'Black Flower,' novel about early Korean plantation workers, published in Mexico - The Korea Times
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'Black Flower,' novel about early Korean plantation workers, published in Mexico

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A photo taken after the arrival of Mexico's first generation of Korean immigrants, who worked in the plantations of the Yucatan Peninsula, May 12, 1905 / Yonhap
A photo taken after the arrival of Mexico's first generation of Korean immigrants, who worked in the plantations of the Yucatan Peninsula, May 12, 1905 / Yonhap

Kim Young-ha's 'Black Flower' portrays rugged lives of the first generation of Koreans in Mexico

By Park Han-sol

The cover of
The cover of "Flor Negra (Black Flower)" (2021), written by Kim Young-ha and translated by Ko Hye-sun and Francisco Carranza Romero / Courtesy of Panorama Editorial
In April 1905, just five years before Korea fell under Japanese colonial occupation, 1,033 people from all ages and walks of life flocked to Jemulpo Harbor in present-day Incheon to climb aboard a ship en route to the land of new hopes and possibilities, called Mexico.

But the feeling of excitement quickly turned to misery as their trip led them to begin working under the grueling heat at the haciendas (plantations) of the Yucatan Peninsula, where henequen fiber was extracted from the Agave fourcroydes plant to produce textiles. Subject to low wages as well as harsh working and living conditions, their dreams of returning to their homeland in a few years with a hefty sum were shattered.

Kim Young-ha's 2003 Korean-language novel, "Black Flower," which tells the story of these first-generation Korean immigrants' harrowing journey and settlement in a foreign land, was published recently in Mexico in Spanish.

Kim wrote the book after conducting extensive field research in Mexico's capital city and Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, as well as in Guatemala's Tikal and Antigua regions. As the recipient of the prestigious Dong-in Literary Prize in 2004, he is credited with skillfully weaving the modern history of Mexico's religion, culture and social structure into the narrative, which revolves around the lives of the Korean migrant workers.

"Flor Negra" was translated from Korean into Spanish by Ko Hye-sun, a professor emeritus at Dankook University, and her husband, Francisco Carranza Romero. Although the book has appeared in multiple languages in the past, including English, Portuguese, Chinese, French, German and Polish, this time is the first that it was published in Spanish in Mexico.

During an online presentation, Thursday ― joined by the director of the Korean Cultural Center in Mexico City, the publisher's representative, translators and a local researcher of Korean immigration history ― Kim expressed appreciation for the book's Spanish translation and publication in Mexico in a video message.

"Out of all of the books that I have written so far, 'Black Flower' is the one I hold dearest to my heart," he said. "Since the narrative is primarily set in Mexico, for a long time, I've wished for the novel to be published there and am happy to see that this has been finally done."

He added that its story of diaspora remains relevant today, as people continue to undergo many trials and tribulations to fit into a certain cultural identity different from that of their native land.

"Although this is a tale of Koreans in the early 20th century, I believe there are many parts of the story that can resonate with the readers of Mexico and other countries."

The Korean Cultural Center in Mexico City announced that it plans to distribute "Flor Negra" in the near future to major universities, as well as to the Association of Korean Descendants in Mexico.
박한솔 hansolp@koreatimes.co.kr


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