While many Filipinos nation-wide are proud of the achievement of a Filipina in winning a seat in the South Korean parliament, none would be more proud of Jasmine Bacurnay-Lee than her fellow Davaoeños.
Lee, 35, has just been elected April 11 as a proportional representative of the ruling Saenuri Party in the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, making her the first naturalized Korean to become a lawmaker. Her party won 152 seats, including 25 proportional representation seats, out of 300 up for grabs for the 19th National Assembly.
Jasmine is an actress, TV host and an advocate of multiculturalism and migrant women in Korea. Now as a lawmaker, she’ll be more empowered to represented the cultural minority in the country.
Apparently, her winning a legislative seat didn’t please everybody. An online forum on popular Korean portal Daum.net raised questions about Jasmine Lee’s academic background, an issue quickly picked up by the Korean media. According to Korea Times, some of the Twitter messages posted about her are the following:
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “The money and benefits Jasmine Lee will get are 600 million won in salary during the four years of her term, seven paid staff, separate 10 million won per month for her activities, a car, discounts for railway use, and a family allowance.”
- “Unlike the United States or China, Korea has been a racially homogenous country. I don’t know why we need multiculturalism. I don’t understand why the country accepts immigrants in this small country and make them threaten our livelihoods, and I don’t know why politics takes the lead.”
A Korean academic doesn’t mind criticisms of qualifications and capabilities of a lawmaker, but stated racism should be avoided. Cho Kuk, a professor at Seoul National University said on Twitter: “Criticism of Jasmine Lee’s political position or capabilities may be healthy, but racism should be avoided.”
Lee completed three years of the four-year BS Biology course at Ateneo de Davao University.
To clarify the issue, Lee emailed Manila Bulletin explaining that the press “can sometimes exaggerate things, not to mention being ‘lost in translation,’ especially when Korean reports are translated in English. Also differences in the educational system do exist, as well as culture-related misunderstandings.”
She met Korean Lee Dongho in Davao in 1994 and they got married in 1995. She moved to South Korea in the same year and became a naturalized Korean in 1998.
Her husband died in 2010 in an accident, leaving with her their two children.