Korean Immigrants in Mexico - "Aenikkaengs"

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Pyo, Jun Beom
Term Paper, AP World History Class, November 2006

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Advertisement
III. Demographic Data
IV. Farm Life
V. The Life of the Aenikkaengs after the Contract Expired
VI. Comparison between Korean Contract Laborers in Mexico and Hawaii
VII. Aenikkaengs at Present
VIII. Notes
IX. Bibliography

I. Introduction

            There was scarcely any source representing other than Korean's perspective of the Aenikkaengs. Therefore, it is possible that this paper is biased but could not be helped.
On March 6, 1905, about 1033 people, as contract laborers, left Chosun (Korea) to Mexico with hopes and dreams to get an opportunity to start a new life, not knowing what was waiting for them. After arriving at Merida City, Yucatan in Mexico, Korean immigrants were sent to different farms and mines. Most of them were sent to "Henequen" plantation farms. People call these Korean laborers 'Aenikkaengs'.

II. Advertisement

            An International agent, British Mexican John G. Myers helped by a Japanese businessman Genichi Taisho recruited people to work in Mexico. Since 1904, Myers and Taisho advertised about ten times in Korean newspaper (Hwangsung Newspaper). This is a part of the advertisement that was published on December 17th 1904.

"Located near the United States of America, Mexico is a civilized and rich country. It has warm weather, clean water and fertile soil. The world knows it is a place where no diseases exist. In Mexico there are many wealthy people, but few poor people, so it is very difficult to find laborers. Like many Japanese and Chinese who went to Mexico and profited a lot last year, Chosun (Korean) people too will benefit much when go there ...
1. Farmers will have free access to medicine. 1. You will work 9 hours a day and will be paid from a minimum 2 Won 60 Jun up to 6 Won ..."

A considerable portion of the content in the advertisement was exaggerated. For instance, when people reached Mexico, they had to work longer than 9 hours a day, and many people died without proper medication. Their payment was less than what was stated in the advertisement. Also, Aenikkaengs were treated similar to slaves.

III. Demographic Data (2)
Total number of Korean immigrants to Mexico : 1033 persons (3)

Men / Women / Children : 702 / 135 / 196 persons

1~10 : 75 persons 11~15 : 69 persons 16~20 : 126 persons
21~25 : 253 persons 26~30 : 122 persons 31~40 : 173 persons
41~50 : 34 persons 51~60 : 10 persons
It is possible to state that people of age 16 to 40, who are most capable of working, were the
main age group which migrated to Mexico.

John G. Myers and Genichi Taisho recruited people from various places.

Farm Life

            The Aenikkaengs were treated harshly. Few days after Korean Immigrants arrived in Mexico, they were auctioned off. Some of them were sent to mines or to barren farm lands to cultivate. However, most of them were sent to Henequen farms. The Aenikkaengs went to Mexico as a contract laborers but plantation owners, ignoring the content of the contract (assuming that it was similar to the one in the advertisement), treated the Aenikkaengs similar to slaves. Korean Immigrants were surprised. It was very different from what they had expected.
The Aenikkaengs generally worked about 17 hours a day, from five in the morning until ten at night. This was much more than the suggested working hours advertised in newspapers, nine hours. It is known that Aenikkaengs were once (at the first year of immigration) paid about 35 cents, in Mexican currency, per day (4) which included the money for the food. Therefore they had to pay 25 cents out of 35 cents to the plantation owners for the food they received in the farm.
For the people who had little experience in farming to cut Henequen leaves in a hot day (average 30 degrees Celsius) was challenging. Several were whipped to death. A number of others committed suicide.
However, Korean Immigrants eventually adapted to the Mexican farm life. Aenikkeangs succeeded in raising productivity. They surprised native Mexicans by making working gloves to protect their hands from spikes of Henequen. There is a record that generally each Korean family cut on average 8000 leaves per day and a few cut a maximum of up to 15000 leaves a day (5).

V. The Life of the Aenikkaengs after the Contract Expired

            After four years, in May 1909, the contract between Korean immigrants and plantation owners expired. However, the situation did not change much.
Some had to stay in farms because of debts (6). Even they had money, it was difficult to settle down in Mexico. At that time, Mexican society itself was rigid. It was highly dependent to foreign investment. Also, power was concentrated to only few people. So it was hard to advance ones status in Mexican society not just to Aenikkaengs but to all people.
Moreover, even they had money to pay for the ship fare, by that time, Japan established her protectorate over Chosun (Korea). The Aenikkaengs did not want to go back to a country the Japanese had taken control of. After World War I, the price of the sugar had risen much; in consequence, sugar plantation farms in Cuba needed more workers and farm workers' wage rose. Hearing this, about 300 Aenikkaengs left Mexico to Cuba in 1921, with hopes that their life will be improved. Unluckily, price of the sugar started to fall drastically from the year Aenikkaengs arrived in Cuba, mainly due to overproduction of sugar. Therefore, most of them could not find jobs and had to come back to Mexico. In 1929 Great Depression made Korean immigrant's life more difficult.

VI. Comparison between Korean Contract Laborers in Mexico and Hawaii

Yucatan, Mexico Hawaii, U.S.A.
Number of shipments One in 1905 Many (1902~1905)
Departure / Arrival Incheon / Yokohama / Salina Cruz Incheon / Nagasaki / Honolulu
Name of Ships Ilford (from Incheon to Yokohama)
El Boat (from Yokohama to Salina Cruz)
Galic (from Nagasaki to Honolulu) (7)
Number of Immigrants About 1000 About 7500
Immigrant Data Age : mostly 16~40
Sex : about 70% was adult male
They had little experience in farming.
Age : mostly 20~30
Sex : about 90% was adult male mostly single
They had little experience in farming.
People who organised immigration International immigration agent (John G. Myers) with Japanese businessman (Genichi Taisho). Diplomats of United States of America and missionaries with "The East and West Development Company" (8)
Life on Farm At first, people had much trouble because they had little experience in farming. They were paid little. It was hard to accumulate money. Even after the contract period was over, few could afford to go back to Korea. At first, people had much trouble because they had little experience in farming. They could accumulate money. About 1/6 of the Immigrants went back to Korea.
Descendents Most of the descendents of immigrants lost Korean identity. Most of them cannot write Korean. Although some people have successfully settled in society large number of people still have many troubles. Koreans identity is better kept than Aenikkaengs do. More people have reached higher social status than the immigrants in Mexico.

VII. Aenikkaengs at Present

            Nowadays about 30,000 to 40,000 descendents of Aenikkaengs live in Mexico. With special passion for education, numerous descendents have broken out of the poverty and advanced their social status. A few even became government officials. Most of Aenikkaengs and their descendents have assimilated into the Mexican society quickly. However, as quickly they have mingled to society, they also as quickly lost their Korean identity. Now, they not only look different but also, think different. Many have changed their family name. Only a few can write Korean.
Korean people, who had been forgotten about Aenikkaengs, are more aware of the situation now. Even a novel about the Mexican emigrants has been released a few years ago. Realizing the situation, more and more people, both Aenikkaengs and people living in Korea, are putting efforts to help the descendents to find Korean identity. Last year there had been a festival, celebrating 100th anniversary of Korean immigration. They are building Korean schools, making programmes related to Korean tradition and communicating more with Korea.

VIII. Notes

(1)      History of Korean Immigrants in Mexico pp.72-74; quote translated by the author of this paper
(2)      Diagrams are drawn, based on the data from articles in Hankook Ilbo and from Shindonga
(3)      There are many different opinions about the number of immigrants that went to Mexico. The number used in this paper is the one that could be found most often from the sources stated in the reference.
(4)      This information can be found at a report, which was made by a Korean Ginseng merchant, Young-Soon Pak, to the Korean Kong-Lip Association of San Francisco which was founded in 1905 for the Korean immigrants of America.
(5)      Koreans in Mexico and Cuba p.77
(6)      Because farm owners forced Immigrants to pay for the money spent for shipping from Korea to Mexico, numerous Korean Immigrants were in debt. For the people who were barely buying their food for their meals, it was difficult to pay back the debt in four years.
(7)      It was difficult to find which ship served the route from Incheon to Nagasaki harbor.
(8)      Koreans in Mexico and Cuba p.25

IX. Bibliography

1.      Warren Y. Kim, Koreans in America, Seoul Po Chin Chai Printing Co. Ltd.; pp.14-20 : a report made by a Korean "Ginseng" merchant, Young-Soon Pak 1971 (in Korean)
2.      Jung Kyung Won, Koreans in Mexico and Cuba, Seoul : Korea Foreign Language UP (in Korean)
3.      Lee Ja Kyung, History of Korean Immigrants in Mexico, Seoul : Knowledge Industry Corporation (1998) 2nd edition 2004 (in Korean)
4.      Robin Cohen (ed.) The Cambridge Survey of World Migration, Cambridge UP 1995
5.      History Project : Koreans in Latin America, background information, last updated in October 2005
6.      Article 'Henequen' Recall 100 Years of Sorrow, in Hankook Ilbo, Sept. 2005, in Korean
7.      Korean patriots in a distant land, from Joongang Ilbo, Feb. 28th 2005, in Korean
8.      Koreans to Mark Centennial of Immigration to Mexico, from Yonhap News, Feb. 21st 2005, in Korean
9.      A lost document about the list of first Mexican Immigrants was finally found after 100 years, from Shindonga, Aug. 16th 2005, in Korean