer and charity works for foreign immigrants in Korea.