Koreans in Yucatan

Beryl Gorbman


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.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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3 Responses to Koreans in Yucatan

  1. Moser says:

    Wow…. Shame on me, myself as a Korean and how little I know about Korean Yucatecans. Thank you very much for such great information. I know a couple of Koreans, third generation in Merida. I think you probably know him. He has a business named Cocina Park. I was amazed by how he still sees himself as a Korean and is proud of being a Korean. It made me teary eyed as I had a chance to speak to him. I better go and check the Korean museum. Thanks Beryl

  2. Hugo de Naranja says:

    Depending on how good your Spanish is, and how shy you are about grilling complete strangers, you can actually run into a surprising number of the descendants of the original indentured Korean slaves, even in urban Merida, and they’re usually as puzzled by their ancestry as you are.

    To understand why the history of these people is so sketchy, and why even the most general matter-of-fact details of their lives and experiences seems to have been so quickly lost to the mists of time, it’s useful to understand two things:

    * Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was not a work of magical realism, but rather one of social realism.

    * The term “vivir desviviendose” is more apt and apropos than it may at first glance appear, especially as you spend more and more time south of the Rio Bravo del Norte.

  3. suk says:

    I knew about korean slave story 100 yrs ago & korean president came to merida had a big ceremony couple yrs ago. I would like know more deeper version, how they cloud not keep Korean cultures & lost speking Korean. I think because it was all male slaves. If Korean women came with them I know history will be change & we will have good Korean rest. by now. Do y know anyone write book about our korean yucatecan journey. BG, y are such a amazing lady, so much knowlege about so many different story & I really enjoying your writings. It’s such lovely things to have technology theses days read excellent wrting & learning more infomations I did not know & I can give u my feedback or my expression. Sounds like you must have full of your life & I try to do our life helping , giving, also enjoy & be happy. Tx for all of your honest & lots effort to do keeping your blog. Lol SB

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