Organized Panel Session
Over the years, the sociological literature on immigrant entrepreneurship has provided key theoretical and empirical insights into the societal integration of Asian migrants. Notably, much of this body of research has incorporated a rational-economic framing, in effect arguing that the entrepreneurial tendencies of Asian migrants are a response to social forces that encourage participation in the occupations and economies that have the fewest barriers to entry while also providing a pathway for socioeconomic upward mobility. This study adds to this scholarship by examining the entrepreneurship of Korean American ethnic return migrants (or “returnees”) self-employed in South Korea’s “food and beverage” (or F&B) economy as chefs, artisans, and/or restaurateurs. Data for this paper were collected through in-depth qualitative interviews with Korean American entrepreneurs, ethnographic fieldwork in Seoul, and the semiotic analysis of store menus and marketing materials. In addition to exploring the rational-economic factors that anchor the F&B entrepreneurship of “returnees” in South Korea, this paper pays special attention to the identitarian motivations behind this practice by elaborating upon the types of “foreign” food and beverage establishments operated by “returnees” and the manner in which the discourse of authenticity factors into the creating and marketing of their products and brands. This paper concludes that the leveraging of authenticity serves the dual purpose of differentiating Korean American establishments and goods from the “fusion-ized” or “Koreanized” versions prominent elsewhere in the country while also reinforcing entrepreneurs’ ties to the United States and a sense of transnational American social citizenship.