In the beginning of the 1900s, several hundred Korean laborers were shipped to Yucatan after having been told they were going to Hawaii. They were indentured servants on the henequen haciendas and were required to work there for three years to pay off their passage. When their three-year terms were up, most of them didn’t want to go back to Korea because it was occupied by Japan. Some left the area to move to Los Angeles, some moved to Merida, and some re-upped to work on the haciendas for the pitifully small wages being paid at the time. This group of people formed the basis of the current Korean population of Yucatan. There are still small villages here with numerous families named Kim and Lee. They don’t speak Korean, only Spanish.
Over time, many Koreans intermarried and have been absorbed into the general culture. If you look carefully at the faces around you, some look distinctly Asian. They may have Korean ancestors.
In the last ten years, born-again Christians from Korea have been coming here to convert the Yucatan Koreans. They have offered repatriation to Korea and some people have gone. Others have gone and spent a year or so there, and then returned to Merida.
There’s a Korean Museum downtown on 65th, several blocks east of the market. We went there once last year, but it seems to be closed now. Since the Koreans who were brought here had little to nothing in the way of personal effects, most of the items in the museum are old photographs of Korean people here in Yucatan at different times, starting in the early 1900s. There is also a Korean Association.
Just south of town, is the Korean Hospital, part of the IMSS system. It’s a pediatric hospital contributed to Merida by the Korean government.
Selfishly, we wish Merida had a Korean restaurant.